"Any kind of premature conclusions should be avoided in this mysterious case," said Monika Arnez of the Hamburg-based Asia-Africa Institute. She said it was true that cannibalism did exist in late prehistoric times on the Marquesas Islands, which include Nuku Hiva. But the cannibalism resulted from tensions between social groups and was driven by a high population density and famine.
Colonial rulers insisted on labelling the inhabitants of the islands as cannibals in order to justify their own violence against the population, Arnez added.
Fears That Tourism Will Suffer
The deputy mayor of Nuku Hiva, Deborah Kimitete, told local newspaper Les Nouvelles de Tahiti that she was horrified by the discovery of the bones. "Nothing like that has happened here before. This is the first time, it's appalling," she said.
Tourism officials are concerned that the media coverage of the case could have a disastrous impact on tourism to the islands.
On Tuesday, German mass circulation Bild ran a headline: "Do Cannibals Still Exist on the Death Island?" and printed a 19th century etching of cannibals cutting strips of flesh out of a sailor tied to a post.
The prime suspect, Henri H., also known as Arihano H. in local media, has disappeared. Local police have widened the hunt for him and newspapers have printed photos of him, a muscular, young man with a large tattoo on his chest.
Stefan R., an engineer, and his girlfriend embarked on their catamaran yacht for New Zealand in April 2008 for a four-year cruise around the world's most beautiful sailing areas. Even before the trip, the couple had experienced their fair share of adventure -- and danger. On December 26, 2004, when the Indian Ocean tsunami struck, they were on a diving holiday in the Thai coastal resort of Khao Lak, which was devastated in the disaster.