During the 15th century, a family of cannibals are alleged to have lived on the outskirts of Dundee, in a place which came to be known as ‘Fiends Den’; later to be known as ‘Denfiend’ or ‘The Den of Fiends’.  The location of Denfiend is said to be at a dip in the road between Newbigging and Monikie, just by the aptly-named Denfind Farm.  The legend goes that the family would lure in or ambush passers-by before murdering and eating them.  No-one was safe from the voracious appetites of the cannibalistic family of Denfiend, but it is said that they preferred their victims young, as the meat was more succulent and tender.  Initially the family never aroused suspicion, careful who they chose for their next meal so as not to cause any alarm, but, as time went on, their appetite for younger prey proved to be their downfall.  With a lack of travellers to the area, the family looked to their neighbours for their next meal, causing a significant swell in locals being reported as missing.  It did not take long for the family to be held to account for their crimes, and they were all swiftly executed, with the exception of the youngest daughter, who was merely a baby.

She was re-homed with another family, who shielded her from the truth about her family in an attempt to give her a better start at life.  As time went on, however, she began to display “disturbing” behaviour, such as harming other children and animals and licking or sucking the blood from their open wounds.  Despite their best efforts to rehabilitate her, it was decided that she, too, suffered from the same affliction as her family, and it was for the best that she be executed.  Due to her young age, she was not put to death immediately, but instead was allowed to live until her 18th year, at which time, if she had not changed, she would be executed.  Her habits did not abate, and her drive for human flesh and the taste of fresh blood was too powerful for her to control.  The young woman was taken to the Seagate and burned at the stake, in the same fashion as her late family.  Her last words are alledged to have been “why chide me as if I had committed a crime.  Give me credit; if ye had tasted human flesh, you would think it so delicious that ye would never forbear it again.”

With no real facts alluding to the authenticity of the tale, we have to assume it is based purely in legend.  However, it does have very similar borrowings from the tale of Sawney Bean and his family – the alleged 16th century cave-dwelling family of cannibals.  Like the Denfiend legend, Sawney and his clan of almost 50 cannibals, lay undetected by locals for 25 years or so, having made their den in a deep coastal cave.  Upon capture, the men had their genitals cut off before their hands and feet were severed.  The children and female members of the clan were forced to watch the men die before they too were executed by being burned alive.  The stories’ similarities do not end there.  It is said that one of the daughters left the clan of her own volition, settling herself into a normal life not too far away from her cannibalistic familial lair.  She is alleged to have planted a tree, which became known as ‘The Hairy Tree’ and was used as gallows in public hangings.  Ironically, it was this very tree from which she herself was to hang, when the villagers found out she was part of the murderous Bean family.

The story of Denfiend has many similarities to the legend of Sawney Bean; just on a much less grand scale.  Whilst the incidents at Denfiend are alleged to have happened in the 15th century and the Bean killings in the 16th century, it doesn’t stand to fact that the legend of Denfiend did in fact precede the legend told of Sawney Bean.  The way stories are told and passed down through generations, it is possible that someone knocked a century or two off the legend after hearing the story of Sawney Bean and his cannibalistic family.  Either way, neither story has any real basis in fact, and, whilst many still believe that each story may be true in its own right, we are concluding our investigation into both matters as purely legend.

However…as they say, there’s no smoke without fire.  We’ve all heard crazy things on the news and throughout history relating to cannibalism.  Whether they be based in fact or fiction, one thing is very clear – we’ve been engaging in it for millennia. We did a bit of digging into the history of cannibalism (as you do), and found that the human link between Neanderthal man and Homo sapiens as we are today, were cannibals.  The reasons for this appear to come down to a need for nutrition, but, as we evolved, we developed better hunting techniques which allowed us to kill animals for meat instead of using our own species as a food source.


The name “cannibal” is derivative from the Carib tribe, who were encountered by Sir Christopher Columbus when he travelled the Americas in the 1490’s.  The ‘Caribs’ were cannibals for ritualistic reasons, using stone axes and hardwood machetes to execute their sacrifices in a brutally gruesome manner.  Columbus and his men brought with them weapons made of iron, and were regarded by the Caribs as good spirits of the sea.  The name was lost in translation and was referred to as ‘Canibs’, which was further translated over 50 years later to ‘cannibal’ or ‘cannibals’.

The Korowai tribe of Papua New Guinea are the last known tribe of cannibals on the planet. There are around 3000 of them. They mostly live in tree houses in their territory, which is so isolated that, until about 40 years ago, they weren’t aware of the existence of any other humans.  The Korowai people are cannibals for superstitious reasons, believing that when someone dies a mysterious death, it is the work of a ‘khakhua’, or a male witch.  As the victim dies, it is usual for them to whisper the name of the ‘khakhua’ to their relatives or loved ones.  Whoever is named, whether it be from their own clan or not, he will be seized and killed, as it is believed his body has been possessed by a witch.  Despite any protestations, those branded a ‘khakhua’ must die and be eaten.  This still happens today.

After this, we’ll be sticking to veggies for the next couple of days, but if you want to know what it tastes like, the resounding response seems to be “pork”.  Think of that the next time you’re tucking into some bacon or a big, fat sausage…

– DD Tours operates walking tours in Dundee city, covering dark local history such as wars, battles, murders, diseases, riots, disasters and executions. Walk with us for an unforgettable storytelling experience.


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