Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. (Communicated

[J. Stanley Gardiner, a naturalist, visited Rotuma for 3 1/2 months in 1896. He was a keen observer and conducted extensive interviews on a range of topics. His account, published in 1898 in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 27:396-435, 457-524, is the most comprehensive ethnography of Rotuma published in the nineteenth century. It is an indispensable source for studies of Rotuman culture and history.]

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From J. Stanley Gardiner (1898), "The Natives of Rotuma," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 27:428-431.


The island was formerly sharply divided up into five districts, Noatau to the east, Faguta to the south, Itoteu to the west, and to the north Malaha and Oinafa. The first division made was, according to legendary accounts, between Itoteu and the rest of the island to put an end to the disputes of two kings, who claimed dominion over the whole. A chief for the purpose came from Hatana, but on the night previous to the day, fixed for the division, his daughters made along this line a good road, which he found easy to traverse and thus made the division. Later Itomotu (the part cut off) was separated from Itoteu, leaving a part to the west still belonging to Itoteu, but completely separated from it by the new district. Here in Itoteu the large village of Losa is situated; it owns the two islands to the west, Hatana and Hoflewa, which are regularly hunted for the eggs of two species of Anous, while Uea belongs to Itomotu. Faguta was divided into two districts, Pepji and Juju, by the other districts after a successful war, to weaken the power of its chief.

Each district has a chief of its own, the gagaja, but the chiefs of Noatau and Faguta were the most important and practically ruled over the north and south sides of the island. The government of the whole island was in the hands of a council, formed of the chiefs of the several districts, when they were not at war with one another. The president of this council was the chief of whichever of these two districts, Noatau and Faguta, had conquered the other in the last war; he was called the fakpure. The office of gagaja in each district always remained in the same family; when one died the heads of the families, or hoag, in the district met together and proceeded to elect the most worthy of the same hoag to the office. The hoag then met, and invariably conferred on him the family name; he would be generally the brother; son of an elder brother, or son of the last chief. It was not usual to confer it on children, but cases are remembered, when there was no suitable near male relation; an old man of the district was then usually elected too, from some other important hoag, to act as deputy, the real chief not acting as a rule till his deputy died. If it was desired to depose a chief, it was a difficult matter, if his hoag did not meet first and take away from him the family name. There was a virtue in this name, and, if the family would not give the name to the newly elected chief, it was doubtful if the district in the old days would venture to appoint him. Marafu was the name of the chief of Noatau. The present one informed me that there was a contest about his grandfather (possibly granduncle), and that the district gave way to the family. The name in Faguta was Riemkou. After the division of this district into Pepji and Juju, the chief of one was Riemkou and of the other some near relation of his. In some districts, chiefs from other families have been made by their conquerors in war, and any family which has once had the chieftainship claims the right, so that it is hard to find out to which family it properly belonged. The gagaja was generally installed on the first day of the new moon. Presents of food and to be brought him by the whole district, and the kava, after bowls had been poured out to the atua and dead chiefs, was first handed to him, to be by him poured out to the last chief, whose spirit then entered him.

The districts were subdivided into hoag, a name applied to all the houses of a family, which were placed together, forming, if the family was a large one, a small village; it is also applied to the family itself. Each of these hoag had a name, which was conferred on one member of the hoag, who was invariably ipso facto its head, or pure. If too young, or inexperienced for the post, as with the gagaja, a deputy was appointed. In most cases, however, the name was given to a brother of the last pure or its oldest member of pure descent, the husband of one of its women not being appointed its pure or given its name. From the name to some extent the hoag took its position or rank. Kava was called to the men in a very definite order, according to the rank of their names. Usually the chief of the district had the name, which was the first in his own district to be called, but in any feast of his own district or of the whole island, Tokaniua of Oinafa was always called first, though his family, as far as I could ascertain, never held the office of gagaja in any district. Marafu told me too that kava would be called to Tokaniua before any dead chiefs, with the sole exception of Rahou (Sec. XXV, a); the next name to be called was Marafu. Tokaniua (Sec. XXV, b), perhaps represents the original inhabitants of the island, and Marafu the most important recorded addition to its population and whilom conquerors.

The name of one hoag in Noatau, situated at the most south-easterly point of the island, is Rotuma; it would be, on a straight course from Tonga with a south-east trade, the point first visited, and probably from this hoag the Tongans gave the name to the island. The hoag name is Tui Rotuma; tui in Rotuman means great in respect to size, but in Tongan king or chief. This will account for the mistake in the report of the Wilkes Expedition. [fn. "The Races of Men," Chas. Pickering, 1849, p. 99.] "The king of Rotuma was residing at the heathen village in Tongataboo, an individual of large stature, having the nose slightly arched. His attendants, however, from the same island were not distinguishable from the Tonga men around. He had been brought here by a whale-ship together with his numerous wives, and when questioned on the subject of his rank he manifested some diffidence." The latter was but natural, as the bearer of this name is only a very small chief; his numerous wives were probably women of his hoag, who had accompanied him, or pro tempore connections in Tonga.

The power of the gagaja in his district was not arbitrary; he was assisted by a council of the possessors of the hoag names, which might reverse any action of his. Conflicts between the chief and his council were rare so long as his decisions were in accordance with, and he did not infringe, the Rotuman customs. He was called upon to decide disputes about land between hoag, or within a hoag, if its pure could not settle it; disputes between individuals of different hoag were referred to him. He could call out the district for fish-driving, war, or any work in which all were interested, and had the power of fining any individuals who did not come. If the walls or paths of his district were in disrepair, he ordered out all the hoag, interested, to do the work; he had further to keep a watch to see that a proper number of cocoanut trees were planted, and that all the papoi land was cultivated. Any one receiving the hoag name had to be recognised by him on their election before they could take it. As a set-off to these, he received to some extent first-fruits and a present of food from each of the parties to any suit, which might have been held before him in his district. Offences against the district were punished by fines of food, or by work for the good of the district in general; against individuals the work was done for, or the food given to, the injured party. In cases of adultery the injured individual had the right of club law, and the friends of the injurer could not retaliate by the same, or they would come under the punishment of the whole district, and death, by being set afloat in an open canoe without paddles, was the penalty. There is an account, though, of one offender being kept for a long time at the bottom of a cave, 80 feet deep, from which exit was quite impossible. Extremities like this were very rarely resorted to, a big faksoro, or present, to the injured party usually settling the affair. A root of kava was offered first, and if this was accepted, it was a sign that they were willing to settle the affair, and an amicable agreement as to the amount of the indemnity was usually arrived at. Disputes between districts were generally settled in the same way.