From J. Stanley Gardiner (1898), "The Natives of Rotuma," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 27:431-433.
In former days, it seemed to be the desire of the chiefs to be buried on the tops of the highest hills in their several districts, or on some conspicuous prominence into the sea. In the bush, graveyards are scattered everywhere, but most have no stones or monuments, and can only be found by the presence of foraminiferal beach sand, mixed with the earth. One such burial place near Halafa at the west end was on the steeply sloping side of a hill and completely overgrown with trees; there were here and there flat basaltic stones lying, a foot or more square. Round these perhaps could be traced an area of about 2 feet by 4 to some extent marked off by blocks of the more recent lava. The bodies were only covered with a few inches of soil, and the bones were completely rotten; the head was to be found directly under the basaltic block, and the position of the body seemed to have been originally a sitting one. Another such burial ground on the land slope of Sol Tia, in Noatau, showed no beach sand, the bodies being simply buried without order in the red volcanic earth; it was supposed to have been formed of the slain in a big battle between Noatau and Faguta.
On the tops of many hills and islets off the coast are platforms, built up at the sides, with graves marked out on the top. On the top of Sol Hof, the highest hill in Oinafa, is one such; the summit is a narrow ridge, on which at one end a platform has been built up about 30 feet long by 20 broad. Its walls vary in height up to 8 feet, and are built simply of the loose rough blocks of lava that are found in the vicinity. On the top, areas are marked out by flat stones, about 2 feet square by 3-4 inches thick. Six placed vertically enclose the grave, two at each side and one at each end, and project for about 8 inches above the general level. In the middle across and resting on them is another similar block, the same size. These are formed of a sand rock, which is only found on the beach between tide marks, and which, while it is at first extremely friable, on exposure to the air gets very dense and hard. On opening these graves, the bodies were reached at a depth of about 3 feet; they were all recumbent, and there seemed to be layers of bodies, one on the top of the other. I could not make out any order in the arrangement. All I found within these areas seemed to be adult males, and heads and feet were often in close proximity. I pulled down the wall of the platform at one place, and found that the whole was filled in with beach sand; there were bones, however, right down to the volcanic soil. Outside these graves bodies seemed to have been buried without order, and there were the remains of men, women, and children, mixed up anyhow. Similar results attended excavations on a hill above Noatau and on the islets of Afaga and Solkopi, but the graves were not marked off so regularly on any of these burial grounds, and their stones were often larger. I would suggest that these were formed gradually, and, as more and more people were buried there, slowly built up to their present height. Perhaps the enclosed areas were for the owners of hoag names, and the rest were buried indiscriminately.
Most burials, during this century, of district chiefs have been in their own villages, in most of which close to the shore are very large artificial burial grounds, or tamura. In each district is one such enormous more or less rectangular burial ground, a mound of sand walled in by large rectangular blocks of beach sand rock or unshaped pieces of lava; their construction was apparently gradual, and similar to those on the tops of the hills. Their height varies up to as much as 16 feet, while they may be 30 yards or more square; some are terraced. Many are placed on prominent capes into the sea, and most are visible from it; those at Oinafa and Matusa are especially conspicuous. Their number is enormous, and there are very great variations in size and position, but a height of about 6 feet to start with, unless on some prominent raised point, seemed to me general. From these, the whole island of Rotuma was formerly known to sailors as the island of graves.
The chief priests, the sou and mua (Sec. XIV), were buried on the tops of the hills, and many hoag claim burial there. For this reason I think that most of these village tamura are of modern date, and that there has been a change of custom in this respect. Maftau, in Itomotu, has its graveyard on a conspicuous and bluff cape, about 60 feet above sea level. One gravestone is noticeably large, roughly rectangular, and about 2 feet thick; from its cubic feet I estimated that it weighed between five and six tons. The stone is basaltic, and must have been brought at least 1/2 mile to its present position, as there is no similar rock nearer. The old men of Maftau remember hearing from their fathers of the great feast that was prepared, after which it was dragged into its present position by sheer force of numbers.
The dead are now buried tied up in large mats, with sand round them; elaborate stones are sometimes put up. Certain carvings on some stones looked remarkable; I found later that they were copied from markings on crockery, after carefully, but unsuccessfully, digging up the stones in many of the old graveyards for traces of such. The use of these graveyards has now been entirely given up, and the people are buried in the English fashion.