Malekula, Vanuatu

Meat and Bone Cannibalism


Morning Glory Jungle
Morning glory forest of the village of Botko.
Malekula Black Beach
A calm sea invades one of the numerous semi-volcanic sands on the island of Malekula.
the bone test
Chief Gilbert shows a skull stored on the ceremonial-cannibal summit in the vicinity of the village of Botko.
welcome to botko
Huts from the ex-cannibal village of Botko. Located on top of Malekula Island
Taro & Coconut Milk
A native of the village of Botko prepares a snack made from taro and coconut milk.
cocoa break
Young man from the village of Botko cuts cocoa to give to visitors.
through a dense jungle
Guide George and an assistant about to disappear on a jungle trail that leads to the ex-cannibal village Botko.
Trio of Totems
Ceremonial and territorial totems at the entrance to Botko village.
A short rest
Chief Gilbert in his best clothes rests next to guide George after a steep walk from Botko to; to the place where the cannibal rituals of the village took place.
a winding river
Muddy river descends from Malekula's highest lands to the sea in repeated meanders and through Malekula's thick jungle.
Morning Glory Forest
Dense forest of morning glory;, prevalent in several areas of several islands of Vanuatu
The Nature of Chief Gilbert
Botko's boss, Gilbert, half-disappeared in the dense vegetation around the village.
tribal cattle
Cow from Botko village, at the base of a coconut tree.
South Pacific vs Jungle
Wild coastline of Malekula, one of more than 80 islands in the Melanesian archipelago of Vanuatu.
An Old Cannibal Practice
Chief Gilbert exemplifies the ancient technique of butchering bodies, in a place formerly used by his background for cannibal rituals.
On the way to Botko
Guide George and assistants walk along a beach in Malekula towards Botko.
Big Boss against Figueira
The great chief Gilbert, diminutive against the tentacular trunks of an enormous banyan tree projected from the place where the cannibal rituals of the village of Botko were performed.
Until the early XNUMXth century, man-eaters still feasted on the Vanuatu archipelago. In the village of Botko we find out why European settlers were so afraid of the island of Malekula.

There are still a few kilometers to go but George, the guide we had for those parts of Vanuatu has been trying to communicate with the village for some time.

From time to time, we hear diffuse responses to his guttural calls that are confused with a distant echo, but the native Ni-Vanuatu assures us that, in Botko, everyone is already waiting for us.

Another half-hour of walking and we come across three trunks with carved human heads. George pulls a stick and hits one of them, producing a sound that we perceive to function as a kind of tribal bell.

Totems, Botko Village, Malekula, Vanuatu

Ceremonial and territorial totems at the entrance to Botko village.

"We can't enter their territory without first announcing ourselves at the entrance, he explains." And it continues to lead us way up.

The Francophone Welcome in Botko Village

The village chief waits, curious, at the top of the last ramp, dressed in a flowered and fluorescent shirt that amazes us with its surreal nature. "Be welcome” utters in French with a Creole accent, as soon as we reach him, while other indigenous people examine us from head to toe.

George completes the presentations in Bislama, the strange English-speaking dialect of this Melanesian nation. When the initial protocol ends, Gilbert returns to the floor and reveals an enormous concern in explaining that his tribe evolved, was converted by the missionaries and that he maintains both his belief in Jesus and pride in his faith.

Chief Gilbert, Botko, Malekula, Vanuatu

Botko's boss, Gilbert, half-disappeared in the dense vegetation around the village.

“Where are you from? Portugal? Europe isn't it? I believe those around here too. So they must be a Christian people, right? With us, the French missionaries have done a good job, don't worry that you are in good hands.”

Even so, as this is your will, let us show you the terrible customs of our ancestors. Rest now. They've already walked a lot, but look, they still have a long way to go.”

On the way to Botko's Ceremonial and Cannibal Summit

We agree without reservation. For more than six hours and in excruciating damp heat, we climbed from Malekula's seafront to that high and big nambo, so considered to belong to tribes that use vegetable capsules to cover the penis larger than those of tribes from other parts, these are logically called small nambas.

Rail Natives, Malekula, Vanuatu

Guide George and an assistant about to disappear on a jungle trail that leads to the ex-cannibal village Botko.

It was an hour before we reached the place that most interested us. To prepare for the last few miles, we sat on a mat the hosts had placed facing a lush valley. We refresh ourselves and devour some tropical fruit.

Native cut cocoa, Botko village, Malekula, Vanuatu

Young man from the village of Botko cuts cocoa to give to visitors.

Some time later, Chief Gilbert reappears and we take a new trail. One young man leads the way while another protects the rear of the group. Both are equipped with machetes that they use all the time to cut through the invasive vegetation or simply to entertain themselves.

The repeated use of that weapon, in the historical context because we had ventured and in the surrounding wild environment, seemed to activate the morbid side of our imagination. In this way, primary fears that not even the purest rationality could dispel and intermittent nervous laughter that we shared to eliminate them were renewed.

We crossed streams infested with potentially malaria-carrying mosquitoes and climbed over massive logs that had fallen during the worst storms of the rainy season.

At a certain point, the trail reaches a prominent ridge where we start by having a distant view of the surrounding Pacific Ocean before returning to the usual gloomy atmosphere.

Jungle, Malekula, Vanuatu

Morning Glory Forest from the village of Botko.

Skulls, Bones, Arrangement Stones: a Kind of Cannibal Slaughterhouse

Gilbert takes us to the various places and artefacts that his ancestors used to perform the anthropophagous rituals. It starts by showing a stone with a larger hole filled with water and smaller ones, empty.

He explains that the natives there painted themselves for the final sacrifice of enemies, using the smaller orifices as a natural color palette and the water in the larger one, as a mirror and to correct imperfections.

He then moves to another large abrasive rock where he demonstrates how they made a fire and increased it, immediately igniting dry leaves. Afterwards, it takes us to a huge pile of stones used to wash, cut and cook the corpses of enemy tribes.

Chief Gilbert, Botko Village, Malekula, Vanuatu

Chief Gilbert exemplifies the ancient technique of butchering bodies, in a place formerly used by his background for cannibal rituals.

He adds that the traditional way of cooking meals was to cut the bodies into pieces, put them in a hole that functioned as a natural oven, together with yams and taro, all under a covering of banana leaves that trapped the steam.

We also learned that the normal cooking time was between three and five hours and "that the village chiefs had the privilege of eating the heads of the victims, something they did at that time if they believed that, in this way, they achieved more force".

Morbid Details of Botko, Malekula, and Vanuatu Cannibalism

Half joking, half serious, some elderly ni-vanuatus end up touching on the now taboo theme of the taste of human flesh and comparing it with that of other animals.

Botko's boss stresses that he cannot speak for himself but confesses: "my grandparents considered it sweeter than cow or pig."

Chief Gilbert holds skull, Botko village, Malekula, Vanuatu

Chief Gilbert shows a skull stored on the ceremonial-cannibal summit in the vicinity of the village of Botko.

Gilbert has just described the practical process. And for the avoidance of doubt, it shows us dozens of preserved skulls before proceeding to the base of a huge prickly pear tree used for the same anthropophagic purposes.

Chief Gilbert and fig tree, Botko, Malekula, Vanuatu

The great chief Gilbert, diminutive against the tentacular trunks of an enormous banyan tree projected from the place where the cannibal rituals of the village of Botko were performed.

There, he insists on reassuring us: “we used to kill and eat the enemies who came to steal our women but the tribes of Vanuatu stopped doing it for a long time”.

The Latest Cases of Cannibalism Not As Remote As This From Vanuatu

Previous readings and investigations seemed to prove that it hadn't been that long. Most anthropologists seem to agree that Vanuatu's last known case of cannibalism took place in 1969, more precisely in a bay southwest of Malekula.

Botko Village, Malekula, Vanuatu

Huts from the ex-cannibal village of Botko. Located on top of Malekula Island

However, the natives of this island speak of another more recent macabre event that has turned into a kind of wild myth, a case in which an elder killed and ate a child of his tribe.

It's something that the pioneering discoverers and adventurers of this archipelago of 83 lush islands would have no difficulty believing.

Until 1980, Vanuatu was colonized in a condominium regime – halfway through Great Britain and France. Despite or because of independence, it remains deeply traditional, with more than 80 percent of the population living in huts and small villages surrounded by dense jungle, lost between mountains and at the foot of imposing volcanoes.

River, Malekula, Vanuatu

Muddy river descends from Malekula's highest lands to the sea in repeated meanders and through Malekula's thick jungle.

Os ni-vanuatu they believe in various forms of black magic and almost spontaneous myths. Many still wear petticoats made of herbs and nambas, large or small, depending on the tribe in question.

The Dreaded History of Cannibalism from the Vanuatu Islands

But if things turn out that way in the present, know that they were far more primitive in the days when Western navigators scoured this part of the world.

Black Sand Beach, Malekula, Vanuatu

A calm sea invades one of the numerous semi-volcanic sands on the island of Malekula.

The first two British missionaries sent to the archipelago were immediately captured and eaten on what became known as the Isle of the Martyrs, now called the Isle of the Martyrs. error.

The name Malekula – the same island we continue to explore – has its origins in similar misfortunes. Louis Antoine de Bougainville and other French sailors sailed over and over along its jagged coastline and quickly resented the permanent threat of cannibalism.

In such a way, that they started to call her bad au cul (literally pain in the ass). Captain James Cook, a contemporary of Bouganville, reportedly recorded the expression in his diary. And time took charge of transforming and eternalizing it.

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