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This Horrid Practice: The Myth and Reality of Traditional Maori Cannibalism is a 2008 non-fiction book by New Zealand historian Paul Moon. The book is a comprehensive survey of the history of human cannibalism among the Māori of New Zealand. It was the first published academic survey of Māori cannibalism.[1]

This Horrid Practice: The Myth and Reality of Tradition Maori Cannibalism
This Horrid Practice.jpg
AuthorPaul Moon
CountryNew Zealand
PublisherPenguin NZ
Publication date
4 August 2008

The title of the book is drawn from the 16 January 1770 journal entry of Captain James Cook, who, in describing acts of Māori cannibalism, stated "though stronger evidence of this horrid practice prevailing among the inhabitants of this coast will scarcely be required, we have still stronger to give."[2]


Post publicationEdit

Shortly after the book appeared, it was featured in numerous news reports and on the New Zealand television programme 60 Minutes. The publication of This Horrid Practice was controversial because of the book's determination that cannibalism was widespread among New Zealand Māori until the mid-19th century. Māori cannibalism is a sensitive topic in New Zealand, and Moon anticipated that the book would be negatively received by some.[3]

The book prompted an anonymous but formal complaint to the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, arguing that it "describes the whole of Maori society as violent and dangerous. This is a clearly racist view claiming a whole ethnic group has these traits."[4]

One of Moon's critics, Margaret Mutu, acknowledged that cannibalism was widespread throughout New Zealand but argued that Moon, as a Pākehā (white person), "did not understand the history of cannibalism and it was 'very, very hard for a Pakeha to get it right on these things'".[5]

Moon responded by stating that Mutu had "condemned me and announced to the media that I did not understand the history of cannibalism, although she admitted to not having read even a single sentence of the book."[6] Moon also charged his critics with attempted censorship and name-calling.[6] He commented:

What amazes me is that the critics who say I don’t understand the mechanisations of this practice often have not even read the book. Nor do they have evidence to the contrary. While they may not like its content, they can’t deny historical fact. And trying to censor this book is denying the past.[3]

Referring to the book, Dr Rawiri Taonui says about the author, "He's looked at no Maori language evidence, nothing from the Maori Land Court. He sets that all aside and makes a giant-sized conclusion about pre-European Maori society that's based on the view of a few Europeans".[7]


  1. ^ Tahana, Yvonne (12 July 2008). "Cannibalism had little to do with consuming enemies' mana, says historian". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 22 November 2011.
  2. ^ John Byron, Samuel Wallis, Philip Carteret, James Cook, Joseph Banks (1785, 3d ed.). An account of the voyages undertaken by the order of His present Majesty for making discoveries in the southern hemisphere, vol. 3 (London) p. 295.
  3. ^ a b "Author unbowed on book's horrid reaction". East & Bays Courier. 28 August 2008. Retrieved 22 November 2011.
  4. ^ Tahana, Yvonne (27 August 2008). "Racism claim over cannibal book". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 22 November 2011.
  5. ^ "Tales of Maori cannibalism told in new book". NZPA. 5 August 2008. Retrieved 22 November 2011.
  6. ^ a b Moon, Paul (29 August 2008). "Censorship alive and well and living in NZ". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 22 November 2011.
  7. ^ "Racism claim over cannibal book". The New Zealand Herald. 26 August 2008. Retrieved 27 April 2019.