Ritual Cannibalism on To'ul'h Prime
Ritual Cannibalism among To'ul'hs
Image from Steve Bowers
Treat me well in my great age,
Lest I strike back with indigestion.
- Ancient To'ul'hoss joke (the humour of which is lost on most Terragens)


While seen as taboo by most Terragen cultures and clades (with some notable exceptions; see the Harren), ritualistic cannibalism has a long and storied history on the planet To'ul'h Prime. The prevalence of these practices is largely thought to be a result of the planet's unique environmental factors: on To'ul'h Prime, fresh meat is much scarcer than on most Garden Worlds - indeed, the Terragen traditions of burying/freezing/cremating the dead would, to ancient To'ul'hs, appear shockingly wasteful.

That being said, the practice of interment was not entirely unheard of, with a number of societies (most notably the nomadic tribes of the far north) known to prefer this method of disposal. This appears to have generally been regarded with disdain by the wider To'ul'h civilization - interestingly, the To'ul'ho'lo'ss word for "barbarian" literally translates to Anglic as "buriers of the dead". Interment only saw widescale usage during major epidemics, when consumption of diseased flesh was potentially life-threatening (alternatively, plague victims would be fed to shur'rooss'hur, which are immune to most To'ul'h diseases). Some societies held that a spirit could not enter to the afterlife unless the body was consumed; stories of the uneaten dead returning to haunt (or devour) the living are one of the most enduring staples of To'ul'h folklore.


In most early cultures, consumption of the dead was seen as a solemn and dignified affair. These ceremonies have no direct Terragen equivalent, the closest translation being "feast-wake". Elder To'ul'hs were generally expected to eat more and fatten up in their twilight years, with the intent of offering their loved ones a heartier meal when their time came. Once a To'ul'h died, their remains were either sliced or stewed depending on clan customs, before being treated with an assortment of mixed regional herbs and spice-spores (the phrase "family recipe" carried rather different connotations on To'ul'h Prime). Preservation efforts were not usually required due to the species' partially detritivorous nature; consumption of necrotic tissue posed no significant health hazards.

The corpse was generally devoured by the extended family at midday - participants were expected to undergo a brief period of fasting beforehand; being unable to finish one's helping might be construed as insult. Many wealthier To'ul'h clans were known to possess specialized dishware and cutlery reserved specifically for such occasions (such as the famous garek'hu, or "corpse-knife"). Unusually for a species as reliant on their hearing as the To'ul'hs, feast-wakes were traditionally conducted in total silence: opening one's beak for any reason other than eating was seen as a mark of great disrespect. Once the flesh and innards had been consumed, the bones of the deceased were then collected and repurposed to serve as tools, talismans or even musical instruments.

In some cultures, one organ (usually the heart) was left untouched, being either offered as a sacrifice to the gods, or preserved and stored inside an urn. One of the planet's best-known tourist attractions, the Crypts of Mzer'let[1] (also known as the Coracombs or the To'ul'h Heart Chambers) holds millions of mummified hearts, the oldest of which date back tens of thousands of years. As documented in the writings of Kafol'fo the Learned, it was customary in one society (located in what is now western Tso'hal) for wives to commit suicide following the death of their husbands, with the two being served together. As Kafol'fo notes, this tradition was generally regarded by more mainstream cultures as abhorrent.

Like anything else, the feast-wake ceremony was not without its risks. Famously, in the Kingdom of Fra'lis, the ritual once resulted in an entire dynasty being toppled overnight: after the sovereign (who was already in poor health) was assassinated by his vizier[2] with a rare form of long-lasting poison, the king's family (unaware of his true cause of death) gathered for the feast-wake. By morning, all members of the nation's royalty were dead from the same toxin, and with no heir to the throne, Fra'lis found itself plunged into a prolonged period of civil conflict. Because of this incident, it later became customary that when a king passed away, his personal chamberlain would have the first taste of his flesh (the so-called "rite of first bite") to ensure the royal family's safety.

Following the catastrophic eruption of Mt. 'Thass'thon c. 37,500 BT (regarded as the most significant existential threat faced by the ancestral To'ul'h species), a period known as the Great Hunger, or the Bright Age[3] ensued. It is written that multiple societies resorted to dispensing with their judicial systems, and instead began conducting mass executions of convicts (many of them accused of the pettiest of crimes) in order to feed their starving populations. Other sources suggest that entire ethnic and religious groups (many of which were blamed for somehow causing for the disaster) may have been wiped out to serve as food for their neighbours. While most historians agree that the extent of these atrocities has likely been exaggerated and mythologized over time, there is little doubt that many To'ul'hs were forced to subsist on the flesh of their own to survive the decades-long volcanic winter. It is also recorded that this period saw heavy pillaging of the Mzer'let coracombs - the countless preserved hearts found in its sprawling chambers were a still valuable source of protein even millennia later.

Present Day

In the Modern Era, ritual cannibalism has largely vanished from To'ul'h society, although echoes of the practice remain, particularly among luddite groups that embrace traditionalism and shun rejuvenation technologies. In more advanced cultures, To'ul'hs that opt to change to a radically different physical form may decide to preserve their former bodies, before consuming them with their loved ones in a ceremony some have argued is an extension of the ancient feast-wake tradition. Likewise, prospective To'ul'h hive minds have been known to consume their own flesh as a symbolic gesture of change prior to merging - either directly from their old bodies, or through vats of artificial meat cultured from their cells. While ritual cannibalism may be long past its heyday on the To'ul'h homeworld, this unique cultural trait continues to fascinate as well as disturb Terragens to the present day.


[1] The Kingdom of Mzer'let is considered one of the most successful societies to arise on Pre-Contact Tohul, their culture having endured and prospered for almost nine thousand years.

[2] The vizier in question, Bal'bada', remains one of the most infamous figures from early To'ul'h history. Even at the time of first contact, the name Bal'bada' was synonymous with betrayal, similar to Judas or Brutus on Old Earth.

[3] To'ul'hs are most comfortable in dark environments; excess light causing them pain. As a result this species has a tendency to equate darkness with good, and brightness with evil.
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Development Notes
Text by James Rogers
Initially published on 19 April 2024.