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Cannibal Tom, The Last Cannibal of Fiji

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One face that routinely turns up in old photos and postcards while researching Fiji’s dark past is that of an old man with long, thick dreadlocks. Some photos refer to him as “Cannibal Tom,” while others are simply captioned “an old cannibal.” The most well-known photo is an Underwood & Underwood stereoview dated 1906. In this photo, the man is wearing a civa (pearl-shell) breastplate on his chest, and a sulu, a skirt-like wrap tribesmen traded their loin cloths for when they converted to Christianity. He holds a long pole in one hand, a machete in the other. The caption says “Cannibal Tom (80 years old), the last relic of Fiji cannibalism.”


English Reverend Thomas Baker set out on a missionary expedition in 1859 to bring the word of God to the cannibal tribes of Fiji. What didn’t get eaten still remains in the Fiji Museum in Suva, which are pieces of one chewed boot and the Reverend’s Bible, along with Fijian cannibal forks and other interesting relics such as the ritual plate on which Baker had been served to the high chief.

On July 21st, 1867 Thomas Baker noticed the chief of the tribe in Nabutautau wearing a comb or hat that belonged to him. As luck would have it, it seems God and the Bible both neglected to inform the Good Reverend that touching the chief’s head was forbidden. Baker and eight Fijian followers were promptly clubbed and eaten.


When i was a little kid while having breakfast one early morning at my great grandma’s house, that’s when i first heard my grandfather spoke of our dark and violent taboo history; cannibalism.  I remembered him saying (in Fijian);  “…I’ve never tried it but i still remember what grandpa said that humans taste like pork .”  As an 8 year old hearing that by the breakfast table, i was shocked.  I sat there staring at the left over pork dish from yesterday’s funeral ceremony and in my mind i thought, “Hmmm not bad.”

Nobody knows exactly when we islanders came to the South Pacific.  However, based on archaelogical evidence,  the occupation of Fiji began between 1600 to 1200 BC.  Samoa, Hawaii and New Zealand were later occupied by the Polynesians (around 800 AD).  Fiji is widely considered to be the crossroad of the South Pacific.  The physical features of the Fijians resembled that of the negroid race of Melanesia (Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, Solomon islands ) but adopted the Polynesian (Tonga, Samoa, Hawaii etc.) culture instead.   Historians claimed that that there were two waves of migration in Fiji; the Polynesians first settled on the island and later came the Melanesians.

Fijians adopted  cannibalism from their long voyage at sea.  The lack of adequate nutrition forced these sailors to consume the dead in order to survive.


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