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In 1878, Methodist reverend George Brown sent four Fijian missionaries to Papua New Guinea. Like any missionary trip, it was a delicate balance between successful conversion and causing extreme insult. On this trip, members of the Tolai tribe seem to have been unimpressed by the missionaries’ sales pitch.
They ended up killing and eating all four of them at the behest of a tribal leader named Taleli. George Brown, seemingly forgetting the basic tenets of Christian philosophy, launched a retaliatory attack on the islanders. He burned down an entire village that was believed to have links with the murders and killed at least ten people. Ultimately, British colonial authorities exonerated Brown of any wrongdoing.
“The natives respect us more than they did, and as they all acknowledge the justice of our cause they bear us no ill will,” said Brown. In contrast, a newspaper column at the time said, “If missionary enterprise in such an island as this leads to wars of vengeance, which may readily develop into wars of extermination, the question may be raised whether it may not be better to withdraw the mission from savages who show so little appreciation of its benefits.”In 2007, the Tolai tribe, who no longer practice cannibalism, offered a formal apology for the killings.
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