Early Accounts of Cannibalism

By on April 2, 2012

“We cannot tell you how many have been slain. Hundreds of wretched human beings have been sent to their account, with all their sins upon their heads. Dead bodies were thrown upon the beach at Vewa, having drifted from Bau, where they were thrown into the sea, there being too many at Bau to be eaten. Bau literally stank for many days, human flesh having been cooked in every hut and the entrails having been thrown outside as food for pigs, or left to putrefy in the sun.

“The Somosomo people were fed with human flesh during their stay at Bau, they being on a visit at the time. Some of the chiefs of other tribes, when bringing their food, carried a cooked human being on one shoulder and a pig on the other; but they always preferred the “long pig,” as they call a man, when baked. One woman who had been clubbed was left upon the beach in front of our house at Vewa. The poor creature’s head was smashed to pieces and the body quite naked. Whether it was done by the heathen to insult us, or not, we do not know.

“One Christian man was clubbed at Rewa, and part of his body was eaten by the Vewa heathen and his bones then thrown near our door. My lad gathered them up and buried them, and afterwards learned that they were the bones of one of his friends. After Rewa was destroyed, heaps of dead bodies lay in all directions; their bones still lie bleaching in the sun.

“We do not, and we cannot tell you all that we know of Feegeean cruelty and crime. Every fresh act seems to rise above the last. A chief at Rakeraki had a box in which he kept human flesh. Legs and arms were salted for him and thus preserved in this box. If he saw anyone, even if of his friends, who was fatter that the rest, he had him – or her – killed at once, and part roasted and part preserved. His people declared that he eats human flesh every day.

“At Bau, the people preserve human flesh and chew it as some chew tobacco. They carry it about with them, and use it in the same way as tobacco. I heard of an instance of cruelty the other day that surpasses everything I have before heard of the kind. A canoe was wrecked near Natawar, and many of the occupants succeeded in swimming ashore. They were taken by the Natawar people and ovens were at once prepared in which to roast them. The poor wretches were bound ready for the ovens and their enemies were waiting anxiously to devour them. They did not club them, lest any of their blood should be lost. Some, however could not wait until the ovens were sufficiently heated, but pulled the ears off the wretched creatures and ate them raw.

“When the ovens were ready, they cut their victims up very carefully, placing dishes under every part to catch the blood. If a drop fell, they licked it up off the ground with the greatest greediness. While the poor wretches were being cut in pieces, they pleaded hard for life; but all was of no avail: all were devoured.”
– Rev. John Watsford, Ono, Fiji, November 6, 1846

“The Fijians loved human flesh for its own sake, and did not merely eat a slain enemy out of revenge. Probably the absence of any animal they could eat gave rise to the custom…”

“The crew of every boat that was wrecked upon these shore was killed and eaten in some parts. Often a man would order to be clubbed some man or woman that he considered would be good for cooking, his plea being that his “black tooth was aching” and only human flesh could cure it. Such was the absolute right of a man over his wife that he could kill and eat her, if he wished; which has been not rarely done.

“Such inordinate gluttons were some of these chiefs that they would reserve the whole bakolo, as a human body to be eaten was called, for their own eating, having the flesh slightly cooked time after time to keep it from going putrid. As a rule a Fijian will touch nothing that has become tainted, but sooner than lose any part of a human roast, they would eat it when the flesh would hardly hang together.

“So great was their craving for this strange flesh that when a man had been killed in one of their many bruits and quarrels, and his relations had buried his body, the Fijians frequently enacted the part of ghouls and, digging the body up from the grave, cooked it and feasted thereon. So customary was this that the relations of a buried man who had not died from natural causes watched his grave until the body had probably become too loathsome for even a Fijian’s appetite.

“The flesh was either baked whole in the ovens, or cut up and stewed in the large earthenware pots they use for cooking. Certain herbs were nearly always cooked with the flesh, either to prevent indigestion or as a sort of savour stuffing – I know not which. The cooks who prepared it and placed it in the ovens filled the inside of the body with hot stones so that it would be well cooked all through.

“After a battle, the victors would cook and eat many of the slain at once, but generally some of the bodies were borne home to the victors’ village, where they were dragged by ropes tied round their necks through the open place to the temple. There they were offered to the gods, and afterwards cooked and divided among the men, the priests always coming in for a large share. By the side of the temples great heaps of human bones lay whitening in the sun – a sign of how many bodies had been thus offered to the gods. Women, however, were not allowed to take part in the awful banquet, yet women’s bodies were considered better for the favourite portions. So delicious was human flesh held to be, that the highest praise that could be given to other food was to say: “It is as good as bakolo.”

“Some of the most famous of the great cannibals have eaten an enormous number of human beings, many of them in their time having consumed hundreds of bodies…”

“No important business could be commenced without the slaying of one or two human beings as a fitting inauguration. Was a canoe to be built, then a man must be slain for the laying of its keel; if the man for whom the canoe was being built was a very great chief, then a fresh man was killed for every new timber that was added. More men were used at its launching – as rollers to aid its passage to the sea. Others again were slain to wash its deck in blood and to furnish the feast of human flesh considered so desirable on such occasions. After the canoe was afloat still more victims were required at the first taking down of the mast.

“At Bau there used to be a regular display of slaughter, in a sort of arena, round which were raised stone seats for the onlookers. In this space was a huge “braining stone” which was used thus: two strong natives seized the victim, each taking hold of an arm and leg, and, lifting him from the ground, they ran with him head foremost – at their utmost speed against the stones – bashing out his brains; which was fine sport for the spectators.”
– Alfred St Johnston, Traveller, Fiji Islands: Camping Among Cannibals, Macmillan, 1883

“Captain Morell, the American skipper of whom I have already spoken, came near to being the victim of an ambush in the Fiji Islands. he lost fourteen of his companions. After regaining his ship, he said, he saw the savages cutting up the members of his poor sailors while they were still alive, and more than one of them saw his own arm or leg roasted and devoured before his death.

“In Naclear Bay, in the Fijis, a Captain Dillon came near to losing his life. While searching for sandal-wood trees with eighteen or twenty of his men, he found himself separated from the majority of his party and surrounded by a large number of the natives. It was impossible to regain the sea, so he and four others took refuge on a steep rock. “We were,” said Dillon later, “five refugees on a rock, and the ground below was covered with several thousand savages. They lit fires at the foot of the rock and heated hearths upon which to roast the limbs of my unfortunate companions. The corpses of these,” he continued, “as well as those of two chiefs of a neighbouring island, were brought before the fires in the following manner: two natives from Naclear constructed a kind of stretcher with branches of trees, which they placed upon their shoulders. The corpses of their victims were put crosswise upon this structure, so that the head hung down on one side and the legs on the other. Thus they were carried in triumph to the fires, where they were placed on the grass in a sitting position.”

“The savages sang and danced around them with demonstrations of the most ferocious joy. They fired several bullets at the inanimate bodies, using for this posthumous execution the guns which had fallen into their hands. When this ceremony was finished, the priests commenced to cut up the corpses before our eyes, and the fragments were placed upon the hearths. Meanwhile we ourselves were surrounded upon every side save that where a thicket on mangroves bordered the river.”

“Two of Dillon’s companions, one named Savage and the other a Chinese, abandoned their captain, foolishly believing the promises of the barbarians that they would come to no harm. “Savage,” Dillon said, “was soon in their midst. They surrounded him, appearing to congratulate him. Suddenly, however, they uttered a great cry, seizing Savage at the same time by the legs. Six men held him suspended head downwards and plunged him into the hole full of water, where he was speedily suffocated. Meanwhile, a native approached the Chinese from behind, and dashed out his brains with a blow of his club. Thereupon the two unfortunate fellows were cut up and placed on the hearth with their companions.”
– Dr. Felix Maynard & Alexandre Dumas: The Whalers, Hutchinson, 1937

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