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Cannibalism and theories of the first landing

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, March 18, 2014

IT is something that was practised in the past although now regarded as evil.

Cannibalism was a normal and respected feature of the old iTaukei religion and way of life.

While it was obviously unacceptable by Christian standards and morals, it was perfectly acceptable by the standards of the society which practised it.

As such, states a paper compiled by the Fiji Museum, it is hardly a matter of shame but rather an important aspect of the cultural heritage.

The paper stated no matter how it might horrify us today, it was an accepted part of a former way of life and should be respected as such.

While some stories say cannibalism started during the tribal wars in the early 1800s, documented reports stated cannibalism existed in Fiji well before the birth of Jesus Christ.

The Fiji Museum paper stated it was practised in Fiji from as early as 400 BC. But it is known that cannibalism ended in Fiji when Reverend Thomas Baker was killed and eaten at Nabutautau in the Navosa highlands in 1867.

Also ambushed was his group of Fijian Methodists who met the same fate as Mr Baker, in whose memory a school has been built in the highlands.

However, before the end of cannibalism in Fiji, there existed some known cannibals such as Udre Udre, who claimed the world's most prolific cannibal title.

"Cannibals in Fiji, unless they were perverted grave robbers and such like, who were spurned and regarded as perverts by the Fijians of the day, were perfectly respectable members of the community," states the Fiji Museum paper.

It stated they were perfectly following the rules of their society and religion and "were not vicious sideshow freaks".

There are also documented reports on some websites that four Fijians were taken in the early 1870s for a circus in the US.

One of them, a dwarf, died after a few months while it is not known what happened to the others, whether their blood links are still in the US.

Also, it has been documented that an iTaukei man's skull is resting in a museum in New York.

The skull is said to be of Veidovi, who was about 40 years old when he died while being taken to the US as a prisoner in 1842.

He was accused to have, with his kinsmen, killed a group of Americans, Tahitians and Hawaiians who were drying sea slugs.

American troops were ordered to capture him and escort him to the US for trial. He was beaten up in Fiji as a form of punishment before being put on the ship, it is documented.

The Fiji Museum paper stated cannibalism was a major cause of bloodshed in the country then, it being associated with the tribal wars.

"Cruelty and hatred are essential parts of war, particularly tribal wars which were fought on a very personal and, therefore, vicious basis," it states.

"They are not necessarily evil, given under the circumstances in which they occur.

"The most violent and cruel, and they meant to be cruel, cannibals were often at home the most gentle, kindest and most hospitable family men or women.

"And there is perhaps nothing unusual in this if we consider the circumstances of life in those days," states the Fiji Museum paper.

But as far as being vicious and cruel is concerned, Udre Udre probably has the record although not much is documented about him.

It is documented that he ate between 872 and 999 people during his reign as Fiji's cannibal king.

Villagers of Vatusekiyasawa in Rakiraki, who claim to be his descendants, revealed to this newspaper recently what they know about him.

Udre Udre is said have lived at Draqara in the Nakauvadra mountain range in Rakiraki in the early 1800s.

When the tribal wars broke out in the area, he is said to have moved to the coast of Rakiraki, which was his base for some time. There, he kept his "would-be meals" in a prison made in the mangroves and fed them to fatten them for the lovo.

His prison was known as baitiritiri and the place where he cooked the human bodies was vatukatakata.

For some reason, he and his group moved to the Dakudaku hills opposite Vatusekiyasawa Village and established their village, Korolevu.

Vatusekiyasawa villager Epeli Bukadogo said Udre Udre used to beat the lali as a sign that he wanted to eat someone.

The stones where he reportedly placed the lali are still neatly placed on top of the hill, although nothing is known of the lali.

My colleague Anare Ravula and I were taken on an exclusive tour of the Dakudaku hills and shown what are believed to be the remnants of Korolevu.

Since the village is said to have been in the middle of the hills, there were stone walls on three sides, the remains of which can still be seen today.

There is also a large oval-shaped area with stone walls, which is believed to have been the place where Udre Udre and his people cooked human bodies.

Also in the old village area is a place where the world's most prolific cannibal and his group fetched their water.

"From what has been told to us by my forefathers, they blocked a place in the river more than two kilometres from here and they got water in the hills," said Mr Bukadogo.

"I don't know how they did it but I believe they had some powers to do such things."

The site of Korolevu is forbidden territory for outsiders and only those who dare to go there alone should set foot.

While Vatusekiyasawa villagers claim to know who Udre Udre was, one thing they don't really know is how he died.

A search by The Fiji Times on several websites and even the Fiji Museum has not revealed anything on Udre Udre's death.

One website says "he is still alive" when the question is posed in what year did the world's prolific cannibal die.

Vatusekiyasawa villagers believe his spirit is still around on the Dakudaku hills, thus it's not recommended to go there alone if you are an outsider.

However, with documented reports of archaeological evidence in Lakeba suggesting that cannibalism existed in Fiji around 2500 BC, several questions arise.

With at least two claims on the first landing of the iTaukei, the documented reports open up theories on who was the first person to set foot on Fiji and when.

Lutunasobasoba is known to be the first iTaukei to arrive in Fiji, landing at Vuda in Lautoka. But Mr Bukadogo claims his ancestor, Tuiwai, was the first iTaukei and he landed at Vitawa in Rakiraki with his family.

Early last year, villagers of Viseisei in Lautoka told this newspaper that Lutunasobasoba and his family landed at Lomolomo.

Taking into account documented reports on when cannibalism existed in Fiji and claims on the first landing, it is yet to be known who exactly was the first person to set foot on Fiji, when and from where.

Like an iTaukei friend said, it will probably take DNA tests to determine who was the first iTaukei to set foot on Fiji and from where.

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