The residents of a Fiji village have apologised to the family of an English Christian missionary who was eaten by tribespeople 136 years ago.
Thomas Baker’s descendants, joined by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and 600 people, attended a tribal ceremony in Nabutautau.
The local inhabitants believe their village has been suffering bad luck ever since the cannibalism incident in 1867, and hope saying sorry will help their fortunes.
Baker’s great-great-grandson Geoff Baker said he was “overwhelmed” by the greeting his party received at the remote village, after arriving there on Wednesday evening.
The journey took them five hours by four-wheel drive, and the final three or four kilometres of a makeshift road have reportedly only been bulldozed in the last few days.
They were given the traditional drink of kava, and attended ceremonies on Thursday, at which they were to take part in a “symbolic cutting of the chain of curse and bondage over the village”.
A Methodist pastor, Iumeleki Susu, a descendant of the only surviving member of Thomas Baker’s doomed group, was also present.
There are various stories as to why Thomas Baker – from Playden in East Sussex – was killed and cooked by the people of Nabutautau on 21 July, 1867.
Some say that he tried to take a comb out of the village chief’s hair, or a hat from his head, without realising that touching a chief’s head in Fiji is forbidden.
But others say that a wider power-struggle between different chiefs was to blame.
Thomas Baker and eight Fijian followers were clubbed to death, and then eaten.
The village – in the centre of the main island Viti Levu – has no roads, no school and no medical facilities and locals believe its modern-day difficulties stem from crime of their ancestors.
We are facing so many hardships,” Ratu, or chief, Filimoni Nawawabalevu told AFP.
“We believe we must have been cursed, and we must apologise for what happened… When we have made the apology we will be clean again,” he said.
“I and my family are happy to help them in any way they want us to,” said Geoff Lester, who is a Baptist.
He stressed that he and his family members do not believe the village is cursed because of its cannibal past.
One villager who took part in the cannibals’ feast was quoted in contemporary accounts as saying “we ate everything but his boots”.
One of Thomas Baker’s boots is reportedly on display in the Fiji Museum.
Reverend Baker is one of the few recorded examples of a Westerner falling victim to Fiji cannibals.
Cannibalism died out in Fiji in the mid-19th century with the acceptance of Christianity.