King Malietoa

I was the other day at the Robert Luis Stevenson Museum in Vailima, Apia. It was a great experience that I will explain in more detail in other post. What I wanted to talk about today was about king Malietoa and cannibalism. Outside of the museum there was a statue of him and his son, Polualeuligana with a brief text of his story, here I have transcriped for you, it is a bit lengthy but it is a very interesting read:

This is the story of the cannibalistic repast of king Malietoa. The chiefs full name was Malietoa Uilamatu (Faiga). He was a cannibal and victims for his meals where provided from all over Samoa the victim was euphemistically called “The Chief’s Day”.

Malietoa lived in a piece of land between Afega and Malie. It is known the Tualagi and was some distance inland from the main road. The king always had some hangers-on such as chiefs and orators, waiting in front of his house for the two victims he demanded daily from this or that village. When the poor fellows arrived, they where thanked by the reception committee, and committed to the young men to be dispatched and cooked.

There was a flat, smooth rock where the victim was placed to be killed before being taken to the cook-house. There his arms where tied to his body and he was seated on the oven, legs folded under him, as if he where still alive. Thus he was roasted. When he was well done he was taken to the king’s house and cut up. The king got the nape of the neck, the rest was distributed among the chiefs and orators, and the members of their families. It is not known now whether the intestines where eaten like those of the pig, but it is certain that the king got the heart.

The capital was always full of people because many strong and bold men from the different districts used to congregate there to protect the king. They all took part in the cannibalistic feasts.

One day – Malietoa was then getting old – two young men arrive in their canoe from the Fafine district of Savaii. They had traveled the whole night so as to reach the king’s house in the early morning. The same night the king’s son Polualeuligana had been sleeping on a promontory to the east of Malua. The place is now known as Fatitu.

The young men reached this promontory at daybreak, they where conversing and one said, “Alas, this down bodes our deathWould that our lives be spared”.

They dressed in their best finery because of the mournful business on which they had come. Then they sat on the beach and they bemoaned their fate. King Malietoa’s son heard their remarks and wailings. He came down and asked “Who are you?”. They replied, “we have been ordered to come here for the King’s Day”. Polualeuligana’s heart was touched. He broke off a coconut leaf and said, “come and plait me up in this leaf.” They plaited him up jus as is done with the fish. The young man then said, “now carry me on a pole before the king”.

They did so and placed their burden before the ruler. Malietoa asked, “What is this?”. They replied, “it is the fish sacred to the chiefs”. The kings said to the chiefs and orators, “go ahead with your job”. They undid the plait and saw before them their master’s son. They said to the king, “It is not a fish but you son Polualeuligana”.

Malietoa cried out a loud voice and said to his son, “How can you be so cruel to me! However, let this be an end to our exactions. In future men should be spared and our Day should consist on fish.”

Malietoa kept his word and this signified the end of cannibalism in Samoa.

Statue of Polualeuligana

I personally love the legend, even though we cant really know how much of this is true, and there is a lot of controversy on this regard.

Pointing out the luck of evidence regarding cannibalism in Samoa, historian R.M. Watson wrote in 1917:

There is no record of cannibalism ever having ailing custom in Samoa as was so pronouncedly the case in Fiji. but as a “refinement of revenge,” in punishment of evil acts on the part of a tyrant or other hated person, or even, it may be, in that spirit of noisy braggadocio with which the Samoan male still rejoices in the success of his prowess, the body of a conquered man was cooked and eaten. To this day “I will cook you in my oven” is an insult which may result in serious consequences. Of the slain the heads were taken by the victors and carried as trophies to their leaders.

If you have any interest on the anthropology of the subject I can give you the name of two books from Marvin Harris, the father of cultural anthropology, Good to Eat: Riddles of Food and Culture and Cannibals and Kings: Origins of Cultures.



  1. Joy Kisona

    WHOA. . . . . .i wouldn’t know whether to believe it or not! Are there any other Samoan historians out there who could possibly give us more evidence into this act of cruelty?? Being a Samoan myself, I’m intrigued to know. Thanks for posting this unseemly story Eloy.

  2. Hello Joy. This is a legend, no historian will tell you this is true, but like all legends, there are people that believe them, and sometimes there is some truth in them.

    For me, the amount of legends in polynesian cultures, tells us a lot about the richness and depth of them, there are very interesting legends in Samoa. I own the “Handbook of Polynesian Mythology” by Robert Craig he is an emeritus professor of history from Alaska Pacific University and there are plenty of great legends if you are interested.

    About the origin of the text at the R.L. Stevenson museum, I have no idea where it came from, next time I drive by I will ask and see where the legend came from, maybe I can get some bibliography to check.

    Glad you read the article. I hope to see you around here.

  3. Roberta Masoe

    Love it! I was actually told this exact story by my Cousin who happens to be a Secondary School teacher and is studying for her Masters in Anthropology in Samoa! Even if it isn’t true who cares it’s a beautiful story and leaves an air of mystery which the Archaeologists in Giza have totally killed for me! Love your work!

  4. carnation

    I dnt really no ihf this is true but iht is really interesting….
    iht made meh stop and think ihf my ansisters were one of his enemy’s.
    But yeah really to me being a Samoan with others knowing tht Samoans eat humans, is really embarrassing….. But we are proud Samoans we dont care about wat others dink bout our culture….. I am reaLLY glad i read dis article because i finally no a myth nd legend bout Samoa…..:P

  5. I have recently ruturned home to new zealand after a short holiday in Samoa. One of the many things i did was go to Robert Luis Stevensons mansion. Although we arrived at the mansion during closed hours, the kind security guards still let us tour the outside property. Among the things I saw on the mansion was a giant wooden carving (as pictured above) located on the right hand side of the main entrance. A friend of mine living in Samoa gave me a full explanation of this amazing and interesting legend to which still fascinates me and have passed on the story to my friends and family.

  6. Angela Gogo

    umm.. why did the malietoa eat human”s for ??
    i didn”t know about this but when my grandmother told me, i was like whoa !! what ? lols but when did Malietoa Uilamatu became the king Malietoa ?

  7. nisi peleuila

    to be honest when samoa people say that the canniblism is over
    they are just trying to hide the truth ……but usually it isn’t over and trust me i’m samoan too…..and to be honest the canniblism is still on .

  8. Nora Afoa

    Oh do you know the story about Sina and the eel???

  9. Jeremiah

    Great story, have read this before and another tale of the cruel king. It tells of the King asking for the heart of a man who he had heard was in a completely loving and devoted lasting relationship with his wife. He wanted the joy that that man had in heart, as their passion one another was well heard of. The King wanted his heart to eat to absorb that joy. When the Kings servant travelled to Savaii and delivered the news the man was saddened to leave his wife but did so knowing if he did not the cruel King would kill their children and extended family. His wife begged him to let her accompany him back to Upolu to spend every last moment together. On the way back a mighty storm caused their canoe to drift for days. They settled eventually landing in Tutuila …

    I never managed to find out the end of the this tale but am still trying to find out, a beautiful story, perhaps I will check your above books quoted.

    Enjoying your blog even if done two years ago – Tofa Soifua

  10. wants to know the person who carved the statue and the date the statue of Malietoa and son was carved

  11. Ayasha

    This legend is very interesting.
    I never knew about it.

  12. Chrissy

    Love this! These are the kind of stories i LOVE! Though ive read these all in my fathers Myths and Legends book it still excites and amazes me. Proud Samoan!

  13. Pueblo Amado

    This is completely bull grap! Don’t even believe that this is true. It doesnt even have sources. Cannibalism by definition is the eating of the flesh of an animal by another animal of its own kind or the eating of human flesh by another human being. Since when cannibalism eat cooked meat? This is rubbish! Pacific Cultures is a wealth of myths and legend. Cannibalism story of Malietoa Vainuupo is a legend.

  14. jumey

    Thanks for the article, Samoan myself really enjoys it

  15. Gia Tayor

    99.999999% BS
    The rest pretty accurate, maybe…didnt completly read it.

    Summary Basically
    Malietoa REPENTED…after seeing His Son…Everything else is fictional Fairytales!

  16. Gia Taylor

    Malietoas Decendants are around…

    They can verify any stories…

    Go ask them?

  17. Gia Taylor

    Check The San Francisco Bay Area, Oregon, WA, Texas, Tennessee..


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