From J. Stanley Gardiner (1898), "The Natives of Rotuma," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 27:481-486.
Even in such a small island there was at an times a marked line of distinction between the coast and hill people. The latter lived in certain towns and villages along the inner slopes of the hills, and cultivated exclusively in the great central valley. As a rule, they possessed no land or rights outside of this valley, nor had they any claim on the shore waters, i.e., the broad boat channel, 4-5 feet deep at low tide, between the reef and the shore. They were to some extent under the rule of the coast people, and were only allowed to come down to the coast at certain times. The outer reef, however, was considered as common property by both peoples, but the right to cross the waters of the boat channel had to be paid for, generally in a basket of taro or yams every year, i.e., six months. Between the two peoples as such no wars were waged, nor do the hill people seem to have taken much part in the different wars between the coast districts. The centre of the eastern division of the island was strictly divided up between the different districts, but its people really formed a division to themselves, many having planting rights over lands in several of the districts. Most of their descendants had really either little or no land in their possession properly, or have made exchanges so as to get it all close together. This has in the last thirty years been greatly facilitated by the priest (or faha) of the Roman Catholic Mission at Pepji, who systematically set to work to get an the different isolated pieces, left to his church, into one block. Two several families, however, from Hoite, a big town formerly situated almost at the junction of Noatau, Oinafa, and Pepji, have still planting rights in all these three districts. There was a little west of this, below Sol Satarua, another large town, Rahiga, and in one village on Sol Hof in 1861 there was a church. At the other end of the island, on Sol Mea, was Lugula, with about forty grown men in 1845, while at the same time Halafa, near it, had about the same number. The latter is now in the possession of one family, with nearly all its lands, with the chief name Titopu, which properly carries the chieftainship of all this part of Itoteu. This hoag now consists of about nine persons, who live principally at Maftau, but have houses at Halafa. These hill people have only left traces of themselves in their ruined villages here and there, and in numerous legends of individuals. The former were very compact, with massive and well-built fuagri, or house foundations; their graves, too, were on very high foundations, or at the top of some hill, or neighbouring elevation. All giants, strong men, etc., are represented in legends as coming from the hills, and the hill people generally are stated to have been in stature bigger than the coast people. Graves, dug up on Sol Hof and near the old sites of Rahiga and Lugula, were only 1-3 feet deep. The bones were too much broken and decayed to be brought home, but from their appearance might well have given rise to the latter statement. Above Rahiga they seem to have been buried in a sitting posture, but a diligent search gave no implements or weapons. I am inclined to believe that most of the inhabitants of this inland division to the east of the isthmus were really tenants of the coast people. There were undoubtedly a few hoag among them, but the number of family names among their descendants is very small. Possibly they were the original inhabitants of the island, conquered by some subsequent migration and recruited from the overcrowded hoag of their conquerors. First-fruits were rigidly exacted by the chiefs of their districts, and the coast people seem to have had rights of planting on any of their land, not occupied, without any recognition of their ownership. They have always been looked upon as a dying-out people, and the number of their descendants is in no way proportional to their known population of fifty years ago.
No private property in land formerly existed; it was all vested in the pure for the time being of the hoag; the district generally had no rights over it. It usually consisted of four kinds: bush, swamp, coast, and proprietary water in the boat channel; common to the hoag, too, were wells and graveyards. Every member of the hoag knew its boundaries, which consisted of lines between certain trees or prominent rocks, posts, and even stone walls. In the bush land every hoag possessed property; it lay on the slopes of hills and in valleys between at some slight distance from the coast, from which it was separated by a stone wall, running round the whole island. On it taro, yams, bananas, plantains, and a few cocoanut trees were grown for food, while the paths into it and through it were planted with the Tahitian chestnut, the fava tree, and the sago palm. The Tahitian chestnut and fava trees were favourite boundary marks owing to their size and longevity. Swamp land is only possessed by Noatau, Oinafa, Matusa, and Itomotu. It is low-lying land, on extensive beach sand flats, which exist in these districts. The tide always keeps it wet, percolating through the sand, and in it is grown the papoi, or broka, against famine. The possession of a good-sized strip always caused and gave to the hoag a position of importance; its boundaries were stones at the sides. Coast land lay outside the surrounding wall, to which the hoag had a strip from and including the foreshore. On it as near as possible to the coast the house or houses of the hoag were placed, while the rest of the land was planted with cocoanuts for drinking purposes. Hifo trees are stated to have been planted formerly to show the boundaries, but they more often now consist of stones or cocoanut trees, the ownership of which is a constant source of dispute. Districts and even villages were sharply marked off by walls down to the beach. All had the right of turning out their pigs on this land, and each hoag had to keep in proper repair the parts of the wall adjacent to it. Each had, however, usually an enclosure on its own land for its own pigs, when young. The proprietary water ran from the foreshore to the reef, a continuation of the strip on shore. At Noatau and Matusa, where it is very broad, it was to some extent cross-divided. It consists of a sand flat covered by 10-12 feet of water at high tide. On it fish of an sorts are caught by traps and various devices, and shell-fish are gathered. As these form no inconsiderable portion of the daily food, indeed the principal animal food, the value of this property was always very considerable. The reef--i.e., the part on the outside exposed at the low tide--was the common property of all. It was explained to me that fish, crabs, etc., cannot be cultivated there owing to the heavy breaking seas, but are sent up by the atua, or spirits.
The manager of this land for the hoag, its pure, is usually the possessor of the family name or, if he is too young its oldest living member. His duty is to divide out the bush land year by year to the different households of the hoag for planting purposes, and to settle all disputes between its members. Further he has to take care that a proper number of cocoanuts are planted to take the place of the old trees, and to see that the walls are kept in proper repair. The swamp land is cultivated by the whole hoag, but if one part of the boat channel is especially fed by one member, she gets an especial right there. On occasions, when the whole hoag is interested, such as the repairing of the great wall of the island, the planting of the papoi land, or house-building, the pure has the power to call all its members out. His principal duty now is to see to the getting of the copra for taxes, deciding what each household has to make. The first-fruits of each cultivated patch were brought to him: a basket of taro or yams, or a bunch of bananas. For all marriage or other feasts of any members of the hoag, he was the head, and generally nothing could be done without consulting him. Over the land the chief of the district had no rights, except to order necessary repairs to fences or the keeping up of paths. In Faguta, however, he claimed first-fruits from all. Any land, not being planted, is willingly lent to another hoag on condition of two baskets of first-fruits of each patch being brought to the pure, but cocoanut trees on the land cannot be touched by the tenant, nor is he entitled to their usufruct. If a hoag owns land in one district, but lives in another first-fruits are always paid to the chief of the district, in which its lands lie.
Any encroachment on the land was very vigorously resented; it was usually referred to the district chief to settle, and his decision loyally adhered to. Adoption into the hoag, with the consent of an its members, was frequent, the man so adopted losing all rights in his former hoag. Marriage, too was another method of recruiting the hoag, the husband very generally, though by no means universally, coming to live with his wife, and the children belonging to the mother. As most of the hoag have far more land than they can cultivate, children without fathers were, and are to some extent, especially welcomed. When a wife dies in the hoag, the husband if he does not belong to it, as the corpse leaves through one door of the house, is pushed out of the other, signifying that he now has no right in it. By the above means the hoag rarely became extinct, though the family name has frequently been dropped.
In recent years, very generally, on the hoag becoming small its land has been divided out severally among its members thus creating private property in it. Since the introduction of missionaries, too, much land has been seized by the chiefs, who, as a rule, in each district were its missionaries, as fines for the fornications of individuals. A certain amount of cocoanut oil was then given by the chiefs to the Wesleyan Mission, apparently in payment for their support. The mission in the name of which it was done, though generally without the knowledge of the white teachers, was so powerful that the hoag had no redress. The mission and chiefs obtained this power as the result of many wars waged against the adherents of the old religion; the confiscation of an the lands of the vanquished was proposed by the mission, but resisted by all the chiefs. Much land left to and bought by the Roman Catholic Mission is similarly situated; the individuals had no right to dispose of it without the consent of the whole hoag. The children of a marriage now, under British rule, have rights in the land of both the parents, so that they belong to the two hoag; in time the whole island should become absolutely communal. Property, too, in wells and the reef waters is now comparatively little recognised.
Private property to some extent existed in domestic animals and manufactured articles. When a man was dying, he usually gave them to some relation or friend, who may have been taking care of him. If a man's sons and sons-in-law were living and planting with him, on his deathbed he might apportion out the planted land to each, but the land was none the less under the hoag and subject to the payment of the first-fruits to its pure. If he had planted more cocoanuts than required by the hoag, he had the entire usufruct of these trees during his lifetime, quite independently of the apportionment of the land below them for planting. If in old age a man was neglected by his descendants or hoag, and taken care of by a stranger, he often gave him for his lifetime the usufruct of these trees and the crop of any plantations, he may have before his death cultivated; it only extended to the single crop: subsequent planting was not allowed. Slaves as such did not properly exist; Polynesian or Micronesian strangers, fa helav, were usually married into different hoag, or adopted with the consent of all the members of the hoag. A few Fijians and Melanesians have become fa asoa, or helping men, of different chiefs; no women would have anything to do with them, and no hoag would adopt them. They remained on the island as long as they liked, and transferred their services as they liked; they were treated as inferior members of the hoag, to which they gave their services. A few women of low caste have in recent years married Fijians, but there is only one case of a Fijian woman being married by a Rotuman. No trouble was taken about burying these fa asoa; they were usually buried on some islet on the reef, but some Maoris, who were brought to the island in a whaler at the beginning of the century, were exposed on the top of the islet of Husia, off Noatau.