The Cannibal Islands

Fiji has always had a reputation as the cannibal islands, but how hungry were they really? 

Islanders first started appearing n the Fiji islands around 1,500 BC, travelling from Micronesia and Polynesia. Some say that this is where the cannibalism started, as a way to stay nourished on their voyage. Cannibalism became part of traditional custom for many years to come, right through to the days of European colonisation.

In 1643 Fiji could have quite easily been subject to European colonisation, with Abel Tasman's Dutch expedition landing just off the coast of the north islands. But it wasn’t to be as the expedition didn’t go ashore due to the tales of cannibalism that they had heard from neighbouring islands, especially Tonga. Explorer James Cook also circumnavigated the islands on his travels in the latter part of the 18th century, but didn’t go ashore. William Bligh even passed through islands on his voyage in 1789 after his crew mutinied against him.

In the early 1800's missionaries began making their way to Fiji from Tonga to convert the natives, this is where they first encountered the cannibal practice which was in full swing at the time. What they learned was that cannibalism was a right reserved for high order of the tribe (priests, chiefs, etc.), and the common tribes people were not entitled to such an honour in victory as consuming human flesh.

As the missionaries influence grew, cannibalism waned off, and by the 1850's it was no longer in common practice. It was a time of cultural change on the islands, with the decline of cannibalism and tribal warfare, the increase and acceptance of Christianity, and the beginning of the great influx of indentured Indians, which lasted until the end of the indentured system in 1916.

Cannibalism in Fiji met its end towards the end of the 19th century when Fijian king Ratu (Sir) Seru Cakobau, ceded Fiji to Great Britain, a move that introduced Christianity as the main religion on the islands. Missionary Thomas Baker is the last known man to be eaten in Fiji in 1907 (although the villagers apologised to Baker's family in 2003 as they thought that they were cursed from the act).

One Fijian Chief (Udre Udre) has a claim to fame, holding the Guinness World Record as the most prolific cannibal, with some claiming he consumed as many as 900 people in his lifetime.

Although cannibalism in Fiji no longer exists, the practice is still known to exist in some South Pacific island nations such as Papua New Guinea.