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From J. Stanley Gardiner (1898), "The Natives of Rotuma," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 27:470-476.


In the island of Rotuma there was always, as has before been indicated, a great rivalry between Noatau and Faguta under their respective chiefs, Marafu and Riemkou. With Noatau usually went Oinafa and Malaha, while Faguta had Itoteu and Itomotu. This gave a considerable superiority in numbers to Faguta, but it was usually equalised by a division in Itoteu, the north side of which was always at variance with the south, both sides claiming the right to the chieftainship. Probably the original cause was due to the conquest of the island by the Niuafoou people, who seem to have settled and intermarried mainly in the northern districts. There was never any difficulty in finding a reason, if a fight was desired, as any pretext could be seized on. The chief of one district might fail to pay the proper marks of respect to the sou, if he belonged to the other district, or, if tributary, might omit to send his tribute. If no cause came to hand readily, the chief of one district would steal a woman out of the other district, and then, without waiting for the other district to demand her return, would declare war himself. No violence was offered to the woman, nor indeed to any woman during the war; the women simply followed their several districts, and ministered to their wounded.

There were no great advantages to be gained from the war by the winning side. The villages of the vanquished might be sacked, but they were seldom burnt; their plantations might be overrun, but there was little wilful destruction. All pigs were, of course, regarded as legitimate spoil. The vanquished would perhaps promise to pay to the conquerors so many baskets of provisions or so many mats and canoes, a promise which was always faithfully and speedily performed, even though they might accompany the last part of the payment with a fresh declaration of war. The victorious side obtained no territorial aggrandisement, as it was to the common interest of all to maintain the integrity of the land, and the victors might on some future occasion be themselves in the position of the vanquished. Nominally first-fruits were claimed by the victors from the chief of the vanquished, or perhaps the victors might depose the conquered chiefs, and put nominees of their own in their places. Small unruly chiefs of their own districts were often got rid of in this way. Such a course had, however, relatively little permanence, as the chiefs formed a kind of caste of their own, entrance into which followed birth very jealously. There was no such thing as indiscriminate slaughter or debauchery of the women after a fight. A faksoro (p. 408) of a root of kava and a pig from the conquered was always respected for one night. Both sides remained where they were, as if an armistice had been concluded between them. Unless a fresh faksoro, with food sufficient for all, was presented on the following morning, hostilities would be resumed, but usually peace was arranged before this.

There was always a distinct declaration of war of some sort. It was not uncommon for the chief of the one side to send to the chief of the other a definite challenge for a particular day and place. If a canoe of one district passed in front of the chief's house in another district without lowering its sail, a faksoro for the insult would be demanded, and if not forthcoming, war would be declared at once. If war was not declared, it was tantamount to the submission of the insulted chief.

Warfare in Rotuma was the exact opposite to what it was in Fiji. The women were never molested; ambushes and surprises were unheard of. The two sides met usually on the more or less flat land by the beach, and a regular battle between them ensued. Previously the atua of both sides were propitiated by the different hoag separately. There were no common district rights. Tagaloa Siria was not invoked, according to Marafu, as such small matters did not concern him, and, as he was the god of both sides, it was quite unnecessary. On the night before the battle, great feasts and dances were held by both sides, and the latter were usually repeated by the two sides, when opposite one another in the field, before the battle commenced. All were clothed in a kukaluga or the taktakoi, and decorated with flowers; on the head was the war hat, a wooden or bamboo framework covered with tappa and ornamented with the long tail feathers of the boatswain bird. Round the neck of each, there was sure to be a charm, while the bodies of all were smeared with turmeric and the soot of the hifo nut. There usually were two or three lines of veterans, differently armed, while behind these followed the young men and boys, with stones or any weapons they might happen to have. In late wars the chief weapon was of course the gun, with which the first line was armed. A second line, armed with long, pointed sticks, termed uok, took the offensive when they came to close quarters; they again were speedily followed by the clubmen. In the old days the battle commenced usually with a shower of stones, and then a rush would be made by the first line, armed with the uok, the second line, armed with clubs, following on their heels. The chief, with his hoag, was usually in the centre, and here there were three lines: the uok men and then a few men armed with a shark's-tooth weapon, the oikoaga, and lastly the clubmen, among whom was the chief. The young men and boys during the whole time kept up an incessant fire of stones over the heads of these lines, and acted on the flanks. Stones held in the hands were likewise weapons used in close quarters; they were termed hofso. The best of these were made out of one of the bivalve shells of the giant Tridacna, ground down to a more or less oval shape. A groove, too, in them was commonly worked for the thumb, so that a firmer grip might be obtained. Others were of lava or basalt, and were used indifferently for striking or throwing. The oikoaga was described to me as a weapon, about 6 feet long, with a long round handle, 1 inch thick, knobbed at the end. The other end was broadened out to about 5 inches, and set between slips of bamboo, tied on, were the re-curved teeth of a shark, probably one of the Carchariidae. The top of the handle was described to me as paddle-shaped. It was always a very rare weapon, and much prized. I have the end of one 27 inches long. The central stick has evidently been smoothed down with great care with a shark's-skin file, and holes have been bored completely through it for the sinnet, with which the teeth are tied on. Two or three holes are bored through the several teeth for the sinnet, which is exceptionally neatly made. The bamboo slips are underneath the sinnet; their object is evidently to keep the teeth in their place on the edge of the main stick. The idea of the weapon was to seize an enemy with it and draw him out of his line, while one of the warriors of the third line clubbed him to death. Another shark's-tooth weapon was the knife, oi fo pilte; I am not certain, though, whether it was really a Rotuman weapon or not. The one in my possession is about 28 inches long, and seems typical of the Tokalau, or Gilbert islands. The handle is in section nearly square and about 6 inches long; the teeth are not recurved, and are set in two grooves, cut in the edge of the sticks. The teeth are firmly bound on with sinnet through one hole in each tooth, while the holes through the stick are set well back. The groove for the teeth stops short about 1 inch from the end, which is somewhat pointed.

The club, or oipeluga, is of the general type shown in Mr. Edge Partington's illustrations; its length is from 3 1/2-4 feet. The transversely carved lines of the end are very characteristic. The transverse section here is that of a much-flattened rhombus, and these lines rise from the sides to the centre at regular intervals, and join with those of the opposite side on the same face of the club. They are cut regularly from the bottom for 2-3 inches perhaps, and then one on one of the sides of the rhombus is left uncut; it will be cut in the other three sides of the rhombus. On the other side of the rhombus, on the same side of the club, it will be the next of these grooves that will be left uncut. On the other side of the club two neighbouring grooves to the above will be left. Then perhaps all will be cut for another interval of 2-3 inches, and four will be left uncut precisely as before. At the top of this part, they are not always the two next one another that are left uncut. This cutting I believe to be quite typical of Rotuma; the three in my own collection are all carved in this way, and so likewise are one in the British Museum and one, which I saw in Fiji. Two in my possession have carved handles; all the carving is in straight lines, but on one are some figures of sharks and lizards. One club in my possession was used by the great-grandfather or granduncle of Marafu in the war against Riemkou about 1800 (p. 473). The balance of all is excellent and well adapted to their use as two-handed swords. Used as an axe, like a Fijian club, they would not be nearly such efficient weapons. The spear, or jou (p. 463), was not used for anything save processions, but the uok, a pointed stake about 8-9 feet long, took its place; it was described to me as generally perfectly round, pointed at both ends, and used for both thrusting and striking.

The earliest war remembered is spoken of as the "great Malaha war." There were two brothers, Kunou and Maragsou, who lived with their sister Suogmasto in Malaha. In their turn on the occasion of a feast, the three prepare food, and carry it to the sou, who was at that time dwelling in Savelei. The brothers placed their food on the ground outside the sou's house, or sou ura, but the girl, being, of a chief family, entered to place her food in the kokona (p. 422). She was then made to place it on the ground, and told to stop with the sou. The sou in fact wanted to make Suogmasto his fanoga, as he had a perfect right to do. The right, however, was not generally insisted upon, and here the great insult came in in the fact that he had not sent his old fanoga away first, nor sent his tonhida, or messenger, and other officers to summon Suogmasto and escort her to him. After the feast the brothers found out about the insult, and accordingly took Tua, the chief of Malaha, and made him the sou, establishing him in Matusa. But soon they took him away from there and brought him back to Malaha, leaving his cousin, a Malaha man, called Froumontou, to look after everything in Matusa. Riemkou, on Tua's return to Malaha, at once proceeded up the island to Matusa, and conferred the office of sou on Froumontou, who had managed to much ingratiate himself with the people of Itoteu and Itomotu. He then took him along the south side of the island, and established him in Faguta. In consequence of Riemkou's action, Marafu stepped in, and as a result the sides in the war were Noatau, Oinafa, and Malaha v. Faguta, Itoteu, and Itomotu, or Marafu v. Riemkou. The fighting is said to have taken place all along the line, to have been continuous for several days, and the slaughter to have been enormous; nearly all the young men on both sides are said to have been killed, and many whole villages to have been completely depopulated. The brunt of the fighting really fell on Noatau and Faguta, but in Malaha alone over one hundred are said to have fallen. The date is given by Froumontou, who was the paternal great-grandfather of Albert. Albert is about sixty-six years old, and, if to this thirty years is added for the two generations between him and Froumontou, the date would be placed at the beginning of this century.

There was another war, in 1858, between Malaha and Itoteu; the indirect cause was Christianity, which Malaha had embraced, while Itoteu still remained firm to its old religion. In it Malaha was worsted, and lost about fifty killed. A ship present at the time assured the victory to Itoteu by lending them guns and other weapons and sending her crew to assist in the fray; they afterwards, too, took away a considerable number of men from Malaha as labourers.

After the "great Malaha war "was a long period of quiescence, due to the exhaustion of both sides and the changes, which naturally followed the coming of the white man. The enmity between Marafu and Riemkou still however continued, and was only waiting for an opportunity to give rise to open hostilities. At last about 1837 Marafu obtained a small cannon off one of the whalers, and an opportunity was soon found. The immediate cause seems to have been that the chief of Teukoi, in Itoteu, passed by the sou in Faguta in his canoe without lowering its sail. At the time he was on his way up to see Marafu, to beg a pig from him to take to a woman in Faguta, as a faksoro for some offence or other. Riemkou, as, when the sou was in his district, he was his protector, was furious at the insult, and arranged to intercept the canoe on its return to Teukoi, but this failed, as the canoe was taken home along the north side and round the west end of the island. Messages passed in consequence between Riemkou and Marafu, but the latter settled the matter by going up to Teukoi along the south side and passing the sou with his sail set, and without loosing his hair. Riemkou then sent to Marafu to challenge him to return along the south side of the island, and received a reply from Marafu that that was what he intended to do. Meantime the Noatau people came through the bush to Teukoi, dragging the cannon with them. This cannon is said to have been the first firearm used by the natives in war. That night a big dance was held in Teukoi, and on the following morning Marafu moved up along the south side and met Riemkou in Faguta. At first the cannon struck terror into the people of Faguta, but they soon rallied, as after the first few shots it got clogged, and a fierce battle ensued. More than one hundred of the Noatau men were killed, and among these Marafu, but the war was quickly concluded, as Riemkou allowed the Noatau people to carry the body of Marafu away and bury it on the hill of Seselo, as he had formerly been sou; the cannon also was taken away and placed as a gravestone over Marafu. A great number of pigs and an immense quantity of vegetables and mats were paid as indemnity and for ransom. The loss on Riemkou's side is said to have been but slight.

The office of sou was abolished after a war known as the "Matusa war" in 1869 or 1870. While the rest of the island was for the most part Roman Catholic or Wesleyan, the south side of Itoteu and to some extent the north side also still clung to the old religion; the people of Matusa and Losa, and indeed of the whole of the west end of Itoteu, were Christian. Taurantoka was chief of Itoteu, and had a sou in Savelei; Morseu was the minor chief of Losa and Halafa, while Mafroa was acting for his father along the north side of Itoteu; none of these were Christians. It really commenced by Morseu keeping on continually taking pigs from Losa and Halafa, till these places got exasperated and refused to give him any more, threatening to shoot any one, they might find taking them. Their leader in this was Fakamanoa, a big name in Itoteu, and the father of its present chief. Induced however by a native Fijian missionary, they took as a faksoro to Morseu a pig and a root of kava. He accepted it, but on the next day seized a pig, and on the day after, trying to seize another, he was resisted, and a deputation sent to Taurantoka with a root of kava; Taurantoka, in reply, promised to take Losa and Halafa under his own charge. Meantime Mafroa and his father had been baptised into the Wesleyan body, and refused ipso facto to have anything to do with the sou. Taurantoka at once declared war; the white missionary stepped in and tried to stop it, but a fight was inevitable. It was then the south side of Itoteu, under Taurantoka and Morseu, against the rest of Itoteu, under Fakamanoa, Mafroa, and Albert. The latter was a man of considerable influence, owing to his connection with the missions of a chief family, and living in Matusa. The battle took place almost in Matusa, on the road along the south side of the island, at dawn, lasting till midday. Nearly all the fighting was on the relatively open beach flat; it consisted of desultory firing from behind cocoanut trees. About sixty of Taurantoka's people were killed before he took to flight. As a result the office of sou was abolished, Taurantoka and Morseu baptised, and Albert, who had shown throughout very conspicuous bravery, made chief of Itoteu.

The last great war was in 1878, and was practically Wesleyans vs. Roman Catholics. Really it was largely brought about by white men, working on the old enmity between Marafu and Riemkou. It arose through the intrigues of Albert, who wished at the council meetings of the chiefs to get his name called for kava before that of Tavo, the chief of Oinafa. Riemkou was supporting him, as he was jealous of Marafu, who was both chief of his district and fakpure, or head chief, of the island. Albert then in a meeting at Oinafa brought up his own matter and that of Marafu's two offices; Marafu replied through his brother Hauseu, who was his spokesman, or hoasog, that, as far as the chieftainship of his district was concerned, it was no business of theirs, and that, as he was entitled to receive the kava first, it was his business to see that it was called to all in their proper order. Riemkou did not attend the next meeting of the council, and, as he refused to pay a fine, it was considered equivalent to a declaration of war. A white missionary then, called Moore, seems to have gone to Albert, and also into Malaha and Oinafa, practically preaching a war against the Roman Catholics. As a result, Riemkou brought a faksoro to Marafu, who accepted it; and to settle the matter Riemkou let himself be baptised a Wesleyan. The Wesleyans, who had begun to gather, were dispersed, and Riemkou at once turned Roman Catholic again. Marafu, who at that time was called Hauseu, informed me that then there was no question of war, and that the affair was considered settled until this missionary came and practically began to preach a war of extermination against the Roman Catholics. Accordingly the Roman Catholics gathered in Faguta from the whole island, and prepared for resistance, digging out the interiors of their houses for rifle pits. The result was never for a moment doubtful. On the first day twenty-two men were killed, and the Roman Catholics driven on to a small isthmus, where they were blockaded for two months. At last Riemkou was killed, and all submitted. Throughout the whole war Marafu protected the Roman Catholic missionaries, their church and property, and steadily refused to allow any land to be taken from the conquered.

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