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.”