Captain Burt and the Cannibals

Non-Fiction - Historical
277 Pages
Reviewed on 04/12/2015
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Author Biography

Barrie Canfield Bonter is a writer that lives in Cochrane, Alberta, Canada. He has spent over 10 years of research into the life of Captain George Rodney Burt and the tribal culture of 19th century Fiji. He is inspired by the works of Patrick O'Brian's historical 'Master and Commander' series and the memoir of convicted felon and fugitive Henri Charrière, titled 'Papillion' describing his escape from Devil's Island.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Michelle Stanley for Readers' Favorite

“What is bred in the bone is hard to get out of the flesh” – Captain George Burt from Vasu (Captain Burt and the Cannibals), a historical non-fiction by Barrie Canfield Bonter. Captain Burt, an insightful, ambitious seafaring man was determined to make his fortune in the South Seas, despite the fact that cannibals inhabited most islands such as Samoa and Fiji. He bought goods and went to Fiji, risking his life to trade with them. Captain Burt impressed Chief Chunga Levu, a powerful cannibal chief who bestowed on him the title Vasu, meaning “a person of great importance in the tribe and territory.” He became the first white man to live among cannibal tribes and married one of the chief’s nieces. Captain Burt achieved success as a trader and eventually a cotton farmer, although some tribal members, who were jealous, plotted his demise with village raids and celebrated their victories with human barbecues.

Captain George Rodney Burt, who spent thirty-eight years in Fiji, kept meticulous journals and photographs of his fascinating experience living among cannibals in the 19th century. Unfortunately, most of the material had deteriorated and Barrie Canfield Bonter had difficulty deciphering the writing, which was also due to Captain Burt’s atrocious penmanship. The author’s hard work paid off because Vasu (Captain Burt and the Cannibals) is a most exciting historical non-fiction book that gives a personal account of Captain Burt’s life, making his home among man-eating tribes, and the rivalry between America and Britain, as each wanted to dominate the South Seas.

Scott Skipper

Vasu: Captain Burt and the Cannibals is written by Barrie Canfield Bonter. In the 1850s, a Baltimore whaler found himself with a ship but no crew. Captain G.R. Burt solved his problem by breaking four hardened criminals out of the Pago Pago jail and promising them freedom in exchange for their loyalty. The ability to earn the devotion of savage and dangerous people was a skill that served him well throughout his life. At that time, simply landing on Fiji gave one a better than average chance of being eaten, but Captain Burt not only approached the cannibals, he moved in with them and opened a trading post. Then he selected a young native wife and prospered, living side by side with a race that actively hunted human beings for dinner. But there was trouble in paradise. The witch doctor was jealous of Burt and conspired to kill him. While he was on one of his trading voyages, rival savages attacked the town and carried Burt’s pregnant wife away to the mountains to be devoured. The imminent threat to his life, combined with his tragic loss, drove Burt from the sanctuary of the village. He sailed to Auckland on a trading voyage where he met two noteworthy people — one would become his business partner and the other his wife.

Captain Burt, always resourceful, decided to start a cotton plantation on another part of Fiji, so he again boldly approached a cannibal chieftain with a proposal to buy some land from him. In a remarkably brief time he had land cleared and planted, homes and warehouses built, and a crop ready for export. With his British wife transported from New Zealand, he settled among the barbarians to make his fortune, but nothing is ever easy. His partner’s treachery, his wife’s faithlessness, and the ever present threat of attack kept Burt in a constant state of flux, but the most duplicitous foe that confronted him in the end was the British government.

Vasu by Barrie Canfield Bonter is based on the journal of Captain George Rodney Burt and is supported by contemporary newspaper articles. The serendipitous discovery of the pages, including some glass plate photographs, has given this writer an extraordinary cache of primary source material, which combined with excellent storytelling, offers the reader a unique look at a very exotic time and place. Vasu is more than a strange story, it is an experience.

K.C. Finn

Vasu: Captain Burt and the Cannibals is a historical, fact-based adventure novel written by Barrie Canfield Bonter. Set in Fiji during the latter half of the 19th century, the plot focuses on Captain George Rodney Burt, the first white man to live in the warring climate of Fiji’s cannibal tribes, led by respective chiefs, Cakobau and Ma’afu. The novel describes the primitive tribal war between the terrifying and foreboding figures of the cannibals themselves, but also explores the political implications of Great Britain and the United States, who had their reasons for supporting opposing sides of the battle. Captain Burt struggles to find his own bittersweet success among this tumultuous time, in this novelisation based on his real journals from 1850 onwards.

Author Barrie Canfield Bonter delivers an impeccably well-researched story with fascinating photos and illustrations, though Vasu reads as much like a textbook as it does a novel. History fans will undoubtedly enjoy the novelised feel of true events, which include Captain Burt’s marriage to his cannibal wife Ifi, and his acceptance into tribal life due to his bold endeavour to offer friendship to the cannibals. The political overtones of tribal war and undertones of the larger world economy are very interesting, as is Burt’s perspective on the native people of Fiji compared to the overtly racist and domineering attitudes of others. Overall, I think enthusiasts will enjoy delving into this slice of little known history, and the records of a visionary man who struggled for individual happiness in a dangerous age.