Cannibal Tribe Apologises for Eating Methodists

by Nick Squires in Sydney | Daily Telegraph

[Just so they know: No apology will be either expected
or desired for any Baptists consumed. . . .*]

A tribe in Papua New Guinea has apologised for killing and eating four 19th century missionaries under the command of a doughty British clergyman. The four Fijian missionaries were on a proselytising mission on the island of New Britain when they were massacred by Tolai tribesmen in 1878.

They were murdered on the orders of a local warrior chief, Taleli, and were then cooked and eaten.

The Fijians — a minister and three teachers — were under the leadership of the Reverend George Brown, an adventurous Wesleyan missionary who was born in Durham but spent most of his life spreading the word of God in the South Seas.

Thousands of villagers attended a reconciliation ceremony near Rabaul, the capital of East New Britain province, once notorious for the ferocity of its cannibals.

Their leaders apologised for their forefather’s taste for human flesh to Fiji’s high commissioner to Papua New Guinea.

“We at this juncture are deeply touched and wish you the greatest joy of forgiveness as we finally end this record disagreement,” said Ratu Isoa Tikoca, the high commissioner.

Cannibalism was common in many parts of the South Pacific — Fiji was formerly known as the Cannibal Isles — and dozens of missionaries were killed by hostile islanders.

Born at Barnard Castle, Durham, Rev Brown emigrated to New Zealand as a young man and served as a missionary in Samoa before moving with his wife and children to New Guinea.

He was familiar with the cannibalistic traditions of the region and once described a visit to a village in which he counted 35 smoke-blackened human jaw bones dangling from the rafters of a hut.

“A human hand, smoke-dried, was hanging in the same house. And outside I counted 76 notches in a coconut tree, each notch of which, the natives told us, represented a human body which had been cooked and eaten there,” he told the Royal Geographical Society.

Even so, he was shocked when told that four of his staff had been cannibalised.

“They were killed simply because they were foreigners, and the natives who killed them did so for no other reason than their desire to eat them, and to get the little property they had with them,” he wrote.

He reluctantly agreed to launch a punitive expedition, ordering his men to burn down villages implicated in the murders and destroy wooden canoes.

At least 10 tribe members blamed for the attack were killed in an area known as Blanche Bay. Rev Brown claimed the raids made the region safe for Europeans.

In a letter to the general secretary of the London Missionary Society he wrote: “The natives respect us more than they did, and as they all acknowledge the justice of our cause they bear us no ill will.”

But the reprisals attracted fierce criticism from the press, particularly in Australia.

The Australian newspaper said: “If missionary enterprise in such an island as this leads to wars of vengeance, which may readily develop into wars of extermination, the question may be raised whether it may not be better to withdraw the mission from savages who show so little appreciation of its benefits.”

However, an official investigation by British colonial authorities a year later exonerated Rev Brown.


* This reminds me of a wonderful old joke:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!”

He said, “Nobody loves me.”

I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”

He said, “A Christian.”

I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”

He said, “Protestant.”

I said, “Me, too! What denomination?”

He said, “Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”

I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

Emo Philips

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Categories: Christianity, First Nations, Humor | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “Cannibal Tribe Apologises for Eating Methodists

  1. “If missionary enterprise in such an island as this leads to wars of vengeance, which may readily develop into wars of extermination, the question may be raised whether it may not be better to withdraw the mission from savages who show so little appreciation of its benefits.”

    Time may change but human nature doesn’t aye.

  2. The language used in the colonization and Christianization of “savages” may have changed in the last hundred years, but the impulse to steal or eradicate native peoples’ cultural identity and religion is still very much in vogue.

    Seems to me a few wars of vengeance against such “missionary enterprises” might not be such a bad thing.

  3. indigo bunting

    I have to get to work and don’t have time to read this, but I laughed out loud at the headline (thank you) and went so far as to read the fabulous joke. Again, thank you.

  4. haysus

    If you go into the jungle and get eaten by a tiger are you gonna ask the tiger for an apology?

  5. That’s what you get for forgetting the Spam!

    Missionaries—the other white meat!

    Take a couple of skinless, boned breasts, slice them the long way, an inch wide. Marinate for 10 minutes to overnight in a mix of chopped garlic, finely chopped ginger, and soy sauce (some like to mix in a bit of barbecue sauce). Then poke a skewer through the meat, and grill until just done, turning once.

    Dee-licious!!

  6. Hmm. Haysus, are you saying that when we encounter an unfamiliar culture, we should not expect them to conform to our laws and cultural norms? Or are you equating indigenous peoples with lions and tigers and bears (oh, my!)?

  7. haysus

    Maybe I should ask the Christian Europeans to apologize for the lives they destroyed when they occupied the New World, return the lands that have been stolen, the gold they killed people over . . . oh, it’s already been spent.

    Kinda like the Missionaries . . . they’ve already been digested.

  8. Nanu

    I don’t think we should expect them to conform to our laws and cultural norms in their own lands. The Tolai didn’t go to Fiji to eat the missionaries, the missionaries went to New Guinea and got eaten.

    As for Haysus’ comment, I understood it not as equating indigenous peoples with animals as much as equating missionaries with idiots. They went there to save “savage” souls and ended up saving their bodies — from starvation. They knew what they were getting into, just like someone diving with sharks or someone out on an expedition in the jungle. . . .

  9. Haysus: Well said.

    Nanu: I disagree that “they knew what they were getting into.” I think the missionaries, and their modern counterparts, have no idea what they’re getting into. They know only their prejudices and misconceptions — and their agenda to convert, denigrate, appropriate, and destroy.

    That said, cannibalism has nothing to do with hunger. It’s about power, both political and spiritual.

  10. I often think an “eat first, ask questions later” policy is he best way to handle missionaries,

    I think this would make a splendid sign for my front door.

    “Regarding missionaries, proselytizers, and peddlers of salvation, we practice an ‘eat first, ask questions later’ policy.”

  11. Nanu

    Craig:

    “Cannibalism was common in many parts of the South Pacific — Fiji was formerly known as the Cannibal Isles…”

    If the area was known as the Cannibal Isles then they had a good idea of what to expect when they got there. I am only assuming (based on my Xtian experience) that they believe their Lord would protect them as they conducted His work.

    Althought I agree with your comment that many times these folks haven’t the foggiest notion of what they are actually getting involved with when they meet a different culture, I also believe they don’t care to learn. They are there to save and to teach and to convert, assimilation by force.

    The Borg from Star Trek the Next Generation come to mind; “Ressistance is futile.”

    I can’t speak for any other culture but my own. For the Taino Cannibalism was conducted in ceremony and it was done to absorb the spirit of the fallen one, usually an enemy. The heart and the liver were consumed ritually and those partaking were believed to take on the strength and courage of the person being fed on.

    I can’t speak for other cultures.

  12. Bro,

    “… those partaking were believed to take on the strength and courage of the person being fed on.”

    This would have been the reason behind the Tolai’s cannibalising of those missionaries.

    In other parts of Papua New Guinea cannibalising members of the nuclear family was believed to increase the power of ones spells and incantations. This is borders on the Satanic.

  13. Wanna Be, I agree that this is the reason for cannibalization wherever it is practiced. My only point I meant to make to Nanu was that it wasn’t hunger that motivated them, at least not physical hunger.

    However, I can’t agree with your characterization of any such practice as being Satanic. We may find it repellent, even repugnant, but for us to call it “evil,” or being characteristic or befitting of a supreme evil spirit, seems to be a very Western, overly Christian construct to place upon the Tolai.

  14. haysus

    Hey Wanna Be, didn’t Jesus say to partake of his flesh and blood during the last supper?

    Can’t get any more Satanic than that!!!

    Cannibals didn’t know about Satan before the coming of the missionaries, what was Jesus’ excuse?

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