THE TABITEUEA MASSACRE

           

The most famous massacre took place at Tabiteuea. The circumstances and the details of it are not likely to be forgotten.

In 1868 the first Protestant ministers, natives of Hawaii, settled in Tabiteuea, under the auspices of the Boston Society. The island followed the cult of Anti Tioba, but the Hawaiians managed to gain a foothold in two northern villages - Eita and Utiroa. They brought books, materials and guns with them. Living in wooden houses and taking their walks dressed up in jackets and trousers, they represented civilization and imposed their ways strongly on the locals. They were certainly zealous, though not particularly pure or lucid. Their aim was to dominate everything. The cult of Anti Tioba was too slow in giving way to them. To make the Tioba worshippers pack up more quickly, Kapui and Nanim, the ministers, together with their most ardent followers, really stirred things up against the unconverted in Terikiai. They said their men would be invulnerable through any religious war. These cunning leaders had, however, reinforced their words with action. Their soldiers were to pretend to be afraid and run from tree to tr5ee, at an oblique angle to and safe distance from the eight guns of the heathen enemy. They would then lose patience and fire too soon on these rabbits. That was the signal for attack. Surprised with only their side arms and with no chance to reload their guns, the heathens took to their heels without the Protestant army losing a single man.

The Hawaiians' prestige went up. The whole northern part of Tabiteuea (where three-quarters of the inhabitants lived) was conquered. This was a little before 1880. There were still the heathens in the south. Various ultimatums regarding conversion were sent to them 0 but with no success. The Tioba cult had no intention of being uprooted and, to further annoy the people in the north, the south flung itself into dances, feasts and witchcraft.

Furious, the Hawaiian ministers began to talk about another religious campaign. They had a lot of influence; the northern villages joined their forces. The attraction of pillage and sharing a new land certainly counted for something in this enthusiasm for war. The southerners took these menacing signs rather too lightly. However, they all came together - men, women and children - in the maneaba at Tewai and began some fiendish dances. Near there, on the edge of the passage, they had, guarding it, a rusty old cannon. The main body of he northern army, three times stronger, were ordered to pretend to hesitate to cross the passage, which was uncovered at low tide. This was to give the two flanks time to surround the southerners, who would be taken without realizing it, so busy were they round the cannon. When they saw the danger, it was too late. Their resistance was merely token. Everybody massed in the centre, where fear had drawn together a crowd of men, women and children. Realizing they were lost, the elders asked for mercy. They hoped to move their friends' relations from the north to pity. In any case, some of them had already put down their spears in the sand. Then the Hawaiian ministers, set on the Bible and taking the Judges as an example, shouted 'No mercy for the heathens. Death to God's enemies. Sing your hymn'. The massacre took place. To escape the spears, the men climbed on the heads of the heaped up women and children. Spears were plunged into the pile of bodies. Anything that moved was skewered. The dragged out by the feet those pretending to be dead and smashed their heads in. The Hawaiian went amongst their men, whipping up excitement.

Towards midday the screams of terror, groans and cries of despair, were virtually at an end.

'Let's go and pray in the church now,' said Kapui. 'We can heave peace. The war is over.'

'Not yet,' replied Nanim.'They're not all dead. I'm staying.'

To finish things off quickly, the butchers brought the roofs of huts and piled up dead branches over the bleeding heap of southerners. They set fire to this and then more screams and groans were heard and there was movement in the mass of bodies. They could see arms waving about. But the fire was quick to accomplish complete silence.

Old men can remember this horror, for the massacre took place in 1881, only seven years before the arrival of Catholic missionaries in the Gilberts. The number of victims can be reckoned at close to a thousand.

Since then the place where the massacre happened has been called 'The place of the smell of blood'. There were very few southerners who escaped. The conquerors took over their land. The two ministers responsible for the happenings were removed to Hawaii but their successors fell heir to their influence. They became virtual kings of the island, setting up laws and organizing police in the villages. The village elders only governed under a few attempts at rebellion. Father Bontemps' arrival in 1891 was jut in time to halt a third war. Four villagers from Tanaeang had been arrested when drunk and, according to the ministers' laws, sentenced to pay a fine of 10,000 nuts or else see fifty of their finest trees cut down.

They jibbed at this. Their village and several others converted by force, took their side. The Protestants held a big meeting at Kapuna, where it was decided to go to war against the rebels. But the Tanaeang people had time to send canoes to Nonouti. Those dissatisfied with being Protestant followed him and out of a population of 4,000 Father Bontemps gathered 3,600 for instruction. The majority of Protestant army thus gone, there was no longer any question of war.

Pacific Islands Radio Stations

(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 7th August 2009)