Thursday, December 10, 2009

It's a bit late, surely?

It seems that a tribe of former cannibals has finally apologized for eating a missionary - 170 years ago. The Daily Mail reports:

In a jungle clearing on a small Pacific island, the descendants of a tribe of cannibals bow to a British pensioner and apologise for having his relative for dinner - literally.

The man they were apologising to was Charles Milner-Williams, 65, of Hampshire.

The meal they were apologising for was his great-great grandfather, the Reverend John Williams, who was killed on the island of Erromango, now part of Vanuatu, 170 years ago.

. . .

Williams, a prominent missionary of the 1830s, travelled through the dangerous islands of the South Pacific trying to convert pagan tribes to Christianity.

With fellow missionary James Harris, he stepped ashore from the ship Camden on to Erromango, part of what Captain James Cook had named as the New Hebrides.

When the natives saw the two white men walking up the beach they set upon them with spears, clubs and arrows.

. . .

Seventeen decades later, it was a far more friendly group of islanders who greeted Mr Milner-Williams and 17 members of his family, who arrived on Erromango to receive the formal apology.

In the sombre ceremony that followed, islanders bowed before the visitors and grasped their hands, clearing their consciences of past deeds.

Mr Milner-Williams also agreed to accept responsibility for the education of a seven-year-old girl who was ceremonially handed to him in exchange for the loss of his greatgreat grandfather.

He said: 'I thought I would be dispassionate after 170 years, but the raw emotion, the genuine contrition, the heart-rending sorrow, has been hugely moving.'

The tribe also said they believed the act lifted a curse that had dwelt among them, although they did not say what that was.

The reconciliation event marked the 170th anniversary of the death of Williams and Harris.

'Erromango needs it very much,' said Mr Iolo Johnson Abbil, president of Vanuatu.

He told the BBC, which showed the ceremony on Inside Out, BBC1, last night: 'People always look upon them that they killed a missionary.

'They think that it has a sort of curse on Erromango and that's why it's very important for them to have this reconciliation.'

There's more at the link, including pictures.

Nice of them to apologize . . . but I daresay Rev. Williams might consider it a bit late! Perhaps it would have been more appropriate to say a belated grace for their meal?


1 comment:

Jim March said...

If anyone is "late", it's the Rev. Williams...