Papua New Guineans are, “Sorry we ate your forefathers…”

Cannibalism is a pretty hot topic in three of the sub-disciplines of anthropology. Physical anthropologists and forensic ones love to find evidence of cannibalism in human and hominin remains. Why? Because it rocks our understanding of ‘normal’ human behavior. One example that comes to mind is White’s book about cannibalistic practices 1,000 years ago in Mancos. Another are the remains ofNeandertal long bones show signs of Cannibalism Neandertal long bones from Krapina, one of the largest Neandertal sites, which show human bones were broken to eat the bone marrow.

Cultural anthropologists and archaeologists are also way into cannibalism. Cannibalism is often a defining cultural practice. When in 1878, a Fijian minister and three teachers, were killed and eaten by Tolai tribespeople on the Gazelle Peninsula of Papua New Guinea, that area of the world was stamped with the label of being home to blood thirsty human flesh eaters. Once cultural anthropologists flocked over there to study the people, they understood that tribesmen were carrying out longstanding practices with people they saw as enemies. The whole relative aspect of it surfaced later much later.

But now the descendants of Papua New Guinea cannibals, those who killed and ate four Fijian missionaries 130 years ago, have just apologized, as if it means anything.

Fiji’s High Commissioner to PNG, Ratu Isoa Tikoca accepted the apologies at a reconciliation ceremony near Rabaul in PNG’s East New Britain Province yesterday in front of thousands of people.

“We at this juncture are deeply touched and wish you the greatest joy of forgiveness as we finally end this record disagreement,” Ratu Tikoca said.

Papua New Guinean Tribesmen

What are your thoughts on apologizing on matters like this? Does it mean anything to you?

9 thoughts on “Papua New Guineans are, “Sorry we ate your forefathers…”

  1. I think apologies do matter. People can bear grudges for generations, as we see prominently in the Middle East. In New Zealand we regularly (perhaps either not regularly enough, of too regularly for some people) have apologies over past european land seizures. This does seem to make everybody involved feel better. The apologies are usually accompanied by monetary settlements too of course and it may be this that provides the real balm. And there are regular calls in Australia for the government to apologise to the Aborigine people for past wrongs. I think apologies work.

  2. Yet, there were no apologies, by the government for overreacting and burning down several villages…

  3. In the future, maybe it would be better if govts. etc behaved in ways that would not need to be apologised for later – for example, I daresay the Hadza would prefer to be left alone by the Tanzanian govt., rather than receive a meaningless apology for being stripped of their lands and lifestyle a few years down the road – assuming of course that the Hadza hadn’t become extinct in the meantime.

  4. It might seem obvious to us that this should be so, but my guess is things will carry on in the same old way – for example, Australian PM John Howard is well known for his refusal to apologise to the so-called ‘stolen generation’ of Aborigine children who were forcibly separated from their families, in what has been described as a ‘misguided’ attempt to assimilate Aborigines into the white population – neither was he willing to stump up any kind of cash compensation – more details from here…

  5. The question of apology is much more sophisticated than people want to believe. An apology is a form of memory as well as acknowledgement about the misdeeds of the past. For those calling for an apology as in the case of Australia’s Stolen Generations, an apology is something which is deemed healing. There are some wonderful philosophical texts written on the matter if anyone is interested such as Lazare, Tauvichis and Roy Brooks. Have a look it might help you change your mind on the relevance of apology

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