by Denise Croote '16
Believe it or not, cannibalism isn’t a thing of the distant past. As recent as the 1950s, villagers on the island of New Guinea actively practiced cannibalism. After the death of a loved one, relatives gathered to bless and consume the body. The women and children led the ceremony, while the males refrained from partaking in the feast. Interestingly, the women and children started to develop an unrecognized neurological disorder, while the males did not. Kuru, as they called it, was a disorder in which the infected individual shook, failed to complete simple motor commands, and refused nourishment.
The natives claimed the spirits sent Kuru to them as a punishment, but Michael Alpers, an Australian medical researcher, wasn’t convinced. Dedicating his entire life to investigating Kuru, Alpers made a shocking discovery that turned our understanding of diseases upside down. Could a neurological disorder really be contagious? And could cannibalism fuel its transmission?
To learn more about Alpers and his work, watch the documentary Kuru: The Science and the Sorcery below, or check out the article "The Last Laughing Death" at The Global Mail.