Photographs from "King of the Cannibal Isles"



London, Robert Hale & Company, 1937


"King Thakombau, 1876, and Autograph" Frontispiece.

Photo by late Colonel Stewart, R.E.

Cakobau is wearing a large barkcloth skirt, apparently from the size and design a solofua (normally a bedcover or blanket) from Lau. He rests his hands on his chief's staff or matakilagi. The autograph is "CakobauR" [Cakobau Rex], the title he adopted during the Viti Government of 1871-4. Some European settlers had first crowned him King of Bau in May 1867, but even they never recognised his sovereign power over themselves. Then in June 1871 he was proclaimed King of Fiji, this time by a small group of European associates, and over the protests of many of the European population. Though he finally achieved fairly wide acceptance of this status, his government was not a success and by September 1874, Cakobau was pleased to agree to cede Fiji to Britain. As he put it then, "If matters remain as they are, Fiji will become like a piece of driftwood on the sea, and be picked up by the first passer-by. The whites who have come to Fiji are a bad lot. They are mere stalkers on the beach. … Of one thing I am assured, that if we do not cede Fiji, the white stalkers on the beach, the cormorants, will open their maws and swallow us."

"The Old Government House, Nasova, Levuka, 1876" f.p. 34

Photo by late Colonel Stewart, R.E.

Caption note: "Where the private secretary slipped on the wharf and spoke Englsh."

"A native house or 'disembowelled haystack' " f.p. 36

Caption reads "Photograph by the Author's wife, whose pony is shown being held by a native at the back door. The Author himself is sitting in the front door"

"Sautu — where Peace and Plenty reign" f.p.36

Caption reads "— a presentation of food: turtles (turned on their backs to prevent them absconding), a heap of yams, roots of yangona [yaqona], a basket of cooked food, and bundles of mats."

Turtles are the exclusive food of chiefs, which shows that this was an important gift ceremony [solevu], involving chiefly clans on either side of the presentation.

"Presentation of Whales' Teeth to the author" f.p. 40

Caption reads: "Presentation of Whales' Teeth to the author as representative of His Majesty the King: a token of homage and fealty".

As well as the tabua whale teeth held by the man on the right of the picture, a large turtle lies on its back (see note in previous entry).

"A high-born lady of the islands" f.p. 44

Photo: Caine & Co., Suva

This young woman was still unmarried, as can be seen from her "virgin plaits" (tobe), which would be cut off by her husband on their wedding night.

"A cannibal 'Big Wig' or Tevoro, 1870" f.p. 56

Photo: A.H. Dufty, Levuka

This man is from Colo, or the Vitilevu Highlands, where the men were famous for their large wigs. As Brewster would surely have known (since he served for many years as District Commissioner for different parts of the Colo Highlands) the term "Tevoro" (commonly translated as "Devil", though more accurately as "spirit") had no bearing on whether they wore wigs or not, but was used to describe anyone who was still a non-Christian. That was very possibly true of the subject of this photograph, but is simply not relevant. Even today, many Fijians refer to the pre-Christian times as "na gauna ni tevoro" (the time of spirits).

"Suva Harbour from the islet of Namuka" f.p. 58

Caption reads: "Suva Harbour from the islet of Namuka, with Rama, or the Devil's Thumb, in the background. Photograph by Mrs. Sebastian Bach,wife of former Government Printer, Fiji."

In fact this picture was almost certainly taken from the shore at Nasese. What he refers to as Devil's Thumb is now Joske's Thumb. Mrs Bach had a little trouble with the slope of the shoreline opposite - a falling tide indeed!


"Dress of Girls of the Hill tribes" f.p. 60

Caption reads: "From a sketch by Arthur Lewis Gordon, Private Sectetary to the Governor, Sir Arthur Gordon, made at Fort Carnarvon during the "Little War" of 1876. Reproduced from the von Hügel Collection by kind permissin of the Curator of the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and of Ethnology [now the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology]."

This short fringe fibre girdle or liku was the only dress of young women throughout Fiji in pre-Christian times. It replaced the short fore-and-aft apron worn by pubescent girls for a time before they were tattooed and deemed to be women. The liku of married women was somewhat longer, but still not long. They could certainly not be described as "grass skirts". Note also the short hair, the norm at that time for women — only men wore their hair long, in many fanciful styles.

"A Christian native, 1870" f.p. 68

Photo by A.H. Dufty, Levuka."

The seated man is not dressed in the i-sulu vakatoga of a lotu or Christianised Fijian, so the caption seems curiously irrelevant. Rather, he is dressed like a pre-Christian chief, with his warrior's boar's tusk necklet, his brown-smoked chiefly wabale sash of barkcloth, and a considerable length of white barkcloth (masi vulavula) around his middle as a cummerbund. All that brands him a Christian are the fact that he was clearly dressed to perform a dance — a couple of strands of a dance-skirt made of pandanus can be seen between his legs, and he wears two tekiteki hear ornaments. In this case the gata spurred warclub in his hands would have been a dance-prop for a club dance, mekawau.

To be picky, A.H.Dufty didn't set up his studio in Levuka until 1871, so this photo does not date from 1870, but rather the 1870s.


"Standing out from the beach in a light sailing-canoe." f.p.80

Caption reads: "Sketch by the late Miss Agnes Gardner King, author of Islands Far Away, drawn specially for this book."

"The Native Church at Suva, 1870." f.p.82

Caption reads: "From a sketch by the Author's sister, Mrs. J. Frances Jones, Winfrith Rectory, Dorset. The original Suva settlers landed here from the steamship Alhambra on Sunday, September 4, 1870. The little pond in the right foreground was part of the moat which surrounded the old native village and the plants are what the Fijians call via kau, an edible arum (Cytosperma). The moat was filled up in 1882, and the Government House gates and sentry-box now stand on the site of the old Church."

"Parade of Armed Native Constabulary, 1876" f.p. 84

Caption note: "Commandant, afterwards Sir, George Le Hunte, G.C.M.G."

 "Old Levuka, the capital of Fiji from 1874 to 1882" f.p. 86

Photo by Caine & Co., Suva

Levuka was of course actually the capital before 1874, under the Cakobau government. but that was the year in which Fiji became a British Crown Colony. This is the most-favoured vantage point of Levuka, used by virtually every early photographer (see Dufty picture dated 1874).

"Suva in the early days" f.p.86

Caption reads: "The twin gabled buildings are the Government offices, erected near the site where the first sugar mill in Fiji was build by the Author's father in 1873."

"Steep hills rise precipitously from the water's edge at Levuka" f.p.100

Photo: John Waters

This photo shows more clearly than any words can, why Levuka had to be abandoned as a site for the capital. Expansion further back from the seaside was simply impossible.

"Plentee men he come from Tanna…" f.p. 102

Photo by late Colonel Stewart, R.E.

Caption note: "Tanna & Tokelau Island labourers, 1876."

"…And some from Tokelau" f.p. 102

Photo by late Colonel Stewart, R.E.

Caption note: "Tanna & Tokelau Island labourers, 1876."

"Sir John Thurston and the Chief of Vatusila" f.p.118

Caption reads: "Sir John Thurston and the Chief of Vatusila, who succeeded his brother, the slayer of the Rev. Thomas Baker, in the chieftaincy of the tribe. From a photograph taken in 1886."

 "Suva in 1877" f.p.128

Caption reads: "This view shows the old sugar mill erected by the Author's father in 1873. The rising ground on the right is the site on which the Government offices were re-built when the seat of the Administration was moved from Levuka to Suva in 1882."

"The Hon. Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon (right), afterwards Lord Stanmore, G.C.M.G., and Captain Knollys, ADC., in island kit " f.p.132

Photo by late Colonel Stewart, R.E.

Caption reads: "Captain Knollys was the Officer commanding the successful operations against the Hill Tribes of Western Viti Levu in Sir Arthur Gordon's "Little War" of 1876, for which Captain Knollys was awarded the C.M.G. and his Majority."

Knollys also, like his Governor, had a Suva street named after him.

"What Haunga saw on the Island of Nggamea [Qamea]: Land Crabs offering snakes to their ancestral god." f.p.142

"The late George Austin Woods " f.p.150

Caption reads: "The late George Austin Woods, the first Premier of the Fijian Government during the reign of King Thakombau, 1871-1872."

"The Fijian Royal Standard () and the Ensign of King Thakombau, 1871-1874. " f.p.198

Caption reads: "design incorporated a white dove with an olive branch on a red escutcheon, and the colours of the ensign were blue and white."

Cakobau's previous history of almost incessant warfare and bloodthirsty cruelty makes these emblems of peace seem a trifle inappropriate. However, Brewster noted (p.282) that "he [Cakobau] was thorough in all things. As a cannibal he was terrible and bloodthirsty; when he embraced Christianity he did so with his whole heart; and finally as a subject of the Queen he gave her his full obedience." It may equally be presumed that he applied himself as best he could to his role as constitutional monarch of the shortlived government before Cession.

Caption reads: "The late George Austin Woods, the first Premier of the Fijian Government during the reign of King Thakombau, 1871-1872."

"The Mace of Fiji" f.p.206

Caption reads: "King Thakobau's war club, which was used as the Mace of the Fijian House of Commons and was sent to Queen Victoria in token of hommae and fealty upon her assumption of the sovereignty of Fiji in 1874." [Queen Victoria had the silverwork added to the club and sent it back with the intention that it should continue to be the Mace of Parliament, which it is to this day.]

"The author at Sunday-morning inspection of the A.N.C. contingent" f.p.208

Caption reads: "The author at Sunday-morning inspection of the A.N.C. [Armed Native Constabulary] contingent on board the S.S. Ormuz on their way to Englandfor the Coronation in 1902. Photograph by G. Buckley, Esq., a fellow passenger"

"In Alexandra Palace grounds" f.p.208

Caption reads: "In Alexandra Palace [in London] grounds: Men of the A.N.C. resting after a [club] dance [mekewau]; with guests in the background".

"The Author with his detachment of the Armed Native Constabulary on their vist to Balmoral [Royal Castle, Scotland] in 1902" f.p.210

"Some of the Cannibal Isles are famed for the beauty of their women" f.p. 264

Photo by Caine & Co.

"Maafu, the Tongan Chief " f.p. 266

Photo by late Colonel Stewart, R.E., 1876

Caption reads: "Maafu, the Tongan Chief, Viceroy of the Lau or Eastern Islands of Fiji during the reign of King Thankombau."

This caption is so brief and specific that it is rather misleading. It is true that Viceroy was Ma'afu's designation during the brief constitutional monarchy in Fiji from 1871-4 immediately prior to Cession. Indeed, his acknowledgement of Cakobau's title of Tui Viti, and his pledge of allegiance, were critical to the success of the Viti government. prior to that, Ma'afu had long been a major threat to the Kubuna confederation, following his military conquest of much of Eastern Fiji and formation of the Tovata ko Natokalau kei Viti confederation (more generally known as the Tovata ko Lau), by amalgamating the old federations of Lau, Cakaudrove and Bua in 1867. Because of their elevation of Cakobau, and his role in Cession, Ma'afu has generally suffered a bad press at the hands of the British (including Brewster in this book). In fact he was demonstrably a far more skilled military and political strategist than Cakobau or any of the Fijian chiefs of his time. He was also an able and sophisticated administrator of his territories. As Derrick wrote (History of Fiji p.163), "it was in Lau that the Fijians first saw constitutional government working smoothly and for their benefit." Had the Viti government and then Cession not intervened, Ma'afu may well have achieved suzerainty over the whole Group, and the subsequent history of Fiji would have been very different.

"Ratu Timothy, second son of King Thakombau, 1876" f.p. 278

Photo by late Colonel Stewart, R.E.

Note in the text (p.279) says of Ratu Timoci: "Ratu Timothy … was a fine, handsome man, with most charming manners, which made him very popular. Unfortunately he never knew how to say 'No' when invited to have a drink, and was constantly half-seas-over." This seems a poor qualification for his post as Cakobau's Minister for War and Police in the Cakobau government, a few years before this photograph was taken.

"King Thakombau shortly before his death, February 1883" f.p. 278

Photo by Dufty Bros., Levuka

Cakobau died on February 1st., 1883. Brewster writes (pp.282-3): "It was usual, when the High Chiefs of Fiji died, for one of the ships of the Australian Squadron to come down to the Islands to bury them with ceremonial honours. As, however, King Thakombau died during the hurricane months no ship could be despatched until the stormy season was over, and so he was placed in a coffin filled with lime. The months of February and March passed away, but about the middle of the latter month a great meteor exploded over Viti Levu. I both saw and heard it, and its noise was truly terrific. The natives said it was the spirit of the old King expressing his indignation at the long time he had been left unburied. In April 1993, H.M.S. Espiegle arrived, with Captain Acland in command. … Under his guidance, King Thakombau was buried with great pomp and ceremony. The gus of the Espiegle fired the last salute, and large sheets of black cloth were swayed up to the yard-arms. Then, at a given signal, they were cut loose and fell into the sea, where hundreds of men were waiting, according to Fijian custom, to swim ashore with them and carry them up to the grave, over which the Last Post was sounded."

"Three Fijian chiefs…" f.p. 282

Caption reads: "The three Fijian chiefs who visited England in 1924 to render homage to the King on the 50th anniversary of the cession of their islands to the Crown. The photograpg was taken at Cockenzie House, Prestonpans, the residence of their host, Sir Everard im Thurn, K.C.M.G., K.B.E., C.B., who was Governor of Fiji from 1904 to 1911."

In the text (pp.283-4) there is this elaboration: "The Chief on the left was officially [that is, by the Colonial Government] known as Roko Tui Thakaundrove, but I prefer to designate him by his old hereditary title, which is Tui Thakau, or Lord of the Reefs. Since the taking of the photograph he has joined his ancestors in Mbulutu — the Island of the Blessed. … The gentleman next to him is Ratu Sukuna, who is an Oxford graduate and a barrister-at-law. The one on the right is Ratu Veli, Roko Tui Mathuata. … His grandfather was Ritova, the celebrated Chief of Mathuata, mentioned in so many of the old books about Fiji … In 1909 Ratu Veli succeeded to the hereditary title… These three gentlemen came home [sic., a common enough term among Colonials from Britain, but curious to apply to Fijians!] to render homage and fealty to the King by the presentation of a tambua … with all due solemnity at Buckingham Palace in June 1924."

It is interesting to note that these three chiefs, whom Brewster describes as "the premier gentlemen of Fiji", were all from Eastern/Northeastern Fiji, two from Vanualevu and Sukuna from Lau. This does appear to represent the Colonial administration's bias during the 1920s-30s at least. Neither of the great confederations of Kubuna (Bau) nor Burebasaga (Rewa) was represented, let alone anyone from Western, Northern or Central Vitilevu.

Sir Everard Im Thurn is second from the right. He is remembered for a number things, perhaps most contentiously for briefly changing Fiji's land laws to permit Fijians to sell their land as freehold title to others. A good deal of land was indeed sold in this way in a short time, but when the new legislation was presented for ratification to the House of Lords, it was vigorously attacked by Lord Stanmore (the former Sir Arthur Gordon), and disallowed.

"Sergeant of the Guard…" f.p. 282

Caption reads: "Sergeant of the Guard, Armed Native Constabulary of Fiji. From a sketch made by the late Arthur Lewis Gordon, C.M.G., Private Secretary to the Hon. Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon, K.C.M.G., 1876, and reproduced from the von Hügel Collection by kind permission of the Curator of the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and of Ethnology."

In the text (p.284) Brewster explains that this drawing was of Ratu Veli (see note to previous photo) "in native dancing dress". He is described as being, at that time, "a dashing young sergeant in the Armed Native Constabulary … it was quite the sporting thing for young gentlemen of good birth to serve in the ranks, and in this way Ratu Veli commenced his career, soon becoming a commissioned officer and showing efficiency in many ways. … In 1902 … he came to England as one of the detachment of [the A.N.C.] at the coronation of King Edward."

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