Biographical entry: Cannibalism


The Solomon Islands was sometimes called the 'Cannibal Isles', which is a misnomer-there was cannibalism in places, but Europeans exaggerated its prevalence. Presuming that cannibalism was widespread, missionaries and government officials tried to halt the practice as quickly as possible. Rev. Arthur Hopkins, an Anglican missionary on Malaita, had as good an understanding as any early European resident. 'This never was universal but peculiar to certain districts. Nor was it practised for the sake of eating flesh, but a mark of extremist vengeance, and to absorb the "mana" not only of the one eaten, but also of a tribe. It is a religious practice done ceremonially'. (Hopkins, 1928, 19) It is almost invidious to pick out certain areas. Sacrificial cannibalism of enemies was not unknown but on analysis one notes that many stories are accusations against neighbouring groups or attempts to scandalize gullible Europeans. Early missionaries reported cannibalism on Nggela as a recent introduction from further west, and coastal people from Isabel reported cannibalism by inland groups, although given the way that coastal Isabel people teamed up with the New Georgia headhunters, it is possible that they were busy creating a trope-a rhetorical figure of speech. Early foreigners on Small Malaita, Ulawa, and in the Western Solomons recorded abhorrence of the practice, although anthropologist Douglas Oliver records the Western Solomons as a place where cannibalism was practiced. His lack of an actual example in his magisterial Oceania points perhaps to Bougainville, where he carried out extensive fieldwork. The people of Makira certainly seem to have practiced cannibalism: professional fighters would provide a corpse for a feast for a fee. (Guppy 1887, 36-37) However, on other islands, such as Malaita, cannibalism seems to have existed only to show disdain for an enemy by eating part of them, or to absorb the mana (power) of a victim. (Fox 1924, 306-307, 1958, 157; Codrington 1891, 343-344; Wilson 1932, 191-193; Oliver 1989, 315-320)

Published resources


  • Codrington, Robert H., The Melanesians: Studies in Their Anthropology and Folk-Lore, Reprinted Dover Publications, New York, 1972 edn, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1891. Details
  • Fox, Charles E., The Threshold of the Pacific, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. Ltd.; Alfred A. Knopf, London; New York, 1924. Details
  • Fox, Charles E., Lord of the Southern Isles: Being the Story of the Anglican Mission in Melanesia, 1849-1949, Mowbray, London, 1958. Details
  • Guppy, Henry B., The Solomon Islands: Their Geology, General Features, and Suitability for Colonization, Swan Sonnenschein, Lowrey and Company, London, 1887. Details
  • Oliver, Douglas L., Oceania: the Native Cultures of Australia and the Pacific Islands, 2 vols, University of Hawai`i Press, Honolulu, 1989. Details
  • Wilson, Cecil, In The Wake of the Southern Cross: Work and Adventures in the South Seas, John Murray, London, 1932. Details