July 1839: William Hunt records a cannibal dinner

John Garrett, in his book, “To Live Among the Stars” recorded Wesleyan Christian Missionary views of Fiji.

July 1839:  Missionary William Hunt wrote in his diary;  “From July 1839 Hunt and his family lived at Somosomo on Taveuni, where the Tui Cakau, an elderly warrior and intemperate man-eater, presided over his war-wracked realm of Cakaudrove,where his son, Tui Kilakila, wielded much of the effective military power”
Lyth’s world-view different: Richard Burdsall Lyth, another notable missionary, who was both minister and medical man lived with Hunt through a period of bloodshed and danger at Somosomo. Lyth’s matter-of fact Yorkshire temperament accorded well with Hunt’s.

Missionary personalities: By comparison they found Missionary, Cargill moody;  Missionary, Gross, who suffered at Rewa from severe dysentery, was relatively weak. Hunt’s Somosomo journal astonishes by clear-minded assessments of a world where its author was a stranger. Somosomo gave Hunt the apprenticeship for his later crucially important work on Viwa.

Hunt’s view of Fiji culture: He was far from naive about the impression the Methodists created in Fiji: “The god and the priest are in their opinion so connected as to be one and the same; I asked a person the other day if he knew who Jesus Christ is, and he said yes; I was Jesus Christ and often when we pass the houses the children call after us, Jisu Ruisiti, thinking either that we are pleased when we hear the name or thinking the name belongs to us, most likely both . . .”

Cannibal customs: These were recorded by others in the mission with distraught horror, were to Hunt a matter of calmer consideration; he observed before stepping in to reform. After a battle, he “studied the sacrifice of a captured chief, who was given to the God, cut up and cooked about three or four yards from our fence; I saw the operation which was performed with a skill and dispatch that might be expected from well-instructed cannibals”. I saw a priest sitting in the door of the temple looking at the men who were employed in cooking, etc”.

Permission to go into the temple: On another occasion Hunt went into the bure kalou, the god’s house, to become better acquainted with the religion to which he was presenting an alternative. “We requested permission to go into the temple,” he wrote, “which was granted, and we took our seat near the High Priest and the old King. ‘

Preparations for war: Hunt’ s journal went on to describe the chief’ s prayers before a battle, the presentation of highly prized tabua, whales’ teeth, and coconuts. After the war ended he later laconically reported that the women danced to welcome the fighters home and that “the songs on these occasions are very lewd.” Hunt, Lyth and Thomas Williams, their successor, were on good terms with the priest of Somosomo’ s great war god, and visited his temple.

Death of children of missionaries: Disease affected the mission seriously during its first period. At Somosomo Hannah Hunt’s twelve-day-old baby and one of Mary Anne Lyth’s children died. Cargill’s wife Margaret bore a child who died at Rewa and herself succumbed afterwards to protracted dysentery and haemorrhage. She had been Cargill’s mainstay – one person in Fiji who loved him. Plunged in grief, he sought and gained leave to return to England with his small orphaned girls, against the will of Gross, who thought he should have stayed on. Gross offered to lodge the children in his house if Cargill decided not to go. The two British pioneers of Wesleyan Christianity in Fiji were not easily compatible’.

John Garrett, “To Live Among the Stars” (book reviewed in the Journal of Pacific History, Sept, 1998, by Roderic Lacey) . Geneva/Suva: World Council of Churches in Association with the Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific. 2-8254-0692-9

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