Wari’ Funerary Cannibalism
For my project, I chose to study the funerary cannibalism of the Wari’ tribe in the Brazilian Amazon. Cannibalism has always been fascinating for me and for most people I feel.The Wari’ practiced both exocannibalism and endocannibalism. We all know what cannibalism is and often link the act to violence, murder and warfare but the Wari’ practice a unique form of endocannibalism which is limited to their already deceased loved ones. It is an act of respect, reverence and compassion for the deceased and the deceased’s family (Conklin, 1995).
The Wari’ people are indigenous to the Amazonian rain forest and have lived in isolation for the most part until the 1950’s (Conklin, 2001). Christian missionary converted the Wari’ in the 1960’s although only temporarily and they gave up mortuary cannibalism and when they renounced Christian beliefs they never readopted cannibalism along with several of their old practices (Vilaca, 1997). Even though it is no longer practiced today, elders still remember their old funerary practices and it was the preferred method of mortuary (Conklin, 1995).
Due to the location, culture, and size of Wari’ comminuties, there are limited photos available, and mst of them are copyrighted. In order to comply with copyright laws and cultural property, I did not use any such photos on this webpage of the Wari’. Photos and more information can be found on Giving Cannibalism a Human Face by David F. Salisbury and Beth Conklin.
How the Ritual was Performed
· The first several days after death, family and friends of the deceased would would morn their loss by crying and singing songs about the life of the deceased, while the body is set to decompose (Miller, 2001). The grieving kin hold and cling tightly to the deceased from the moment of death to time of disposal (Conklin, 1997).
· Day three, the body has been decomposing slightly; Once cooked, the closest kin take parts of the meat and place it on top of a woven mat and is consumed with a maize bread. It is the duty of the distant kin to eat it, while carefully not to touch it with their hands. Thin wooden skewers similar to toothpicks were used to carefully place the meat into their mouths (Miller, 2001). The closest kin do not take part in eating the flesh of their family member, it is forbidden (Conklin, 1997).
· After the funeral, every aspect and item having belonged to the deceased is burned and the time for grieving of over (Conklin, 1997).
The soul of the deceased is believed to be in the after world world only after the funeral takes place and the belongings are burned. The Wari’ believe in an underwater after world in which everyone lives as young beautiful versions of themselves and they eventually reunited with deceased family (Vilaca, 1997). The main reason the Wari’ choose funerary cannibalism is to control the grief that is experienced with the loss of a loved one. The act of cannibalism is to help the grieving processes of coming to terms with the death of a relative or friend (Conklin, 2001). It is considered disrespectful to allow a beloved family member to decompose naturally. Only a small amount of the flesh is eaten. The rest is burned and buried. Cannibalism is almost always thought to be an act of violence, however, the Wari’ used funerary cannibalism as an expression of compassion, reverence and respect for the deceased and the family of the deceased. The Wari’ believe that grief is related to the deceased spirit and the spirit can not continue to the afterlife if there is continuous grieving (Miller, 2001).
The Wari’ Today
There are very few pictures of the Wari’ tribe and their old customs. However early European settlers first made contact in the 16th century and drawings depicted what they saw although slightly over dramatized. Even today in the western world there continues to be a negative stigma in cannibalism (Miller, 2001) These negative stigmas of indigenous peoples who practice cannibalism serve as tools in which government officials, missionaries and entrepreneurs use as a legitimate excuse to justify their subjugation (Conklin, 1997). The Wari’ people have long been misrepresented by news journalists as savage and there have been many efforts by missionaries and Brazilian government officials to help keep the Wari’ from being stereotyped as indigenous savages (Conklin, 1997). Today the Wari’ follow western funerary ideas and bury their dead in forest cemeteries (Conklin, 1997).
I have enjoyed working on this project and learning how unique and diverse cannibalism is to every culture. The topic of cannibalism is very sensitive and can have lasting effects due to negative stigma. It’s important for especially the western world to understand the concept of mortuary cannibalism as an act of respect and compassion.
Page created by Lisa Sullivan
Miller, D. W. 2001. Love me, miss me, eat me. The Chronicle of Higher Education 47 (48): A.15.A..
Conklin, Beth A. “Thus Are Our Bodies, Thus Was Our Custom”: Mortuary Cannibalism in an Amazonian Society. 1st ed. Vol. 22. 1995,
Valaca, Aparecida. Christians without Faith: Some Aspects of the Conversion of the Wari'(Pakaa Nova). 1st ed. Vol. 62. 1997.
Conklin, Beth A. Consuming Images: Representations of Cannibalism on the Amazonian Frontier. 2nd ed. Vol. 70. 1997.
Conklin, Beth A. Consuming Grief: Compassionate Cannibalism in an Amazonian Society. Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 2001.