HERE BE CANNIBALS

CANNIBALISM IN POLYNESIA: THE DEMISE OF CAPTAIN COOK



When a group of Samoans went to beg pardon for any offence, they bowed down in front of the offended chief's house, and each man held in his hand a small bundle of firewood, some leaves, stones, and earth. These were symbolic of the deepest humiliation, and meant: ‘Here we are, the people who have so deeply sinned. And here are the stones, the firewood and leaves and earth to make the oven in which you can cook us, and eat us, if it be your will.’ In most cases the offended chief would come out of his house with a fine mat in his hand, which he would give to the suppliants, ‘to cover their disgrace.’

Rev. G. Brown, Melanesians and Polynesians, Macmillan, 1910




The Hapai men returned with about fifteen prisoners. Some of the younger chiefs, who had contracted the Fiji habits, proposed to kill the prisoners and then roast and eat them. The proposal was readily agreed to: by some because they like this sort of diet, by others because they wanted to try it, thinking it manly and warlike to do so.

Some of the prisoners were soon dispatched. Their flesh was cut up into small portions, washed with sea-water, wrapped up in plantain-leaves, and roasted under hot stones. Two or three of them were also baked whole, the same as a pig.

The carcass was rubbed over with the juicy substance of the banana-tree, after which it was thrown for a few minutes on the fire. Then, when it was warm, it was scraped with mussel-shells or knives, and then washed. It was next laid on its back, when the cook cut open the throat and drew forth the windpipe and gullet, passed a skewer behind them, and tied a string tight round the latter, afterwards to be divided.

He then cut a circular portion from the belly, from four to six inches in diameter, and drew forth the entrails, separating the attachments either by force or by the use of bamboo. The diaphragm was then divided, and the gullet, windpipe, contents of the chest, stomach and liver, were all drawn away together, along with his bowels. From these, the liver was separated, to be baked with the carcass; the remainder was washed and cooked over hot embers, to be shared out and eaten in the meantime.

The whole inside of the carcass was next filled with hot stones, each wrapped in bread-fruit leaves, and all the apertures were closed up quickly, with plugs of leaves. The carcass was then laid, with the belly downwards, in a hole in the ground lined with hot stones, a fire having previously been made there for that purpose, but prevented from touching them by small branches of the bread-fruit tree. A few other branches were then laid across the back of the carcass, and plenty of banana-leaves strewn, or rather heaped, over the whole; upon which, again, a mound of earth was raised so that no steam could escape. The liver, as aforementioned, was first placed beside the carcass, and sometimes yams also. By these means, the carcass could very well be cooked in about half an hour...


A few days now elapsed without any signs of the canoes from Hapai, and the distress of those who did not choose to eat human flesh was very great. Mr Mariner had been two days and a half without eating anything, when, passing by a hut where they were cooking something, he walked in, with the pleasing thought of getting something that his stomach would bear, even it were only a piece of rat.

On enquiry, he was told that they had got some pork, and a man offered him a piece of liver, which he eagerly accepted. He was raising it to his mouth when he saw by the smile on the countenance of the man that it was human liver. Overcome by disgust, he threw it into the man's face, who only laughed and asked him if it was not better to eat good meat than die of hunger.

William Mariner & Dr. John Martin, An Account of the Natives of Tonga Islands, Hutchinson, 1827




It was considered a great triumph among the Marquesans to eat the body of a dead man. They treated their captives with very great cruelty. They broke their legs to prevent them from attempting to escape before being eaten, but kept them alive so that they could brood over their impending fate.

Their arms were broken so that they could not retaliate in any way against their maltreatment. The Marquesans threw them on the ground and jumped on their chests, so that their ribs were broken and pierced their lungs, so that they could not even voice their protests against the cruelty to which they were submitted. Rough poles were thrust up through the natural orifices of their bodies and slowly turned in their intestines. Finally, when the hour had come for them to be prepared for the feast, they were spitted on long poles that entered between their legs and emerged from their mouths, and dragged thus at the stern of the war canoes to the place where the feast was to be held.

With this tribe, as with many others, the bodies of women were in great demand. Very often a man who was condemned to be killed and eaten could be visited by his relatives, always naked and painted black. There are records of cases where the relatives have volunteered to be killed and eaten in their stead, but it is probable that the bodies of these self-sacrificing individuals merely constituted an additional course when the time came.

A. P. Rice in The American Antiquarian, vol. xxxii, 1910




Victoria Rapahango told us that in her youth she had known the last cannibals on the island. They were the terror of little children. Every Easter Islander knows that his ancestors were kai-tangata, ‘man-eaters.’ Some make jokes about it; others take offence at any allusion to this custom, which has become in their eyes barbarous and shameful. According to Father Roussel, cannibalism did not disappear from Easter Island until after the introduction of Christianity. Shortly before this, the natives are said to have eaten a number of men, including two Peruvian traders. Cannibal feasts were held in secluded spots, and women and children were rarely admitted. The natives told Father Zumbohm that the fingers and toes were the choicest morsels. The captives destined to be eaten were shut up in huts in front of the sanctuaries. There they were kept until the moment when they were sacrificed to the gods.

The Easter Islanders' cannibalism was not exclusively a religious rite, or the expression of an urge to revenge; it was also induced by a simple liking for human flesh that could impel a man to kill for no other reason than his desire for fresh meat.

Women and children were the principal victims of these inveterate cannibals.

Alfred Métraux, Easter Island, André Deutsch, 1957




About 8 o'clock, it being very dark, a canoe was heard paddling towards the ship. There were two [Hawaiian] persons in the canoe, and when they came on board they threw themselves at our feet, and appeared exceedingly frightened. After lamenting with abundance of tears and loss of ‘Orono’ – as the natives called Captain Cook – one of them told us that he had brought us a part of the body.

He then presented to us a small bundle wrapped up in cloth, which he had brought under his arm. It is impossible to describe the horror which seized us on finding it a piece of human flesh about 9 or 10 pounds' weight. This, he said, was all that remained of the body of ‘Orono’; the rest was cut to pieces, and burnt; but the head and all the bones, except what belonged to the trunk, were in the possession of Terreeoboo. What we were looking at had been allotted to Kaoo, the chief of the priests, to be made use of in some religious ceremony. He said he had brought it as a proof on his innocence, and his attachment to us.

Captain King reporting the death of Captain Cook in Hawaii in 1779




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