The Cannibalistic Practice of Consuming the Brains of the Dead by the Fore People Led to the Devastating Kuru Disease.

Read O'Day

The Fore people, who lived in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, practiced a form of cannibalism where they would consume the brains of their deceased loved ones as a way of honoring them and absorbing their wisdom and knowledge. It's a part of their cultural and religious practices.

Unfortunately, this practice led to the spread of a degenerative neurological disease called kuru, which was eventually found to be caused by an infectious protein called a prion. Kuru is a degenerative neurological disorder that is caused by infectious prions, which are abnormal proteins that can cause other proteins in the brain to fold abnormally and form lesions. The consumption of infected tissue played a major role in the transmission of the disease, as the prions that cause kuru can survive cooking and other forms of processing.

Although the Fore people initially attributed the disease to sorcery, medical anthropologist Shirley Lindenbaum was able to identify the true cause of the illness, which was the Fore people's practice of consuming the brains of their deceased loved ones as part of their mortuary feasts.

The symptoms of kuru included tremors, loss of coordination, and dementia, and it was eventually fatal. The disease was especially devastating for the Fore people, who saw a high incidence of kuru among women and children due to their cultural practices of consuming the brains of deceased family members. As a result of these practices, the Fore people developed genetic resistance to the prion that causes kuru and related diseases.

It wasn't until the 1950s that kuru was identified as a prion disease, and researchers discovered that the spread of the disease could be stopped by prohibiting the consumption of infected tissue, although it is believed to have existed in the region for much longer. Once the cause of the disease was identified, public health campaigns and education efforts were able to gradually phase out the practice of cannibalism among the Fore people, and the incidence of kuru began to decline. Today, the disease is extremely rare and mostly confined to historical cases.

The discovery of the disease and its link to prions has also led to important advances in our understanding of other prion diseases, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle.

This discovery has provided important insights into the mechanisms by which prion diseases develop and spread, and it has also led to new avenues of research into other degenerative neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. By studying the genetic factors that contribute to resistance to prion diseases, researchers may be able to develop new treatments and preventative measures for these and other related conditions.


When People Ate People, a Strange Disease Emerged.” NPR, 6 Sept. 2016.

Kaplan, Sarah. “How a History of Eating Human Brains Protected This Tribe From Brain Disease.Washington Post, 11 June 2015.

Kuru: Causes, Symptoms and Diagnosis.Kuru: Causes, Symptoms and Diagnosis. Accessed 24 Feb. 2023.

Liberski, Paweł P., et al. “Kuru, the First Human Prion Disease.” PubMed Central (PMC), 7 Mar. 2019.

Kuru (Disease) - Wikipedia.” Kuru (Disease) - Wikipedia, 1 Dec. 2022.

Comments / 0

Published by

I am a writer who loves to explore new and interesting topics. I have a passion for telling unique stories and I love to share my knowledge and insights with others. I enjoy learning about new cultures & exploring new places.


More from Read O'Day

Comments / 0