The Consumption of Reverend Tom Baker

The Consumption of Reverend Tom Baker

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.

Believing their hardship was a curse on the village, the people of Nabutautau held a large ceremony in 2003 to apologize.

Descendants of Thomas Baker’s party, Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and 600 people, attended the ceremony in which they drank kava and took part in the “symbolic cutting of the chain of curse and bondage over the village”. Ratu, or chief, Filimoni Nawawabalevu presented the visitors with gifts of whales’ teeth, woven mats, and a cow.

It is not recorded to whom the cow was given. Or how it was transported home.

The axe used to kill Baker still hangs in the village. A school has been built in his name.

Fiji's last cannibal, Cannibal Tom
Cannibal Tom – Fiji’s last cannibal

The boot of cannibalism victim Thomas Baker in the Fiji Museum
The remains of Thomas Baker’s boot, teeth marks included

According to persistent rumour, the unfortunate legacy of cannibalism in the Pacific Rim area is a residual passion for the consumption of spam because it tastes like people.

Reverend Thomas 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.

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