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The diary of Reverend David Cargill - Part 8

Sikeli Qounadovu
Sunday, December 24, 2017

Should I go or should I not?

AFTER receiving an invitation from a Fijian high chief to spread the gospel the young Reverend David Cargill ponders whether it will be wise to travel to Fiji. It was not going to be easy knowing the Fijian are hostile and still practising cannibalism. However he knew the Lord will provide the way.

A few years earlier, four Tahitian missionaries had been sent to Fiji but were not well accepted, they later went on to reside at Oneata in the Lau group.

So far, Turner and Watkin were the only missionaries who expressed an interest in carrying the gospel from Tonga to Fiji. Even though Cargill had originally been assigned to those islands rather than to Tonga, he was caught up in the duties of his still-new appointment and made no mention of a possible transfer.

This is the account of the late Reverend Cargill from the book "The Diaries and Correspondence of David Cargill, 1832-1843," edited by Albert J. Schütz and published by the Australian National University.

Thursday, March 20, 1834

They have heard some little (gospel) from the teachers from Tahiti and something from the half instructed Tonguese who have gone thither from this and other of the Friendly Islands, but they need more perfect instruction in "this way" and then we shall have a glorious harvest. As far as wickedness renders a people fit objects for the Gospel, they are prepared, 'fully ripe'. The Fijians, judging from their general appearance and language, are descended from another stock than the Friendly Islanders, tho' it is true there are some points of resemblance in their habits. It does not become me to decide where wise men have been puzzled and kept to mere conjecture, or I should certainly think the Fijians had an Asiatic origin, whilst the Friendly Islanders might have descended from an ancestry originally from the continent of America. But it is perhaps an inexplicable mystery, and no wit or wisdom of man will be able to clear it up.

My idea of the Asiatic origin of the Fijians does not rest merely upon the Asiatic contour of countenance which I think they bear, but there are points of resemblance in their habits, and perhaps a better acquaintance with the people may add to the number of coincidences we at present discover. One is their bad treatment of the Female sex, making little more of them than if they were beasts of burden, whereas in the Friendly Islands the sex is treated with considerable tenderness. Here the female is not required to do the drudgery, but in Fiji that is the case. She is required, nay, compelled to undertake the labourious duties of tilling the ground; she digs the earth; she sows the seed, dresses the plantation, reaps the harvest, cooks the food, and in fact takes the man's place except in war, while he lounges away his time in idleness or employs it on something worse. Another point of resemblance which I think I discover is the immolation of widows on the demise of the husband; it is true it is not effected in the same way - not by the pile, but by the bowstring; not by burning, but by strangling. It is very general, too, I am assured, when the husband dies, the hapless wife prepares for her fate. She seats herself, the cord is placed round her neck, one person places his hand on the head of the victim of superstitious custom, others seize the extremities of the cord and tighten it to effect strangulation, and the few struggles made are succeeded by the stillness and stiffness of death. Another circumstance is the burying alive of individuals, a practice not unfrequent in Fiji, but I never heard of an instance of it having taken place in the Friendly Islands. Individuals too old or too ill to be of further service are the victims of this cruel practice.

Sometimes it is done, I am told, at the request of the individuals themselves. No effort is made to dissuade them from it, but the willing murderers proceed forthwith to dig a hole of sufficient capacity. They then convey the sick or aged person to it, and having placed him in the grave in a sitting posture, cast the earth upon him, which is pressed down by the feet of his own relatives or neighbours — nay stamped upon with all their might, regardless of the moans of the living whom they are burying out of their sight. These may be revolting details, but they are too true and prove better than laboured argument Fiji's need of the Gospel to soften the ferocious character of its inhabitants, and to give them "bowels of mercy", for their "tender mercies are cruel".

Wars are common occurrences — so common that it is usual with the men to carry weapons with them wherever they go that they may be able to run to some rallying point on the first report of war without loss of time. They are a people who delight in war. They have an almost unappeasable appetite for it. Connected with their frequent wars is an evil for which I should think Fiji to be pre-eminent, and that is cannibalism, an evil which may have originated in revenge, but which has now grown into a confirmed appetite and fondness for human flesh, and which the Fijians don't always leave behind them when they leave their own country, as I know it to be the fact that a number of Fijians at a neighbouring island to this have gratified that unnatural appetite in two instances. In one of which they exhumed an individual who had been interred; the other was the case of an unfortunate European who was unfortunately killed or drowned when the snapper was cut off in this neighbourhood. What they did was done secretly, but it has been discovered since. Fiji, I think, exceeds New Zealand in that abominable vice. The accounts we hear are sickening: it is not one now and then who furnishes a meal for his canine countrymen, nor ten nor twenty, but hundreds. When I first heard it I was incredulous, and confident that the statement was exaggerated, but upon appealing to the authority of a Fijian chief at present here, I was assured by him that it was 'mooni aubito' (most true) that some short time ago there were more than two hundred human bodies prepared for a single feast. They were the victims of war, inhabitants of a fortress which had been taken and sacked. But the horrible appetite for human flesh is not appeased there by the victims of war, frequent as wars are.

It is nothing strange for a chief to give orders to kill such a person and dress the body for food, and to do it with as much unconcern as the butcher selects such an animal for the knife from the flock or the herd. I have heard of one chief who so preyed upon his people as at length to have left himself without a single person, and then the wretch ought to have preyed upon his own flesh and when no longer able to command or take his unnatural meal, to die like a dog as he was. Some of the chiefs in Fiji are cruel to a terrible degree. One who did possess the chief authority, but who has been dispossessed of it by his younger brothers, was a perfect monster of cruelty.

His name was a terror, his presence dreaded more than the pestilence. He was a complete tiger among his people; human life was held awfully cheap by him: he has employed the bodies of men as rollers upon which to draw up his canoe from the sea to the land (they were of course killed for the purpose).

The recital of his cruelties makes ones blood curdle, and were the history of 'Tanoa' (Kill or strike at random) 30 to be written, he would be ranked with Hyder Ally Sahib and others of infamous notoriety. From the preceding statements it will be seen that Fiji is emphatically a 'dark place of the earth full of the habitations of cruelty. O when shall the Prince of Peace begin his mild and blessed reign.

To be continued....

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