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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69

Cannibalism

Cannibalism.

What earned the Maoris such a terrible name among the earlier visitors to the shores of New Zealand was not so much their reputation for ferocity in war as their cannibalism, and this also caused the Maoris themselves to be very timid in casual meetings with alien tribes and with strangers. This dreadful custom, whatever might have been its origin, was, at least during historic times, not caused by the promptings of revenge or the gratification of hatred, but by an actual love for human flesh as an article of diet. A Maori of the old school would eat anyone but a blood relation.

The earliest visitors to the islands had sad experience of this dreadful practice. One of Tasman's sailors was eaten in 1642: Captain Cook had a boat's crew eaten in 1774; Marion du Fresne, and many other navigators, met this horrible end. As also did the passengers and crew of the Boyd, in 1800, and there were many other instances. Pioneers of civilisation and missionaries all bear witness to the universal prevalence of cannabalism in New Zealand up to the year 1842. These cannibal feasts in some instances assumed gigantic proportions. In 1822 Hongi's army ate three hundred persons after the capture of Totara on the river Thames.

In December, 1831, a taua of nearly 4000 Waikatos made a descent on Waitara, inhabited by Ngatiawa. Several small parties of these latter fell into the hands of the enemy, and were killed and eaten; while the bulk took refuge in the strong pa. Pukerangiora. There they held out for twelve days, and then, overcome by famine, the wretched page 4 garrison tried to break out and escape. Unfortunately this was attempted in the day time. The Waikatos perceiving this, pursued and captured numbers of half-famished wretches. Mothers threw their children over the precipice which surmounts here the Waitara River, and leaped after them to avoid a more dreadful fate at the hands of their sanguinary foes. The captives were driven into whares, and guarded by sentries armed with sharp tomahawks. On that day the Waikatos glutted themselves with the flesh of the slain, and on the following morning nearly 200 prisoners were brought out. Those who were well tatooed were beheaded on a block for the sake of their heads; some of the remainder were slain by a blow or cut on the skull; on others every refinement of cruelty was practised, particularly the thrusting of a red-hot ramrod up the bowels. Children and youths were cut open, eviscerated, spitted, and roasted over fires made from the defences of the dismantled pa. In the afternoon a similar massacre took place, and so greedily did some of these monsters gorge, that they died from the effects of their gluttony. The feast was graced with the tatooed heads of the slain, which were stuck on short poles and placed vis-a-vis to their captors, who would at times pause in their feasting to address them with the most insulting expressions.

In 1836, during the Rotorua war, sixty human beings were cooked and eaten in two days. The last cannibal feast was in 1842, when Taraia, with forty picked warriors, crossed from the Thames to Tauranga, surprised the pa Engaro, and killed or enslaved its people, of whom two were eaten. On hearing of this, Governor Hobson gave orders for the embarkation of soldiers in the Government brig to seize Taraia and bring him to trial. Taraia thereupon addressed a letter to the Governor, asserting that the matter was no business of his, that he had no right to interfere in a purely native quarrel, and that any attempt to arrest him (Taraia) would only make matters worse. The Governor evidently thought so too, and so the matter ended.

Judge Maning's friendly chief, "Lizard Skin," killed and cooked several men in what is now Shortland-street, and forced three more of the enemy to jump over the cliff, which, in the early days of Auckland, was known as Soldier's Point.