Thursday, March 19, 2009

Getting A Taste For It: The Maori Gourmet's Approach to Cannibalism

It is well known that Maori practised cannibalism in both the pre-colonial and early colonial periods and that this was not just confined to Maori eating Maori. In the late 1890s, the historian R. A. A.Sherrin estimated that some one hundred pakeha (Europeans) were devoured between 1774 and 1804 with the number doubling between 1809 and 1840 with the greater availability of the food on offer.

Generally, the imported product turned out to be less appealing to the cultivated Maori palate than the local, tangata whenua version.

This was no doubt informed in part by the better physiological condition of the domestic variety. Captain James Cook had remarked in his journal that Maori were generally in better health and condition than their pakeha counterparts: they were taller, had better muscle tone, and were much less afflicted by diseases that had ravaged European populations such as smallpox and measles - that was yet to come.

Diet and healthy exercise would have contributed to this superior condition: fresh or well-preserved kai moana (sea food), kumara, greens, and the bounty of the forest in the form of birds, bats, and rats, with a touch of kauru to sweeten things up, rounded out the Maori diet. In comparison, Cook's pakeha sailors and the sealers, whalers, and runaway convicts that followed were fed a diet of salted pork and worm-infested ship's biscuit that was hardly the stuff on which pedigree stock are raised. It can have given no pleasure to the Maori gourmand to see his scurvy-ridden, vitamin C deficient, meal on-the-hoof. It was hardly sufficient to whet the appetite.

As to taste, Maori gourmands informed early visitors to New Zealand that they did not care for the saltiness of European flesh. That of "Negroes" tasted too much of tobacco. Perhaps too, overall conditioning was lacking in the pakeha product, reflecting their generally poor physical state which would have affected overall tenderness of the meat.

Given the generally disappointing condition of the imported product, many a pakeha who came into Maori hands dodged the knife and fork - or being picked up in the fingers.

Nevertheless, Edward Markham of Hokianga counseled as late as 1834 that:

"They say the Meat of a Mans leg and Thighs well boned, washed, and rolled is very delicious but Sailors the Gourmands pronounce to be too tough and Salt, and not so good as Mouries but still are eatable with a good appetite as Sauce and well done Potatoes."

Fortunately for the Maori gourmand, an abundant domestic supply of human flesh came onto the market in the early 1820s. Primed by a vigourous trade in muskets with pakehas paid for in potatoes, pork, and preserved moko mai - tattooed heads - an enterprising Maori entrepreneurial spirit tapped into a value-added, premium export market based on other people's meat. Inter-tribal war on a previously unheard of mass disassembly scale, in addition to settling old political scores, provided a steady supply of taurekareka - captives or slaves - to feed the booming export sector. Some taurekareka were eaten by their Maori captors while others of a higher export grade, in a selfless act of delayed gratification by their enslavers, were held for facial tattooing before beheading for the moko mai trade, yielding meat as a valuable protein by-product for local consumption.

Citation for Markham quote and numbers of pakeha devoured:

Trevor Bentley, Pakeha Maori, (Penguin Books NZ, 2 ed, 2007), p. 59.

Legal notice: As of 2009, and to the best of our knowledge, cannibalism is illegal in most jurisdictions and persons should not engage in the practice under almost any circumstances (unless stranded for months at sea or by plane crash in the Andes). A healthy historical interest in cannibalism is permissible in some jurisdictions where freedom of inquiry and speech are still protected.

7 comments:

Canterbury Heritage said...

In 1982 I was staying with a Maori family at Rawene in Northland. At that time it was recounted to me that in 1947 an elderly member of this family had cooked and eaten an infant. I was given to understand that this traditional practice was undertaken by ailing elders of high rank in order to effect rejuvenation. The miscreant was committed to a psychiatric hospital.

In subsequently discussing this matter with a former member of the medical staff of the Lake Alice Psychiatric Hospital, I was advised that it was believed that this practice had continued into the 1960s.

Jayne said...

Crikey dick, can't say that I'll be asking for any recipes or the 11 secret herbs and spices!

kuaka said...

Canterbury Heritage said:

>an elderly member of this family >had cooked and eaten an infant. I >was given to understand that this >traditional practice was >undertaken by ailing elders of >high rank in order to effect >rejuvenation. The miscreant was >committed to a psychiatric >hospital.

Some might call this early research in stem cell therapy. This could, of course, lay the basis for an intellectual property claim on cultural knowledge grounds. Where is the Wai 262 claim, anyway?

Canterbury Heritage said...

No other book on New Zealand history has provoked such controversy as Paul Moon's This Horrid Practice: The Myth and the Reality of Traditional Maori Cannibalism, published last year. This superficial work makes no mention of Maori cannibalism beyond the intial period of European settlement or even such niceties as slashing the throats of children in order to drink their blood. Alas, we live in an age when an onanistic frenzy for the political correctness of historical revisionism allows for the repression of inconvenient facts.

And what's more, I can't find a handy recipe for Enfant a la Kingi.

Jayne said...

Alas, we live in an age when an onanistic frenzy for the political correctness of historical revisionism allows for the repression of inconvenient facts.

Coincidentally my son has just written an essay on this practice of historians to discard what is seen as 'disposable' history, when it doesn't fit in with current PC thinking, etc.
May I ask if Paul Moon is/was of Maori descent?

Canterbury Heritage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Canterbury Heritage said...

Paul Moon's carefully managed Wikipedia entry makes no mention of Māori descent, but is conspicious for the number of undo edits. However, his visual appearance and membership of a Māori Genealogy club, might appear to suggest a degree of that particular ethnicity.

The overall impression gained from here is that this attention seeking "professor" of Māori Development at an Auckland technological college would appear to evidence aspects of the Impostor Syndrome, which is said to be typically associated with academics.