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From J. Stanley Gardiner (1898), "The Natives of Rotuma," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 27:420-423. 


The chief vegetables cultivated for food are the papule, or taro (Colocasia antiquorum, Schott), papoi(Cyrtosperma edulis, Schott), ouhi, or yam (Dioscorea ulata, Linn.), and pere, or banana. Taro and bananas are usually planted on the steep hill-sides after the earth has been thoroughly dug up with flattened sticks or English spades; the tops of the taro and the shoots of the banana serve for planting. The Rotuman variety of taro does exceedingly well in such positions, growing very large, and is never planted in swamps. A kind, the apia, is common on waste lands and near the houses, but is not good for food. Of bananas seven kinds are known, but there are only practically two, the one for cooking and the other for eating raw. To ripen they are buried in the sand. The papoi is grown in swamps of brackish water and seldom dug except after a hurricane, when food is scarce. For yams the bush is roughly cleared. Rocky land is chosen, and its little existing earth is scraped together with the hands into heaps, in the top of which the yam is planted. After these were dug the land used formerly to be burnt off, the fallen timber by that time being thoroughly dry, and kava(Macropiper methysticum, Miq.) planted; now it is more frequently tobacco, pineapples, or sugar-cane. Planted, but in no way cultivated, are the breadfruit (Artocarpus incisa, Linn.) and the niu, or cocoanut, for food, uta, or sago (Sagus vitiensis, Wendl.), for thatch, and the saaga(Pandanus sp. ?), for making mats. The food plants growing wild include the ifi, or Tahitian chestnut (Inocarpus edulis), fava, or dawa of Fiji (Pometia pinnata, Forst.), mena, or turmeric (Curcuma longa, Linn.), mara, or arrowroot (Tacca pinnatifida ?), asa, or papaw, and the hosoa(Pandanus odoratissimus ?). There is further the hifo, or dilo, of Fiji (Calophyllium inophyllium, Linn.), the oil from the seeds of which is regularly extracted. Of the above the taro, yam, and banana are the stable articles of food, and in such all equitable climate as that of Rotuma can be obtained at any season of the year. Arrowroot can be dug whenever it is desired. The breadfruit is season during October, November, and December, and cocoanuts can be obtained at any season in any condition of ripeness.

For animal food there are the reefs, which can always be fished at any time, and furnish a practically inexhaustible supply. Pigs are kept by all and fed regularly every day with ripe cocoanuts, the waste of the house, and the fruit of the papaw. Fowls are kept in the plantations, and have small low houses, fashioned of sticks and thatched; near each is a conch shell, by which they are called to receive their food daily; their eggs are seldom molested. To catch the wild chicken various traps are used, but all in principle consist of a bent stick, which, springing up, hangs the fowl by means of a piece of sinnet either by its neck or its legs. Wild pigs are sometimes caught by making a trench and covering the same over carefully with rotten sticks and earth. Dogs, kanua, are of a peculiarly coarse breed; their introduction is probably comparatively modern. The people say that they were never eaten because they always had plenty of pigs. In killing any animal for food great care was taken not to let it bleed in any way, a short club being used for pigs.

The men of the household, when they come down from the plantations, usually carry a couple of baskets of food or bunches of bananas over one shoulder on a stick. Between them they will have everything requisite, even down to the ripe cocoanuts to feed the pigs. Green cocoanuts for drinking purposes will have been all husked on a pointed stake, the esoa, and tied up in pairs, a small piece of the husk being left over the soft eye, so that they shall not go bad. At once the men set to work to make the fire and cook the food, an operation never performed for them by the women, who, however, serve the food to the men, when it is cooked, and then retire to their own meal. Fire was formerly produced by simply rubbing a piece of hard wood up and down in a groove in soft wood; the operation was termed sia. It would then be nursed and fanned into flame on a dry cocoanut husk. It was the business of the women always to keep a fire in, and in Noatau at least, I was informed by Marafu, fire could always be obtained from the atua, or spirit, house.

In each house the chief man has usually a table, the umefe ataga, a very slightly concave board, about 2 feet long by 1 foot broad, with four legs 3-4 inches high; it is carved out of a solid piece of wood. In addition to the above, a ridge, often notched and perhaps an inch high, is left down the middle of the under-surface, and on the same side, between two of the legs along the length of the table, a round piece about 3 inches long is left, with a hole in the centre, through which a piece of sinnet is strung, for hanging it up when not in use. On this a banana leaf is placed; the rest of the men simply have their leaves on the ground. All sit with their legs crossed in front of them, with their knees touching the ground. The food is brought in in baskets by the women; the chief has a basket to himself, from which no one else is helped, while the rest eat several from the same basket and off the same leaf. The women place the food from the baskets in front of the men, and for the chief further peel the vegetables with their fingers and nails. It was formerly only a woman with the niglolo that would be entitled to do this. At the end of the meal they hand each man a green cocoanut, the only beverage drunk after the meal has begun, having with a piece of stick opened it by making a hole in the soft eye and having provided a cork, usually a piece of the husk, to prevent it from spilling. This done, the food left is gathered into baskets, and the women retire to another house for their own meal. Essential to the house is the kokona, which consists, as it were, of the four sides of a box, about 4 inches deep and 2-3 feet square, with the bottom removed and replaced by netting; this is then suspended from the beams of the house, but the four pieces of sinnet from its four corners have generally first to pass through the middle of a flat board, the use of which is to prevent the small native rats from running down the sinnet and getting at the food. Its origin (see Sec. XXV, e) is legendary, and it is said to have come with the moa, or fowl.

Cooking is usually carried on in an especial house, the kohea, open at the ends and sides, low, and roughly put together. The only method is that of steaming in the native oven. A hole is made in the ground in the centre of the house and lined with stones; on the top of these a great fire of sticks is made. Everything being ready and the stones sufficiently hot, the fire is raked out, and a few green leaves are thrown on the stones. Then the food is placed on top and covered over with green leaves and finally with about 3 inches of earth. Most vegetables are put in exactly as they are, but pigs, fowls, and big fish are ripped open, cleaned, stuffed with cocoanut leaves, and placed in tightly fitting baskets of the same leaves to prevent them from burning. The liver is carefully wrapped up separately, as it is esteemed the greatest delicacy.

The green cocoanuts, after the milk has been drunk, are filled with salt water, and their holes stopped up with conical corks, made of the leaves of the saaga twisted up; they are then placed in the sun on small platforms for some days. A certain amount of fermentation takes place, and the soft kernel rots a little, so that a buttery mass, the dahrolo, is obtained; it is much used as a seasoning for puddings of different sorts and for cooking fish. No salt is ever collected, but this doubtless acts as a substitute; almost daily some vegetables are cooked with it. Scraped cocoanut is another seasoning, the scraping being done on the foa. To make one of these a bough of a tree is selected with a branch going off at an angle of about 60°; the bough is then scraped flat, 18 inches being left below the branch and 3 above. To the branch, cut off about 9 inches long, is firmly lashed underneath a suitable piece of shell (now iron), with the concavity upwards. The cocoanut is broken in half in its shell, and the kernel of each separate half scraped on this, the worker sitting crosswise on the flattened branch. One I saw still in use has a flat piece of pearl shell, with the edges notched. I have seen also a notched pearl-shell cocoanut scraper for use in the hand. Hollowed-out wooden bowls, umefe, are used for making the puddings in; they have no ornamentation, and have every conceivable simple form. All puddings are termed feki, but the term, if not qualified, would be taken as applying to one made of breadfruit, and the juice expressed out of scraped cocoanut; another favourite form is made of beaten arrowroot and cocoanut. Small fish are usually cooked with the dahrolo, when the dish is called te lulu; fowl, young taro leaves, and dahrolo are termed iko. All these are simply wrapped in the leaves of the banana or papoi, and after being tied up placed in the oven with the other food. Sometimes in them the juice of the sugar-cane is substituted for that of the cocoanut.

The ranji(Dracaena terminalis, in Fiji gai or masawa) grows plentifully in places and to a considerable size. It was, for some reason now apparently forgotten, strictly ha, or taboo, for any man to dig and cook it by himself. It was only dug by a whole district at a time, and then all took part. Each dug as much as he could in the day, and at night an enormous oven was made, in which a big fire was kept up all night, with singing and dancing. The roots of the ranji were then placed in at dawn and left for two days. Its taste is somewhat like liquorice, and its consistency is about the same, but it is very rarely cooked now, and little of the ceremony is kept up. The reason, according to Marafu, for the above was that the ranji was the food of the atua, and could only be eaten, when their priests gave leave.

When raua, tobacco, reached the island I could not discover, as even the oldest men remember it well; it is dried partially and then pressed into cakes in the voi rau, a kind of Spanish press. For smoking the native method is to wrap it up in banana leaves, which have dried after being drawn a few times through the flames to make them tough.

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