Missing German yachtsman may have been eaten
Death of Stefan Ramin suggests South Sea islanders may have rediscovered their taste for cannibalism
THERE are fears that a round-the-world yachtsman from Germany may have been eaten by cannibals after going missing on the South Pacific island of Nuku Hiva in French Polynesia.
Yachtie Stefan Ramin disappeared last month after travelling to the remote tropical island with his girlfriend, Heike Dorsch. He was last seen embarking on a goat hunt with a local man.
His guide, named as Henri Haiti, returned to the couple's camp alone, attacked Dorsch and tied her to a tree before disappearing into the forest.
Remains of a body, believed to be that of Ramin, were later found on a campfire in the bush. Police and French soldiers on the island have launched a manhunt for Haiti. German newspaper Bild described him as a "suspected cannibal".
Like many other islands in the South Seas, Nuku Hiva, one of the Marquesas Islands made famous by French artist Paul Gauguin, has a history of cannibalism.
The practise was widespread before European contact. Warriors would often eat the bodies of fallen enemies in order to take on their power, or 'mana', but it has also been claimed that people were eaten for food, rather than ritual.
The practice horrified Christian missionaries when they arrived in the South Seas, and several of them ended up being eaten. One of the cannibals' most famous victims was English missionary Thomas Baker, whose boiled shoe is on display in the Fiji Museum.
During Captain Cook's second trip to the South Pacific 10 members of the crew of the Adventure were killed and eaten in New Zealand, although Cook himself was not the victim of cannibals. He was killed in Hawaii in 1779, and his body was baked, but only so his bones could be removed. The indigenous people recognised him as a man of importance and the rituals his body went through were similar to those reserved for Hawaiian chiefs.
There were reports of cannibalism taking place in the highlands of Papua New Guinea during the 20th century, but the practice was thought to be long dead in Polynesia until the Ramin case came to light. Indeed, Europeans have lived peacefully in the Marquesas for years. Herman Melville set his first novel, Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life, on Nuku Hiva and survived to tell the story.
Nowadays the islands are frequently visited by yachties, cruise ships and tour parties from Tahiti to the south. Or at least, they were until now.