from notes archived at Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawai'i
There were formerly two classes of people: the chiefs = gagaj, and the commoners or servants = famör e'ag. E'ag means to send and these were considered messengers.
Each family in ho'aga had their land to live on and plant, but the chief had power over it all. This does not seem to have been a right by outright ownership.
Land, however, is thought to have been solely the property of chiefs in very early times, and that they gave it away as wages and gifts to people who served them well. However, the chief had still some claims over it as he could take the land back. This gift of land helps to explain the inequality of present day holdings.
Land and Agriculture
In the old days communal patches were planted for a family or community. Each member might have a certain number of strips of taro for his own. There could be no digging in the patch, until a certain day was agreed upon when they would harvest all they could and make a presentation of taro to the chief, and to the owner of the land if there were one who did not participate in the planting. After that the people could dig up their taro as they needed it. Usually three or four strips across the field which would cut into every owner's strip would be planted and reserved for the chief's house. This was called fak te Toga.
Many families have claims to land on which no member resides. That is no one lives on the fuag ri to which it is connected with a certain piece of gardening land. The member of the family living nearest is appointed in charge of it and he uses it as he pleases as long as the rest of the family are sufficiently supplied. Today he also pays the taxes. He may loan the land to someone in the vicinity who wants to use it for gardening as Kitione has done in Oinafa. This is his family land. He lives nearest in Noa'tau. The rest of the family are all in Motusa or Losa at the other end of the island.
For the loaning of land, the planter when the time was ripe for digging the yams made a gift of many baskets of yams to Kitione. All the men the planter could gather together carried two baskets apiece to Kitione in Noa'tau, where there was a feast made ready for them. Afterwards the men made dances outdoors. This was done at least by the Oinafa men. When the Oinafa men arrived there was a speech of presentation and thanks for the land.
But before the yams were taken to Noa'tau there was an earlier digging in which yams were collected and given to Poar as chief of Oinafa in which district the garden was situated. This was in accordance with the old custom of giving the first fruits of any garden to the chief.
In the old days land was sold without everyone in the family giving consent. Approximately 1900.
During a land exchange, a chief of a district witnessed and consented to it.
At present, a man may live entirely on his wife's lands and make no claim on those of his father.
Men from outside Rotuma marrying Rotuman women would receive no land rights. Women from outside are acceptable. Why? No lands.
Each land piece extended into the sea to the reef. This was called sa'o and it carried the same name as the land of which it was a continuation. In each sa'o there was a ho'i which corresponded to the fuag ri (?). This was a rock pile built up for attracting fish which then were surrounded by a net.
The holding of sa'o was discontinued at the accession of the British Government.