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Sunday, December 13, 1998 Published at 18:05 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Fijians find chutney in bad taste

By Catherine Adams in Fiji

Food scientists in the Fiji Islands say they have discovered a recipe for a vegetable dish used to accompany human bodies during cannibal feasts.

Catherine Adams in Fiji: "Some Fijians are not happy about raking up the past"
The scientists plan to market jars of cannibal chutney as a novelty gift, and argue that Fiji's flagging economy will have to rely on unique products such as this in the future.

Cannibalism was widely practised in Fiji until about a hundred years ago. But some Fijians are not happy about raking up their unsavoury past.

Recipe withheld

The co-inventor of Cannibal Chutney (CC), food scientist Richard Beyer, has concluded that Fiji is soon going to have to look beyond its traditional crops such as sugarcane.

"Our strategy is to single out products which are specific to the region and trade in those," Mr Beyer says.

Mr Beyer and an Australian colleague say they have discovered a recipe for a vegetable relish which used to accompany human meat.

He will not reveal the ingredients, but believes Cannibal Chutney, or products like it, are going to make the Fiji Islands rich.

"It is what we believe is a traditional recipe and when you think about it, it really doesn't matter what's in it. It is one of those little novelty products that you see round the world," Mr Beyer says.

"It's one of those things you buy as a novelty gift as you're leaving Fiji. It's like visitors to Fiji can go and buy a little fork which was originally designed to get the little bits of brain out of the skull," he says.

Chutney could harm tourism

But not everyone agrees with Richard Beyer's economic analysis. Trade journalist Daniel Singh thinks Fiji has plenty of resources to replace sugar, such as the hardwoods in its forests, before it has to resort to gimmicks.

"The idea of CC will not go down well because people are trying to forget the past... Tourism is an important industry here and if you associate cannibalism with that, it might affect tourism badly," Mr Singh says.

On the streets of the capital, Suva, the idea of Cannibal Chutney provoke mixed feelings among indigenous Fijians.

"Maybe the tourists would be interested to see that that was a part of Fiji's history, they might want to eat it to see what it's like, maybe it would draw them to Fiji," some said, but others were more critical.

"If I heard of cannibal chutney I wouldn't wanna eat it. We don't like the idea of Cannibal Chutney of naming our chutney that way. It spoils the Fijian race," people said.

"I think it's not really a good idea. We're almost in the year 2000 now and to talk about the past, we should forget about it. I think it is very insulting."

Missionary who became a meal

Contrary to popular myth, only one white missionary, the Reverend Thomas Baker, was ever eaten on Fiji. His shoes are in the Fiji museum.

"He was foolhardy, he was murdered and parts of his body eaten," says historical expert Paul Geraghty.

"The distribution of cuts would be similar to pork," he says.

"Cannibalism seems to have been prevalent in the earliest times. In the earliest records there are bones which appear to have been butchered which indicates it's quite old," Mr Geraghty says.

"But in every case it was a product of war. And when war ceased in the mid-19th century, then cannibalism ceased when people accepted Christianity."

Cannibal insults remain

The only trace of cannibalism today is in the language. For example, Fijians still use the common insult "bokola" which means "body for eating". Otherwise, it is never talked about.

But written records by early explorers remain, describing how the chiefs made the procedure as gruesome as possible to terrify their enemies.

"In times of bitter warfare, lower people might get little offcuts - hands and feet to chew on, but it was really the prerogative of the chiefs," Mr Geraghty says.

"They'd bring somebody back alive, if it was an opposing chief and there are accounts of items being removed from their person , like tongues, and being eaten while they watch."

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