Masa clan of Nabukebuke

Most of the artwork showcased by the villagers during the art exhibition had details about the Masa Clan and the Kuroilagi dalo. Picture: ANA MADIGIBULI

UP in the highlands of Namosi, a province with rugged, lofty and remote mountainous terrain sits one of the most dominant villages in the province, the village of Namosi.

Located between rugged mountainous backdrops, this village holds folklores that are only shared amongst villagers and close acquaintances.

With its past tribal wars many being depicted as successful, the province has also enthralling folklore about cannibalism and how it was executed and carried out in the highlands.

According to the Fiji Museum, archaeological evidence shows that cannibalism was common in Fiji from over 2500-years-ago with butchered human bones being common in food waste hidden up until the mid-1800s.

By 1800, according to the Fiji Museum cannibalism was a normal and ritualised part of life, integral to Fijian religion and warfare.

Early historical accounts from Christian missionaries like John Hunt (1848) and William Cross (1842) depicted the gruesome and inhumane behaviour of the early Fijians.

Generally those eaten were enemies killed in war, but other categories of people, such as conquered people, slaves or even the lower caste people of a community, could also be killed to acquire bokola at any time.

This was necessary because certain regular events required human sacrifice – the construction of temples, chiefs’ houses and sacred canoes, or as part of the installation rites of a chief.

The paramount chiefs had special assassins (including some Europeans) who would obtain victims for them, usually by ambush.

Cannibalism was a highly ritualised event and bodies were eaten as part of a religious ceremony, often accompanied by special chants and rituals. Consumption of a body was the critical act in the process of human sacrifice to the war god of the clan.

According to the Fiji Museum bodies of men, women and children are dragged to the bure kalou to the beating of the death drum, amid scenes of wild excitement, including men performing a cibi death dance and the obscene dele or wate (a joyous, erotically vulgar dance of women, welcoming returning successful warriors with corpses for cannibal food) dance of the women, in which the bodies, living and dead, of victims were sexually abused.

Living captives were often severely tortured before being killed.

The bete (priest) offered the bodies to the war gods, the heads often being smashed against a stone pillar outside the bure kalou, sacrificing the brain to the gods. Bodies are generally cut up and prepared for the oven by a bete (priest) using a bamboo knife.

If there was a large supply of bodies, then ordinary men and women helped in dissecting and preparing the bodies for the oven.

The bodies were cooked in earth ovens and eaten inside the bure kalou by the men of the clan.

Women and children would receive a share if there was excess.

The whole body was generally consumed, but in times of plenty, particularly following massacres, the torso, head and hands were thrown away. Skulls of famous enemies were made into yaqona cups, while shin bones were often made into sail needles.

The eating of such victims by the bete or chiefs meant that the victim was being totally destroyed or annihilated, both physically and spiritually, hence the eagerness of warriors to bring back bokola in order to wipe out their enemies.

Also, in order to avoid having friends and relatives “wiped out”, bodies of clansmen who fell in battle were brought back wherever possible.

It is also believed that Fijian chiefs ate the flesh as a means of power, revenge, and control and as the ultimate insult.

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