My great great uncle was murdered and eaten by cannibals. 1867.
In my recent trip to Fiji I stayed with direct descendants of the Chief who killed
and ate him.
This part of my family history seems to reverberate through time, still holding a
strong presence and power today, especially in Fiji where it occurred.
This story is a dark and highly physical one.
Reverend Thomas Baker was a Methodist Overseas Missionary from NSW, who
after 8 years working in Fiji, ventured into the deep interior of the main island of
Viti Levu. He met his death in Nabutautau along with 7 of his Fijian followers.
There are many versions of this story, most of which agree that a hit was put on
Baker, who posed a political power threat through Christian conversions, but also
that he touched the chief’s head, during an exchange with a comb, dooming him
to the attack.
We’ll never know the true details, but the physicality of this event goes even
beyond his death.
After being clubbed, the body of Thomas Baker still had quite the journey to
experience. He was dragged through the mountains, thrown off a cliff, dragged
alongside a river for kilometres, laid on a rock and hacked into meal sized pieces.
He was cooked, body parts were offered to different communities, and even
recently a bone was found in a tree that is proven to belong to him.
I’m not sure if the old customary dances occurred on this occasion, performed to
mock and jeer the dead bodies of enemies.
A special style of fork was used, long with huge prongs, which enable a human
body to be eaten without the flesh touching the recipient’s lips. God forbid.
A Fijian museum display holds a fork and bowl used to eat his flesh and the soles
of his shoes complete with teeth marks. Not so tasty.
I wonder, how far and wide did his body go?
How much tearing and gnawing occurred to consume him? As a meat eater I can
hardly be offended by the idea of eating flesh, however, there is reason
cannibalism ended – and not because Thomas Baker was too salty, as one coastal resort
tourist was told.
Did he feel the hairs stand up on the back of his neck before he was hit?
Was adrenaline pumping through his veins, in a flood of fight or flight that had
no time to eventuate? Most certainly it would have been for the two men who
escaped the massacre. How long did it take for their heart rates to return to
normal? (One travelled 100s of kilometres in a short time to deliver the terrible
news to Baker’s wife and children). Did they wake in panicked dreams after that
Did he have time to use his voice in exclamation?
Did he see the club before it hit? Did he sense the dark shadow of deadly intent
I was standing on a stunning cliff with 360 degrees of mountains surrounding
me, listening to Etu, one of the villagers, describe the moment Thomas’s body
was flung over the edge. He’d been dragged there, along the rough rocky path.
It’s hard to imagine those brutal events in the midst of this heavenly scene. But
the shock of that image was hard to take back. I couldn’t un-imagined it.
However the most visceral moment for me, was in reading Baker’s own words in
his last letter to his wife, written 2 days prior. He asked her to pray for him; to
kiss the children and he thought that even if they rejected Christianity, they
would not venture to kill him.
I can’t imagine this peek into the past is going to leave me any time soon, there’s
much in it. But for now, just contemplating the physicality of it, the body
language and the body experience is a full and dramatic pass time.
What does it bring up for you?
These macro images are all taken in Fiji and show the vibrancy of the botanicals.