Posts filed under 'Fiji'

1859: Ratu Mara Kapaiwai, Fiji warrior

Add comment August 6th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1859,* the Ratu (chief or prince) Seru Epenisa Cakobau hanged a major obstacle to his control the Fiji archipelago.

Fiji comprises over 300 distinct islands in the South Pacific of which the principal and namesake is Viti Levu. Our man Cakobau ascended as the Ratu of a two-mile islet, Bau, which hugs the east coast of Viti Levu and to a 19th century European visitor “may with propriety be called the capital of Feejee.”

Not all of “Feejee” was quite so eager as Mary Davis Wallis to champion the suzerainty of the Ratu of Bau, and so Cakobau spent much of the mid-19th century maneuvering to consolidate and extend his authority. He would in the end succeed well enough to establish the first unified Kingdom of Fiji in 1871, and it was his signature on the 1874 Deed of Cession that gave said kingdom to the British.**

But before he could be the father of the nation he had to put his foot on the neck of rivals like his cousin Ratu Mara Kapaiwai.

“The ubiquitous stormy petrel of mid nineteenth century Fiji” (source), Mara’s bold adventures blew a turbulent wind through the Fijian political scene in the 1840s and 1850s. A renowned seaman and aggressive warrior, he called no one place home but shuttled incessantly among Fijian and Tongan islands, and among shifting alliances thereof. If there was one constant in the life of Mara Kapaiwai it was rejecting the overlordship of Cakobau.

He suffered what would prove to be a decisive defeat in 1855 at the Battle of Kaba, although the convert Cakobau in a paroxysm of Christian charity forgave the defeated right there on the battlefield instead of insisting the traditional right to kill and cannibalize them.

His pique for his kinsman only stoked by the defeat, the stormy petrel returned soon enough to his schemes and by 1858 had raised another rebellion.

Cakobau put an end to this resistance by putting an end to Mara himself: luring Mara to Bau with promise of forgiveness, Cakobau instead had him seized and sent to the gallows the very next day.

“He said his punishment was quite just — that he had been a very bad man and had caused the death of very many people, but that he sincerely repented of his sins and looked for mercy believing that in God his sins were being pardoned,” according to a Wesleyan missionary who attended to Mara.

* There are a few cites to be found for June 8, rather than August 6, which I cannot credit to any better cause than an inverted reading of the date 6/8 or 8/6 because people are rubbish about dates. The scholarly consensus around 6 August, and the allusion in sources like this book chapter to western missionaries’ diaries and letters, carries the argument for me — even though I have not been able to lay my own eyes on those primary documents. (As best I can determine, many of these firsthand accounts are held, un-digitized, by the Methodist Church of Australasia Department of Overseas Missions.)

** Fiji attained independence within the Commonwealth in 1970. Queen Elizabeth II’s picturesque honorific as Tui Viti (paramount chief) of Fiji — the title that Cokabau ceded to Queen Victoria along with the archipelago — has slipped into official disuse in recent years but many Fijians still embrace Elizabeth as queen. Here’s a newsreel of her 1953 visit to Fiji:

Topical here: Ratu Mara’s grandson Lala Sakuna became one of the leading statesmen of Fijian independence in the 20th century, although he predeceased its realization … fulfilling Mara’s plea to his executioner “for the safety of his 10-day-old son Joni, promising Cakobau that one day the child’s descendants would ‘bear Fiji up’.” (Source)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Fiji,Hanged,History,Nobility,Power,Soldiers,Summary Executions

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1872: Franks survives Fiji’s first hanging

Add comment May 28th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1872, the Melanesian realm of Fiji was favored with its first official public hanging.

It’s not as easy as it looks.

Enjoy this comprehensive botch from the firsthand account relayed by the New York Times:


A Fiji Execution.

The first attempt made in Fiji to carry a capital sentence into effect brought about one of the most remarkable incidents to be found in the annals of public executions. The Fiji Times of June 1 furnishes the following account:

“A horrible and brutalizing scene was witnessed last Tuesday morning by a number of persons who went to see the execution of the man Franks for the murder of Mr. Thomas Muir on board the Marion Rennie. He had been sentenced to suffer the extreme penalty of the law, and was to have been hanged on Monday, the 27th ult., but a gross miscarriage of justice was allowed to occur.

“The time appointed came and went, but the execution did not take place, for the simple reason that it did not suit the private convenience of the Sheriff. The poor wretch, who had by anticipation suffered the horrors of death, was then left in all the harrowing and unimaginable anxiety and uncertainty as to his fate from hour to hour until late in the evening, when he was informed that he must be hanged in the morning at 6 o’clock.

“Every preparation was made the previous night, the rope was fixed, and the noose adjusted. Rain fell, however, and wetted the rope, which was a very thick one, and in the morning it had to be dried before a fire. The time came, the rope was again fixed, the culprit and the hangman were on the scaffold, and before slipping the noose over the wretched man’s head the hangman had to sit down and place one of his feet in and pull with all his might to make the knot run; then after placing it over Frank’s head he had the utmost difficulty in making it fit anything like tight, but not nearly so tight as it should have been.

“Then the drop fell, and when the rope tightened with a slow dull thud, Franks was apparently dead for about three minutes, when his limbs began to move and he gave several groans, and then spoke. He prayed of those around him to put him out of his agony, to ‘let him meet his Maker in peace.’

“Then, through being improperly pinioned, he raised one arm and got hold of the rope, and so partly relieved himself from the fearful strain upon his neck. He still continued to beg to be put out of his misery, telling them he forgave them for the ‘black job’ they had made of it.

“But the frightful scene was not yet over.

“One of the officials, (the deputy was not to be found,) on the impulse of the moment, ran and cut the man down, when he fell heavily to the ground, there not being any attempt to catch him in his fall. Franks was then removed to the prison.

“Thus ended this ‘black job,’ which for horror is almost unparalleled. Its effect upon the spectators was such that one strong man actually fainted away.

“Thus the majesty of the law in Fiji has been asserted. Its most terrible sentence, death, has been attempted to be inflicted, and signally failed.

“The wretched man, after the terrible ordeal through which he passed, has been reprieved. Had another attempt been made to hang him, so strong was the feeling of indignation on the beach, we fully believe there would have been a riot.

“The question arises as to what should be done with the man. He has to all intents and purposes suffered the penalty of the law. Twice he has experienced horrors the like of which no man can imagine, and after being hanged and cut down by the officials, surely his punishment has ceased.

“The sentence was that he be hanged until ‘dead,’ but instead of being so hanged the officers of the law cut him down before death. The man should be free, for it must be clear that the law cannot punish him twice for the same offense.

“The best way to do now would be to pay his passage out of the country, and be rid of such a fellow from among us.

“Franks states that when the bolt was drawn and he fell, he thought he felt something break at the back of his neck, and he was praying and thinking of God and heaven. Then the memory of a wreck from which he was rescued passed before his mind. He saw himself cling to the chains till washed away; then seizing a rope attached to a floating spar, and clinging to it until washed back again on deck by a heavy sea. All the details of the wreck passed through his mind, and then came the thought, ‘Why do I not die?’ And finding he could breathe he suspected foul play and an intention to torture him by prolonging his sufferings. Then he spoke and clutched the rope, willing and wishing to die, but not a prolonged death.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Executions Survived,Fiji,Hanged,Lucky to be Alive,Milestones,Murder,Not Executed,Occupation and Colonialism,Pardons and Clemencies,Public Executions


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