A brief history of cannibalism in the Fiji islands 4/18/2011

When i was a little kid while having breakfast one early morning at my great grandma’s house, that’s when i first heard my grandfather spoke of our dark and violent taboo history; cannibalism.  I remembered him saying (in Fijian);  “…I’ve never tried it but i still remember what grandpa said that humans taste like pork .”  As an 8 year old hearing that by the breakfast table, i was shocked.  I sat there staring at the left over pork dish from yesterday’s funeral ceremony and in my mind i thought, “Hmmm not bad.”

Nobody knows exactly when we islanders came to the South Pacific.  However, based on archaelogical evidence,  the occupation of Fiji began between 1600 to 1200 BC.  Samoa, Hawaii and New Zealand were later occupied by the Polynesians (around 800 AD).  Fiji is widely considered to be the crossroad of the South Pacific.  The physical features of the Fijians resembled that of the negroid race of Melanesia (Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, Solomon islands ) but adopted the Polynesian (Tonga, Samoa, Hawaii etc.) culture instead.   Historians claimed that that there were two waves of migration in Fiji; the Polynesians first settled on the island and later came the Melanesians.

Fijians adopted  cannibalism from their long voyage at sea.  The lack of adequate nutrition forced these sailors to consume the dead in order to survive.

When these seafares landed in Fiji, cannibalism became part of the Fijian diet.  No to mention, the gradual increase of human population on the island led to the competition for natural resources, property and women.

   

Early historical accounts from Christian missionaries like John Hunt (1848) and William Cross (1842) depicted the gruesome and inhumane-like behavior of the early Fijians.  An account in John Hunt’s book “A missionary among cannibals” (1859) where he experienced the savages digging up of the recently buried graves for human consumption.  In the book “Fiji and the Fijians”(published in 1858) by Wesleyan missionary Reverend Thomas Williams,  he witnessed a chief’s wife from a small island of Lakeba (east from the main land) who ran away in the middle of the night.  The chief ordered his trackers to look for her the next day.  A couple of days later, she was brought back to Lakeba.  He had his wife’s arms chopped off and cooked.  Later that evening, he called on her and as she sat across from his dining table while she watched him consumed her arms in horror.  She died a couple of days later after she was christianily babtised.

The ambushed of English missionary Reverend Thomas Baker was the last cannibal act known in Fiji (1834-1907).

After 136 years in 2003, my relatives from Nubutautau village (who were responsible for the death of Thomas Baker) nationally apologized to the descendants of Thomas Baker who came all the way from East Sussex, England (BBC News- Nov2003) .  The prime minister of Fiji and 600 government employees including the press attended the ceremony. The villagers believed that they were deprived off government benefits and living necesities because they were cursed.

In the north western side of Fiji, if you’re driving on Kings highway close to Rakiraki town, you will pass by this graveyard (picture below);

Udre udre was a Fijian chief who according to Guiness World Record (2003) for “most prolific cannibal” who consumed between 872 to 900 people.   This is recorded by the stones he kept for every bodies he ate.  The history of this account is a little vague but he definately ate more than 100 people.

At war, the Fijian war clubs were designed specifically to crush human skulls and break bones;

       

Brain smasher              Gata (neck twister)      Totokia (Brain picker)

          

Fijian war clubs                                          …war spears

During wartime, the skull of the defeated chief was used as a kava (fijian ceremonial drink) bowl offered to the relatives of the defeated.

Dutch explorer Able Tasman (1603-1659) first sighted New Zealand and Fiji in the year 1642.  Later, Captain James Cook outlined the Polynesian island of Tonga and Fiji in his expedition during the mid 1700’s.  Europeans  named Tonga as the “friendly islands” and as a result, Christian missionaries poured in to Fiji from Tonga in a mission of converting the “heatherns” to Christianity.  The early Wesleyan missionaries came to Fiji during the early 1800’s.  When the self proclaimed king Ratu (Sir) Seru Cakobau ceded Fiji to Great Britian in 1870, he announced Christianity as a dominant religion which brings about the end of cannibalism.

As a young kid, we were never taught about the real history of the gruesome, warlike and cannibalistic culture of our history.   Out of curiosity and with the help of the internet, i went on a research rampage and found articles written by sailors and missionaries during the mid 1800’s describing their encounters with the Fijians.

Fiji is different now compared to a 100 years ago.  According to English CNTV (2/17/2011), Fiji is rated as the top three honeymoon destination in the world behind Hawaii and French Polynesia.  Now we talked about cannibalism loosely around the kava bowl.  There’s a Fijian joke of a our national rugby team that visited Scotland back in  the 1980’s.  Durning the half time break, a Scotsman asked a Fijian player how they would treat the loosing team playing against Fiji.   In reply he said, “We eat them.”

http://www.heretical.com/cannibal/fiji.html

25 thoughts on “A brief history of cannibalism in the Fiji islands 4/18/2011

  1. NIce nice….i like i like….i like it alot…Ey there has to be a movie done about it…..long over due for that….theres never been a movie done to reflect on the polynesian cultural roots that ties to Fijian arrivals on the island….ey why is Island spelled that way anyways… and not eyelands…or earthlands …earthlands make more sense…ey we gotta go do that prank that we talked about today at that fools front lawn…lol lol….yes yes im from Fiji…. LS LS

  2. Pingback: What Cannibals? « turcanin. cu ţ.

  3. Thanks so much for that, it was really amazing and knowing about our culture and it’s history. Thank God Missionaries came to Viti God is so good, I really couldn’t stop reading that. Most of my family and friends say and think that Fijian are Malenision straight up but I already knew that the Polynesians took settlement first in Viti. God bless and take great care of yourself love.

  4. There’s a reason western men are chevalier towards women: if we weren’t they might get eaten. Long live chivalry!
    And now, for some fresh chicken (I never eat rooster. Too stringy).

  5. Can you help me uncover an old family story that my surname is related to Baker.
    My father is from Niue and there is a story of a white missionary in our family line that was canabilised. I’m confused as to if our surname was given in honor to him or there is a blood line connection somehow?

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  7. Had the privillage to visit the cave last week. trully inspiring. I leart about canibals in sundayschool. but never thought of it a reality. Thanks for sharing your story.

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  9. In Tanzania there is a tribe called fiji they resembles fijians in everything Big bodies,drinks kava and their culture is more similar

  10. I’m a little bit confused,when I visited Tanzania on a safari I met that tribe(Fijians) in Tanzania. My colleagues in the British Army (Fijians) were shocked and so impressed that they might know their roots and most of them want to visit Tanzania after they finished Military training in Kenya.

    • Hmmmm! interesting. Did you know that Fiji is also Polynesian- depending on what region or island of Fiji you’re from? Polynesians had a lot of influence in Fiji before Europeans discovered us. And Tanzania! it is possible that there was a lost tribe that sailed out of Africa and eventually land in Fiji. We are still working on figuring out our heritage. In addition to this, i believe the best way to start is figuring out the language spoken in our archipelago. So far, our (Fijian) language is rooted in the Austronesian language- that of spoken in PNG, Vanuatu, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, South of the Philippines and of course native Aboriginal Australia. I have not yet heard this tongue of Austronesian language spoken in Africa. And besides, the word Fiji, was created by European settlers- we Fijians called our island Viti- that’s where the Fiji “word” was derived from. Thanks again mate for your feed back. Will post more blogs later.

  11. I lived in fiji for 13 years as a medical officer. I have been to nabutautau the place where thomas baker was eaten because it was part of my area as SDMO naitasiri. I have been to matuku, bukuya, vunisea as my postings and you will notice how nice the people are. There are no traces of agression as listed in theor historical past labelling them as cannibals. We joke about it calling people ” bokola” meaning kana tamata or eating people but it remained a joke now. The nurses who worked with me often joke that if it was in the 18th century i would be a tasty dish being so fair and cute hahaha. Christianity finally caught up in their gruesome historical past making them a religious people. In fact methodist services span the whole day of sunday and the sunday ban is strictly in place, you cannot buy groceries nor gasoline on a sunday. I consider fiji my second home and i miss the place and the people. Vinaka vakalevu

  12. I FIND NO HUMOR TO THE REMARK HOW A LOSER IS TREATED, THEY ARE EATEN. IT IS NOT FUNNY AT ALL. AND I WOULD NOT WANT TO ADMIT IT IF I HAD ANCESTORS WHO CANNABALIZED. THIS ARTICLE MAY HAVE BEEN FACTUAL BUT WAS DISGUSTING.

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