Thomas Baker (missionary)

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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 farmer 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 Christian gospel into the interior of Viti Levu, passing through the Taukei ni Waluvu's Christian enclave on the East bank of the Wainimala River. When Baker met a local chief of Navatusila, Baker presented a British comb as a gift and attempted to persuade him to convert to Christianity. When the chief refused, Baker decided to take his comb back, touching the chief's head as he did so, which was taken as a threat and offense in Fijian customs. In pursuing revenge, a dominant coastal Chief, the Chief of Bau, gave a tabua (whale tooth) to the clan to seal the plot to kill the party, and for the body of Thomas Baker to be cannibalised and distributed in the old traditional village of Nabialevu (Nadrau).[1]

Baker was killed along with seven Fijian Christian workers. The Fijians who were cannibalised with Baker were: Setareki Seileka, Sisa Tuilekutu, Navitalai Torau, Nemani Raqio, Taniela Batirerega, Josefata Tabuakarawa, and Setareki Nadu. Two other men, Aisea and Josefa Nagata, escaped the massacre. After Baker's death, the Davuilevu mission was temporarily closed in 1868.[2]

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.[3][4]

Legacy[edit]

The story of Baker's death is the basis for Jack London's short story "The Whale Tooth".[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Rev. Elimeleki Susu, The history of Methodist Theological education in Fiji until 1973. Pacific Theological College, Suva, Fiji, 2009.
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ Eaten missionary's family get apology. BBC, 13 November 2003.
  4. ^ Nick Squires (16 August 2007). "Cannibal tribe apologises for eating Methodists". The Daily Telegraph. 
  5. ^ David Stanley (2007-08-28). Moon Fiji. Avalon Travel. p. 169. ISBN 978-1-56691-982-1.