Sorry for eating those four British missionaries, say cannibals
By RICHARD SHEARS
17th August 2007
It has taken 132 years, but the descendants of a tribe of cannibals have finally apologised for eating four friends of a British missionary.
The Reverend George Brown came close to being killed himself when he ventured into the jungle to find those who had had his four colleagues for dinner.
Tribes in Papua New Guinea still believe in the powers of witchdoctors and skeleton men but cannibalism is a thing of the past
The Methodist minister discovered the victims' bones scattered around the cannibal village on the Pacific island of New Britain.
In a colourful ceremony this week, island chiefs said they were very sorry their forebears chopped up the missionaries for a grand feast.
The apology was made to the High Commissioner of Fiji, where the missionaries came from.
The commissioner, Ratu Isoa Delamisi Tikoca, who represents the Queen in Fiji, told the chiefs: "We are deeply touched and wish you the greatest joy of forgiveness as we finally end this record disagreement."
At the ceremony, Sir Paulias Matane, Governor-General of Papua New Guinea, which controls New Britain, recalled George Brown's good works.
Island chiefs have apologised for their ancestors chopping up English missionaries and eating them in a grand feast 132 years ago
The pioneering Englishman came close to death on several occasions - from fierce natives or disease - but managed to live out his retirement in Australia after one final trip home to Durham.
The incident which led to the apology came after Brown travelled from Fiji to New Britain, which was named by English explorer William Dampier in 1700.
He was resting in a village hut on the island when on April 8, 1878, he heard that the missionary party with which he had travelled from Fiji had been massacred by cannibals.
Fearing an uprising by the tribe, Brown, then aged 43, was urged to take reprisals or face his entire group being wiped out.
Hunting for the cannibals by canoe as they moved along the coast, the Englishmen found themselves cut off by 40 tribal canoes and only narrowly escaped.
A few days later, Brown recovered the bones of the murdered teachers in a village.
Along with his party, he burned down all the cannibals' huts and in a bloody clash some of the man-eating tribe were killed.
Brown's revenge brought about an immediate offer of peace from the natives. Yet the murders are said to have haunted him until his death.
After the event yesterday, one tribesman said: "The Reverend can now rest peacefully in his grave because the dispute is finally over."