Thomas Baker (missionary)

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For the Anglican Dean of Worcester, see Tom Baker (priest).

The Reverend Thomas Baker (6 February 1832—July 1867) was a Methodist missionary in Fiji, known as being the only missionary in that country to be killed and eaten, along with seven of his Fijian followers. The incident occurred in the Navosa Highlands of western Viti Levu in July 1867, and the rock used to kill Baker is still displayed in the village of Nabutatau. The sole of his leather sandals, which were also cooked by the cannibal tribe, are in Fiji Museum in Suva.

Early life[edit]

Thomas Baker was born in Playden, Sussex on 6 February 1832. His father Jeremiah was a carpenter and in 1838, despite his wife's feelings, took the family to New South Wales, arriving at Port Jackson on 17 March 1839.

Mission work[edit]

Baker married Harriet Moon and was accepted as a probationary minister in February 1859 to be sent to a mission field.

He was commissioned to Fiji on 5 April 1859 and arrived there with his wife a month later. After being in Fiji for six years, he settled his family into the new Methodist mission station at Davuilevu on the Rewa River.

Final mission[edit]

In July 1867 Baker led a party to spread the gospel in the interior of Viti Levu, passing through the Taukei ni Waluvu's Christian enclave on the east bank of the Wainimala river. In Methodist folklore, the tabua (whale's tooth) sealing the plot to ambush the party had preceded him along the non-Christian west bank of the Wainimala river.[1]

Baker was killed along with seven Fijian Christian workers. According to interviews of the natives on Fiji as seen on the PBS show Globe Trekker, he was killed for touching the chief's head. The Fijians who were cannibalised with Baker were: Setareki Seileka, Sisa Tuilekutu, Navitalai Torau, Nemani Raqio, Taniela Batirerega, Josefata Tabuakarawa and Setareki Nadu. Two men, Aisea and Josefa Nagata, escaped the massacre. After Baker's death, Davuilevu mission was temporarily closed in 1868.

In 2003, Baker's relatives visited the village for a traditional matanigasau reconciliation ceremony. This was offered in apology for the killing by descendants of Reverend Baker's slayers.[2]

Legacy[edit]

The story of Baker's death is the basis for Jack London's short story "The Whale Tooth".[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Rev. Elimeleki Susu, The history of Methodist Theological education in Fiji until 1973. Pacific Theological College, Suva, Fiji, 2009.
  2. ^ Eaten missionary's family get apology. BBC, 13 November 2003.
  3. ^ David Stanley (2007-08-28). Moon Fiji. Avalon Travel. p. 169. ISBN 978-1-56691-982-1. 
  • Thornley, Andrew; Exodus of the i Taukei, the Wesleyan Church in Fiji 1848-74; Institute of the Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific; 2001