First “WTF?!” lecture focuses on taboo topic of cannibalism


Cannibalism became cool Wednesday in Potter College of Arts and Letters’ first installment in their “WTF?!” lecture series.

Kate Hudepohl, associate professor of anthropology, dissected the issues and perceptions cultures have about cannibalism. Her discussion was called “If You Loved Me, You’d Let Me Eat Your Brains! How Cannibalism Saved the World.”

Hudepohl talked about western culture’s thoughts on cannibalism and those who practice it. The audience responded with mixed feelings about cannibalism, justifying it under extreme circumstances and questioning it under the bizarre.

Hudepohl said western culture considers cannibalism “something only a deviant would do.”

She further categorized cannibalism into five sections: eating people for survival, eating people out of mental instability, eating people out of affection, eating people out of aggression and eating people in order to be healed.

Hudepohl used those categories to segue into the issue of labeling people groups based on shaky claims of cannibalistic history.

“’Hey you’re such a cannibal!’… How dehumanizing is (being called) that?” she said.

Hudepohl’s concerns about cultural labels stem from personal research. While conducting research, Hudepohl lived on the small Caribbean island of Dominica. The natives had a history of dehumanization, largely caused by various European groups’ false claims that they were cannibals.

However, Hudepohl saved the most fascinating cannibal-related issue to close her discussion.

She talked about a case study of the Kuru disease found in New Guinea. In the latter 1950s, Australian patrolmen discovered that tribes were dying of what they initially thought was mass hysteria.

Several years of research later revealed that the disease was actually caused by cannibalism. Tribes were eating their dead out of respect and unknowingly transmitting the disease. The information gathered from the Kuru study was used to help scientist isolate the effects of mad cow disease.

Hudepohl offered a final piece of advice to the audience — “Just don’t eat brains.”

Jennifer Markin of Potter College Dean’s Office was pleased with the initial “WTF?!” lecture.

“I think it went well,” she said. “I laughed. I learned. And it was definitely not boring.”

Markin said she has high hopes for upcoming series presentations.

“I just want students to understand through this series that our lives aren’t in our majors,” she said. “(Life) is interdisciplinary.”

Freshman Samya Monem found the discussion “really interesting.”

“It’s is not a subject I’ve ever thought about as anything other than creepy,” she said.

The next “WTF?!” installment is “Real Clothes for Imaginary People: Costume Design from Avant-Garde to Zombies” hosted by theater and dance department professor Shura Pollatsek. It’s scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 8 in McCormack Hall from 3:30 – 4:30 p.m.