Mention zombies to some people and their immediate response will be to utter “braaaaiiiiinnnnssss”, said with weird inflection and often accompanied by a shuffling gait. Okay, maybe nobody YOU know, but trust me on this, it happens to those of us who associate with, um, “creative” people. I use the term loosely of course.
Anyway, I got to wondering about brain eating. No, I have no idea why exactly, I just did, that’s all. I, personally, have never consumed the brain of any animal. Not out of disgust or fear, but simply because the opportunity has never presented itself. I’ve seen brains for sale, usually lamb brains, and I’m told they’re very tasty, especially mixed with scrambled eggs, but the spirit has never moved me to purchase them.
So yes, I was sitting around idly pondering the eating of brains and I got to wondering where the idea that zombies are partial to brains came from. A bit of research reveals that the probable answer is a 1985 movie titled Return Of The Living Dead, in which the zombies had a predilection for brains, as opposed to the classic Night Of The Living Dead in which the zombies weren’t particular about what part of the body they ate.
So much for zombies and brains. Many oddball theories have evolved around this matter, brains are high in fat and zombies need fat to survive, and other strange notions, but the starting point for it all seems have been the 1985 film. As to living humans eating brains, most cannibals were partial to them. Fijian cannibals prized the brain highly, and only the tribal chief and selected elders were allowed to partake. Fijian cannibal forks are highly collectable. I’ve owned several myself, and still have one large ornate one with a smooth rounded head that was used for cracking the skull, the other end having four tines that was used to lift the brain out of the skull.
The eating of animal brains is actually quite prevalent all over the world. Samoans like pig brains cooked in banana leaves in a pit oven called an Umu. Chinese, Vietnamese, Germans, and Austrians all have favourite brain recipes. Brains are apparently tasty.
There is a classic urban myth, the validity of which has never been proven, of eating live monkey brains. Some have claimed to have witnessed the act, but no proof has ever been brought forward. A few movies have had scenes of this ritual, which involves monkeys being brought to the table with special wooden frames around their necks, which immobilize them. Their skulls are then opened with a hammer and chisel and the brains eaten with a spoon while they’re still alive. Charming, to say the least. I for one hope it really is only an urban myth. The evidence on hand points to that being the case since the story is told by one culture about another, with the finger most often pointed at the Chinese, especially in Hong Kong.
One last interesting bit about the notion of brain eating, in 1971 a man named Oscar Kiss Maerth wrote a book called The Beginning Was The End, in which he claimed, in all seriousness, that mankind evolved from cannibalistic apes. His theory was that a group of apes discovered that the brains of their enemies were tasty, and that they therefore became addicted to hunting and killing other apes outside of their group and consuming their brains. He claimed that over time this led to steady increases in the intelligence of these apes and that they evolved into Homo Sapiens. His theory was much more complex, involving the idea that brains had an aphrodisiac effect on them and so forth, but he offered no references or proof of any of it and it was widely dismissed.
On a side note, the band Devo were apparently quite enamoured of his work and tried to have an edition published with a foreword by the band members, but it didn’t happen. Copies of Maerth’s book are rare and quite valuable, apparently.