From J. Stanley Gardiner (1898), "The Natives of Rotuma," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 27:397-402.
I. DISCOVERY AND HISTORICAL.
Rotuma is stated in all directories to have been discovered by Captain Edwards, of H.M.S. "Pandora," in his search for the mutineers of the "Bounty" in 1791.
According to native accounts, they always knew white people, but the first one to visit the island was "Kookee." Of course this is impossible, but probably he was the first white man they ever heard of by name. Two ships, or according to other accounts one, visited the island under Rourivo; the ships were called the vaka atua, or devil-ships, and the sailors atua, from the fact that they were dressed in white above and black below. They were also called arere, or fire-eaters, from their smoking habits; their flag is said to have been red. Some of the people went on board to steal, but were fired on by what they termed the pis bobo, some sort of cannon. They are supposed to have taken away three people with them to sacrifice to their gods; another account puts the number at one, who subsequently returned. Where they first landed is doubtful. One account given me gave the extreme west end of the island, while another gave Malaha, in the middle of the north side. My impression was that there were two stories, and this was confirmed by Marafu telling me that the visit to Malaha, evidently of the "Pandora," was true but that the other was an old legend, which he had heard tile old people allude to, when he was a boy, about the atua coming in great houses on the water, and on leaving them destroying their island by sickness, and, when they tried to escape from the island, drowning them in the sea. I could not get the story properly confirmed or related to me, but I have no doubt of its former existence.
Quiros [fn. "Voyages and Discoveries in the South Seas," J. Burney, Part II, pp. 287 et.seq.] in his first voyage (1606) kept as far as possible about lat. 11° S. He mentions an island called Taumaco, 1,940 leagues from Lima and 60 leagues from Tucopia, the next island visited. There was little wind, and they lay to till the following morning, when, the ships being to the north of the land, the boats " went to the south-west towards the middle of some small islands which form a channel, which islands at a distance appear like one. Finding a secure port close to the small islands, which are separated from the great island to the east, the armada anchored in 25 fathoms." " At a small distance from the ship was a small islet" situated within the reefs "upon which the natives with much labour had formed a platform a full fathom above the level of the sea." " On it were about seventy houses, which stood among palm trees." Torres describes it as "a town surrounded by a wall, with only one entrance, and without a gate." He then mentions how he went to this island and made dispositions to invest it, on which the chief, with a bow in his hand for a staff, stepped into the water and made signs that his people were in great dread of the muskets. Previous to this, however, boats had been sent on shore and had brought back water, vegetables, etc., but by what means they obtained them is not related.
"Taumaco was inhabited by people of different kinds. Some were of a light copper colour, with long hair; some were mulattos; and some black, with short, frizzled hair. They all had beards. In their wars they made use of bows and arrows. They were good navigators, and had large sailing canoes, in which they made voyages to other lands." "The natives had hogs and fowls, and the sea supplied them with fish in plenty." The name of the chief was Tumay (Quiros) or Tomai (Torres), a sensible man of 'good presence, in complexion somewhat brown, with good eyes, nose sharp, beard and hair long and curled, and grave demeanour. To Quiros he gave a list of sixty islands, which they visited. Four men were seized to act as guides and interpreters, and when the chief came off to remonstrate a great gun was fired, not loaded with shot (?). One prisoner jumped overboard the next day, and two off Tucopia, or Chucupia, which was reached on a S.S.E. course in three days. Quiros in his narrative leaves it to be inferred that the same course, due west, was continued. The fourth prisoner was a slave from an island named Chicayana. The people of Tucopia are described as being precisely similar to those of Taumaco in appearance.
Taumaco seems to me to correspond better with Rotuma than any other island in these seas. It is visible at a distance of 35 miles, and might well be seen on the south tack on a course, such as Quiros was sailing. Taumaco is identified usually with the Duff, or Wilson group, north-east of the Santa Cruz group, but a large island to the east and small islands to the west are specifically spoken of, and do not there exist. This group, too, should properly have been sighted to the north, and is almost in sight of the rest of the Santa Cruz group, so that, with the information they obtained from the islanders, they would be naturally expected to keep straight on there. The whole point of their voyage was to keep on one parallel of latitude, so as not to miss the Santa Cruz group; and to suddenly change the course to S.S.E., as Torres alone says, seems to be out of the question. The size is given as 6 leagues long, or 8 to 9 in circuit; no island in the Duff group is more than 2 miles across, while Rotuma is over 8 miles long, so that there, too, it corresponds better. The legend previously referred to points to some early voyagers, and the account by Quiros of the island of Taumaco quite agrees with Rotuma. There is now no islet on the reef to correspond, but it is quite possible that one such existed o~ Losa of ash-rock and has since been washed away, as there are other ash-rock islands on the reef in which this process is now rapidly taking place.
The account of the voyage of Lemaire and Schouten (1616) makes the king of Solitary Island much struck with their white shirts and black lower garments, so that probably any other islanders would be equally struck by the same in any white man. I think there is no doubt but that Solitary Island is Fortuna; it has no point of resemblance in any way to Rotuma.
After the "Pandora" left, the island was visited by Captain James Wilson, [fn. "Missionary Voyage of the Ship "Duff," in the missionary vessel 'Duff,'" Captain J. Wilson, 1799.] in 1797. He was followed by several trading vessels in the next twenty years, but none of them left any account of its people. Then came the visit of Duperrey and Chramtschenko in 1822. In their atlas [fn. "Voyage autour du Monde," par I. Duperrey, 1826, "Atlas Historique," Plate XLVIII.] is a plate to show the physical characters of the people and their mode of dress.
In his search for La Perouse's expedition, Captain Peter Dillon touched here on September 1st, 1827, after having visited the Tongan islands. He appears to have got most of his information from a beachcomber, and writes as follows [fn. "Voyage in the South Seas," etc., Captain Peter Dillon, 1829, vol. ii, p. 95.]:Ñ
"This island is divided into six districts, each ruled by its own chief. These meet in congress every six months, when they elect a president and deliberate upon state affairs, hearing and settling grievances without having recourse to arms. Thus intestine broils seldom occur, and when they are inevitable are not very sanguinary. Parker, who has been upon the island about four years, estimates that during that period not more than forty lives have been lost in battle. It sometimes happens that the president does not wish to resign his post at the expiration of six months, when, rather than quarrel, they allow him to exceed the time appointed by law; but should he persist in a further maintenance of his power, the other chiefs league together, and compel him by force of arms to retire.
"The people seem to belong to the same race as the Friendly islanders (Tongans), but the females are not in my opinion either so cleanly or handsome as those of Tongataboo. They are generally besmeared with a mixture of turmeric and cocoanut oil, which gives them a reddish appearance. Both men and women wear their hair long and hanging in ringlets down the back and shoulders. It is coloured according to each person's fancy, sometimes white, purple, or red."
About the same time, the island became a favourite resort for American whalers in the South Pacific, as many as nine being remembered at anchor at one time at Oinafa. From these were naturally many deserters, who came to live on the island. At first they were received with open arms by the natives and supplied with food, but in time their numbers became ~o great, and their behaviour was so bad, that they were left severely alone; from first to last it never went so far as to allow them to starve. Their number at one time cannot have been far short of 100, but fortunately they acquired no lands and few wives, so that they have, comparatively speaking, left little traces. Their children invariably remained on the island with their mothers, and were brought up just in the same way as a Rotuman child would be. It is recorded, to show their mode of life, that one beachcomber started from his house to make a circuit of the island. Of course he bad to stop and get drunk with each white man on his way, so that he was over three months in getting home again. In spite of their many enormities, they were never molested, the only ones murdered, apparently, being killed in their own quarrels among themselves. The captains of the ships undoubtedly encouraged their bad characters to remain on the island during their cruise, as they could always ship more trustworthy and good men from among the natives. Then, when the cruise was over, they were as a rule quite willing to work their way home again, as all the liquor would be finished. The term fa fis, or white man, became from these men one of the worst abusive epithets one native could apply to another.
Tongan native teachers, or missionaries, reached the island about 1840. Six years later the Société de Marie established a mission, at first in Noatau, but it was soon transferred to Matusa. It was not a success, and so in 1853 was withdrawn, with about thirty of its people, to Fortuna. It returned in 1868, and now claims about a third of the inhabitants of the island, while the remainder are nominally Wesleyans. The first Roman Catholic fathers say of the natives that they treated the white people as an inferior race; that they have a great respect for the dead and burial grounds in every village; that each tomb is covered with sand, and each burial ground has a house for play; that all they do is to laugh, sing, jump, and dance; that the king, reigns, but has no authority and has for throne a mat; that their chief work is to lie down and eat, and the king only to get fat; that all the island supply food to the king, and that the mua is to see that this is well paid. [fn. "Mgr. Bataillon et les Missions de l'Oceanie Centrale," par L.E. Mangeret, de la Société de Marie.]
The Wilkes Expedition [fn. "Ethnography and Philology," by Horatio Hale; "Report of the Wilkes Expeditions," 1846.] only obtained their information from a few scattered natives; Tui Rotuma was the chief of these and was said to be the guardian of a young chief, Tokaniau, who would one day be king.
"The Rotumans resemble the Polynesians in form and complexion, but their features have more of a European cast. They have large noses, wide and prominent cheek-bones, full eyes, and considerable beard." "The expression of their countenances, which is mild, intelligent, and prepossessing, corresponds with their character, which is superior in many respects to that of the Polynesians. Like the Caroline islanders, they are good-natured, confiding, and hospitable."
The account of their government is inaccurate; there were seven, not twenty-four, districts. The head chiefs about this time were Marafu and Riemkau, but neither were these titles, nor was there any rotation. Reckoning was said to be "by periods of six months or moons," which were called Oi-papa, Taftafi, Haua, Kesepi, Fosoghau, and Athapuaga; the method is then contradicted by the twelve English equivalent months being indicated, while there are of course thirteen moons in a year. The account of the language is however of great value.
J.C. Pritchard says, [fn. "Natural History of Man," 1855, p. 474.] "The people of Rotuma are very peculiar in their physical characters, which are but little known. They are tall finely made people, of almost black colour, and with straight flowing hair. Their skulls are massive and heavy, almost approaching the weight and density of the crania of African negroes, with the jaws considerably projecting."
W. W. Wood [fn. "Tombs in the Islands of Rotuma," Journ. Anthrop. Inst.," vol. vi, p.5] mentions the graveyards of Rotuma, and gives a plate, but no standard of comparison for size, nor does he state where in the island the particular tomb, he represents, is situated.
J. S. Whitmee remarks, [fn. "The Ethnology of Polynesia," Journ. Anthrop. Inst.," vol. viii, p.261] "On Rotuma there is also a mixture of the two races (Polynesian and Melanesian), although the Melanesian largely predominates. In fact, it is probable that this island contains a mixture of the three peoples of Polynesia."
Captain Hope (H.M.S. "Busk," 1866) and Captain Moresby (H.M.S. "Basilisk," 1872) visited the island and forwarded reports to the Admiralty on it.