Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 87.djvu/296

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Part III

OF all established customs in Fiji the most odious was cannibalism, yet it was always tabu for women and the lower classes, and the custom was extensively practised only by the chiefs and warriors. It is possible that in Fiji it was primitively a religious rite and did not originate in time of famine, or through motives of mere revenge. Instead of an animal, they sacrificed the best they had to the gods, and as the flesh of the animal was eaten by the chiefs, so was the flesh of man. Indeed, an old myth asserts that once there was no cannibalism in Fiji, and even when it was most prevalent there was always a party opposed to it, maintaining that it caused various skin diseases. At the town of Nakelo on the Rewa river, it was tabu to eat human flesh.

We incline, however, to the belief that the Fijians were cannibals simply because they enjoyed the taste of human flesh, for I have met with no dissent to the opinion that of all meat it is the most palatable, and it is evident that the custom could not have survived a decade had mere religion prompted its continuance. The fact appears to be that, in common with other privileges, the chiefs and priests had succeeded in monopolizing its pleasures through the agency of the tabu, for among savages the priesthood is quick to defer to the desires of those in power. In prehistoric times the natives had but little animal food, apart from the fish of the reefs and the snakes of the mountains, for pigs, ducks and chickens were introduced only recently. When man attempts to live upon a vegetable diet, even though it be varied by fish, an insatiate craving for animal food comes over him, he "Kalau's," as the natives say, and it is an interesting fact that cannibalism is almost unknown among peoples whose meat-supply has always been abundant and varied. Once it be acquired, this longing for human flesh remains a temptation haunting its possessor. Well does one remember the vim of a wild Marquesan dance. It was near midnight and the flickering glare of the bonfire cut into the blackness of the surrounding forest. An old chief, standing by the embers, led the chant, while his tribesmen, with hands joined, danced furiously around him. Translated into English, the burden of their song was "I have eaten your father, your mother, your brother, now I intend to eat you! whoo!! hack!!!"—in a bestial shriek that rang back in echoes from the cliffs. Then, one by one, at unexpected times and from unforeseen recesses, the maidens of the tribe emerged from the dark aisles among the trees; their graceful bodies glistening where the fire-light glinted upon the cocoanut oil that