There were two types of cannibalism: exocannibalism (eating members of an enemy group), and endocannibalism (eating members of one's own group). Endocannibalism symbolized very different things: reverence for the dead, an incorporation of the spirit of the dead into living descendants, or a means of insuring the separation of the soul from the body. Endocannibalism is often associated with ritual burial ceremonies and has been controversially referred to on occasion as "compassionate cannibalism." Mortuary cannibalism has been considered to be the most widely practiced form of endocannibalism, often excluding murder and focusing on already deceased corpses (Arens 18-35).
Cannibals would eat their deceased family members to acquire qualities, show respect and gain virtue of the deceased. There have been reports of such cases in Latin America, Australia, India, China, Papua New Guinea.
Latin America. The Wari' (tribe on the territory of Brazil), prior to about 1960, ate as much of the corpse of a dead person as they could. If a corpse was too decayed to eat, most of it was cremated, which was believed to be superior to burial. For the Wari', allowing a loved one to be put in cold, wet ground was as horrifying a notion as cannibalism is to us. In various myths, Wari' are told that humans are eaten as a step in a cycle in which humans also eat animals. At the moment when a body is dismembered, it was believed that its spirit was reawakened by ancestral spirits in the underworld (Conklin 210-234).
A Mayoruna man once expressed a wish to remain in his village and be eaten by his children after his death rather than be consumed by worms in the white man's cemetery. In recent times the Panoan, Yanomamo, and other lowland groups have consumed the ground-up bones and ashes of cremated kinsmen in an act of mourning. This still is classified as endocannibalism, although, strictly speaking, "flesh" is not eaten. The Yanomam mix the bones and ashes with plantain soup before consuming the mixture.
The Cashibos eat their aged parents, but perhaps more from religious sentiment than from cruelty. Before their conversion, it was the practice of the Cocomas of the Hualaga to eat their dead relations, and to swallow the ground-up bones in fermented drinks, on the plea that it was better to be inside a warm friend than buried in the cold earth.
Theories that a lack of protein in the South American tropical forest environment stimulated cannibalism have not received support from recent studies showing that tropical forest tribes have a more-than-adequate protein intake and are successful hunters despite environmental limitations (Metraux 383-409).
Australia. In Australia, cannibalism was mostly practiced to gain the powers of the particular person who was being eaten. Some tribes ate their enemies only, some their own people, and some both. When tribes ate their enemies, they only ate certain body parts, such as the brain, heart, legs, or tongue. The brain was eaten for knowledge, the heart for courage and power, the legs were only eaten in the case of swift runners, for speed, and the sweat and tongue were consumed for bravery. When tribes ate their own people, family members would eat small portions of fat from their dead relative as a sign of respect. Only people of worth were eaten. People who died of disease or