My ethnological data give some clues to two migrations or two distinct populations. The last one, I believe at present, came from Tonga at the time of the great expansion from the Tongan Islands. If there was an earlier one I believe it was also Polynesian and perhaps from the earliest drift that penetrated Melanesia to Fiji, and then worked eastward. But I am very dubious as yet, and do not write the above as a statement of the absolute result of my findings. I feel that in the archaeology of the island, lies what evidence remains of the earliest people.
My measurements will mean little as the population has become "saturated" with white blood for over a century. I am only making a small series on that account amd making it selective.
Mr. Churchward's linguistic study will be of the greatest value, for in the language lies the greatest difference between the Polynesian of Samoa and Tonga, and the Polynesian of Rotuma. His conclusions at present are that the language holds aboriginal, or unkown, Melanesian, and Polynesian, the last being Tongan and 60% of the total. I doubt his "aboriginal" and have already traced some of it in the Gilbert dialect and some in the Moriori and Maori.
I am having some difficulty in opening the king's cemetery due to one cussed relative, but hope to win him over next week. He has stopped proceedings twice. As to digging in the other cemeteries, I fear it would cause a rumpus and take away a lot of sympathy for my work. Permission from the Governor of Fiji would have to be secured first, and then much palavering with the natives to make them understand, would have to be gone through to get their consent. It might be done in abandoned cemeteries, but I doubt it. Ancestor worship and consultation with the ghosts of the dead still goes on, and I never would be allowed to let loose a lot of angry devils from their graves.
I don't believe that the Museum is aware that A.M. Hocart spent several months in Rotuma making a thorough ethnological survey. His Notes on Rotuman Grammar seem to be the only thing he has published, but he must have a wealth of material tucked away somewhere ready to be written. He was here ten years ago, and had the advantage of talking with the last generation which was really familiar with old Rotuma. I have their sons for informants, and what they know is what they remembered their fathers telling Hocart.
The notes below were compiled by Mr. G. McGregor (sic) who visited Rotuma in 1932, and he handed me this copy as he was leaving Samoa.
signed: E. Riddell
The natives of the island of Rotuma, a Polynesian Island under the administration of the Fiji Government, have for many years been a source of mystery to students of Island races and languages. It has long been noted that cast of countenance, the mode of speech and many of the customs of the Rotuman native have varied widely, if not been unique from the general type and form of the Polynesian, especially his neighbours the Tongan and Samoan, with which he has been classed. To ascertain the position of the Rotuman among the Pacific Islanders and to make a general survey of his early history and pre-European culture, the Bishop museum has had an anthropologist at Rotuma during the first half of the year. Although he has made no report as yet nor had the time since his return to analyze his notes, he has made a few preliminary observations on Rotuma.
From the measurement of a number of Rotuman adults taken to ascertain if possible their racial origin or physical relationship with other Polynesians, the Rotuman appears to have a racial strain so far unreported for other Islands. This is most noticeable in the rather Semitic profile of the nose, the fold of the eye and the thinness of the lips. The Rotuman is slightly smaller in physique today than his cousin in Tonga and Samoa and his skin colour shows a greater range between a light and dark brown. European admixture of blood and a greater adoption of European manner of living may be the cause of some of these facts but it cannot account for all the strange physical characteristics of which some are distinctly non-polynesian (sic) as well as non-European. Europeans have been recorded as living in Rotuma since twenty years after its discovery in 1791. At one time there were two groups of criminals escaped from the penal colony in Australia living at either end of the Island. No doubt the facial expression of the many Rotuman Islanders owes its difference from the Polynesian type mainly to this old and continued admixture with Europeans. Up to the end of the nineteenth century there was a large part of the population living on the hillsides and hill tops of Rotuma. The European contact must have been very slight with these people for they did not live in village clusters as did the shore people and according to tradition and early observers on the Island, they were kept in the bush by the shore people. Permission had to be granted before they could pass through the villages to fish or bathe in the sea. It is among the descendants of this darker Island folk that the non-polynesian (sic) differences can best be observed. There is the suggestion here of two racial elements on the Island but a study of the culture does not bear this out.
It is the coastal people who have any cultural differences from Tonga or Samoa that exist today. The most noticeable peculiarity exists in the custom of building dwellings, some on stakes twenty feet high on the edge of the beach. In these the unmarried men of the village sleep. It is interesting to note that in those districts where the high house is prohibited by the missionary for sleeping purposes for fear of disaster in hurricanes, that the custom of the young men sleeping in a separate house still prevails. The pile dwelling itself is reminiscent of the pile dwellings of Melanesia, but unlike these they are never built over the water.
The Rotuman chiefs always received their food on low four legged tables cut from a solid plank of wood. They sat before these with their knees close together before them in Japanese fashion and although they sit cross legged today, they say it is sitting Tongan fashion. They also carved out of a single piece of wood, bowls, legged paint dishes, curved headrests and stools for the king. All but the last are similar to Tongan and Fijian types exhibited in the Suva Museum.
The Rotuman graves form the most fascinating side of the study of the culture. The Island has been described not inaccurately as "one great cemetery." Certainly graves are to be found everywhere, under house sites, alongside most of the roadways, in great village cemeteries now preserved by European law, on tops of the little islands along the reefs, and throughout the bust. They are monuments to a remarkable industry and devotion to the dead qualities now sadly failing among the present inhabitants. The dead were buries (sic) in double stone vaults of great size built up of thick slabs of conglomerate rock or coral cut from the reef. Important graves had top slabs cut from a quarry of basaltic rock in the western end of the Island. All these were transported overland by groups of labour while a priest stood on top and muttered incantations and prayers to make the burden lighter. Great crafts were built too, to carry these stones longer distances down the coast. On slab of coral found on the King's cemetery high up in the bush measured 17 feet by 7 by one and a half. The Lower vault of the grave was mad of six slabs of stone in box shape set in the ground. The body was wrapped in mats and the whole was buried in sand. On top of this vault the superstructure varied according to the importance of the dead in the estimation of the family. Chiefs and family vaults for later corpses were covered by a second vault which rested on the ground level. Some had merely a capstone or an upright monolith as markers. Although the island is covered with burials and cemeteries from end to end there is evidence of another stratum of burials either unmarked originally or covered by the workings of rain and wind. Some of these were disclosed in building on the Catholic Mission at Sumi where one grave when unearthed revealed a burial of a corpse in a sitting position.
The land of the dead was placed at the bottom of the sea and described sometimes to be lying just beyond the reef and sometimes at the horizon. Here the souls of the dead lived and often returned as spirits or atua. They came to gather in other souls which they took home to eat. Souls of chiefs returned to enter the bodies of family witchdoctors or priests and through them to consult with and advise their descendants. The old religion is primarily ancestor worship. However, the Rotumans believed in Tagaloa the supreme deity of Western Polynesia but he had rather indistinct qualities. Natives today cannot remember much more about Tagaloa Siria other than male children were brought out of the house immediately after they were born and tossed into the arms of their nurses to Tagaloa to bless with courage and strength.
Tagaloa manifested in several forms in the beliefs of the Samoans. He is the creator of man or a partner in his creation which took place on the Island of Tau in Manua. However, in Rotuma, no such function is attributed to him and strangely enough today there is no legend existing which attempts to account for a man's presence on any of the islands. There is but one belief and that is that the first Rotumans were lead from Samoa by a man named Raho. He was the son of a Tuitoga and a Savai'i woman. His departure from Savai'i in a canoe he built for the trip was caused over a dispute between his granddaughter and his half-brother who was a full Tongan. Rotuma was built from two baskets of earth carried from Samoa by two winged women who were born miraculously of Raho's daughter. The Island of Alofi in the Hoorn Islands (sic) is also attributed to the creative powers of these females. They accompanied Raho and as soon as the sand of the baskets were laid down he landed on the island. Following his arrival there were several canoes followed from Tonga.
In more recent history canoes came from Tarawa in the Gilbert Group and Neiafoou (sic) in the Tongan Islands. Maafu of Neiafoou conquered Rotuma and for some time each Rotuman district under the control of one of Maafu's Lieutenants. From history it would appear that the Rotumans bore a closer relationship to Tonga than any other Island Group. This is supported by the general pattern of their material culture or craftsmanship.
The language, a very complex study in itself, due to its strange vocabulary and development on the island, supplies few clews (sic) at present. Mr. Churchward of the Methodist Mission and long resident in Rotuma is preparing a detailed and thorough treatise on the Rotuman language. It is safe to say that although the Rotuman words as spoken appear unrecognisable to other Polynesians, the majority of them are common to the language that is spoken in Samoa and Tonga. There are other words however which at present show no relation to the language as of the neighbouring Polynesians or Melanesian Islands. The majority of these words are most commonly used in every day speech, such for instance as "tanu" the word for water. In all the rest of Polynesia the form vai or wai is used. This duality of origin in the language bears out the suggestion gathered from the observations of the physical types among these people, that is, that in Rotuma there appear to have been two distinct peoples who have mixed to form the present type of Rotuman as well as produce Rotuman culture and Rotuman speech.