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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1968: Three blacks in Rhodesia, notwithstanding Queen Elizabeth II

2 comments March 6th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1968, Rhodesia earned global opprobrium with a triple hanging in Salisbury (today known as Harare).

Labour M.P. Anne Kerr lays a wreath at the Rhodesian embassy to protest this date’s hangings. A few months later, Kerr would be the one in the world’s headlines … when she was roughed up by Chicago police at the 1968 Democratic Convention.

This was the first “Rhodesian” execution, three years on into the white-supremacist (pdf) breakaway state — which had bucked orderly majority-rule decolonization by declaring independence under its settler government.

So it was hardly a matter of whether James Dhlamini, Victor Mlambo and Duly Shadrack were or were not “guilty”: springing the trap on the gallows was an act fraught with racial hostility within Rhodesia (today, Zimbabwe) and throughout a decolonizing world.

Queen Elizabeth II issued a royal reprieve and the British government warned of the “gravest personal responsibility” attaching to anyone who involved himself in the proposed hanging. Rhodesia royally ignored it.

I have been hanging people for years, but I have never had all this fuss before.

(white) executioner Ted “Lofty” Milton (n.b. seemingly pictured here)

“This fuss” would encompass cross-partisan fury in the British House of Commons as well as a moment of silence in the Indian parliament, denunciations by both America and the Soviet Union … basically everybody. Tanzanian-born British M.P. Andrew Faulds called for criminal sanctions “not excluding the death penalty”. (London Times, , Mar. 7 1968)

There were even demands for humanitarian intervention — amounting to a British military occupation — to protect the other hundred-plus blacks then awaiting the gallows. Needless to say, that wasn’t about to happen, so in the face of Salisbury’s intransigence, was it all just sound and fury?

Does the Secretary of State recall that it was Winston Churchill who said: “Grass grows quickly over the battlefield; over the scaffold, never.”?

-Still-sitting Conservative M.P. Peter Tapsell — then a pup of 38, now the Father of the House — during Parliament’s emotional March 6 debate

Rhodesia insisted on the point by hanging two more Africans five days afterwards … but it also announced 35 reprieves.

In its fifteen years, Rhodesia never did get itself clear of the fuss over white rule; it remained a global pariah and eventually succumbed to its long-running Bush War.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Political Expedience,Rhodesia,Wrongful Executions,Zimbabwe

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