From J. Stanley Gardiner (1898), "The Natives of Rotuma," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 27:433-435.
XI. HOUSES AND THEIR FOUNDATIONS.
The house was in former days always placed on the top of a moderately high built-up foundation, or fuagri. Most of the modern foundations are about 3 feet high, a wall round filled in with earth, but there are scattered plentifully here and there old foundations up to 12 feet in height, formed of perpendicular walls of large blocks of stone on the outside, with in one place rough steep steps. The ground was in no case hollowed out to build these up. Two in the village of Noatau measure 93 feet by 39 by 10 high and 54 feet by 66 by 11 high; there is another at the south end of Noatau 13 feet high, quite square, with a terrace at 9 feet. In Oinafa is the large old fuagri of Tokaniua; it stands in the bush on the bare lava quite back from the village, and is somewhat irregular in shape. Generally through the bush are many isolated high foundations; usually around are smaller foundations, indicating a former centre of population. There are no signs but these of anything approaching a fort, unless graveyards were used for such too.
In the house (Fig. 5) six posts (a) are placed in two rows, about 6 feet apart from one another, while in the row they are 8 feet; they are about 7 feet high. About 6 inches below the top along the two rows on their outer sides are lashed with sinnet two beams (b). Across these and resting on their two ends outside the two pairs of outer posts are lashed two more beams, with two more one on each side of the centre pair (c). A flat beam rests on the centre of these (d), and from it arise four posts (e) which support the ridge pole (f) of the house. On the projecting ends of the beams c lie two more beams (g), to which two of the long roof beams are ultimately lashed. All the above is exceedingly massive; few of the timbers are ever less than 6 inches thick. The beam d is dovetailed on to the beams c, and the posts are sunk at least 4 feet into the ground. Outside the two lines of post are put two lines more of three each about 3 feet away (h), while five more at each end are placed in a crescent shape; they are about 4 feet high. Lashed outside these rest beams right round the house (i); the roof from these slopes up to the ridge pole, but there are usually two more sets of beams (k), the lowest lashed to the beam g. As the pitch of the roof is naturally given by the part below this, the ridge pole is the last part erected. The timbers of this outside part are much smaller.
Laths are lashed outside these beams up and down the roof, 3-4 inches apart. The framework at the ends of the house is carefully curved, and diminished up to the ends of the ridge pole. The thatch is made of the leaves of the oat, or sago palm. It is of two kinds: the puara and the fatafiti; the latter is used for the ridge, and the former for the roof and walls of the house, the separate pieces being lashed to the laths about 2 inches apart from one another. The roof is thus thatched from below upwards; it overhangs the walls by a few inches only. There are two doors on each side and none at the ends. They are simply well finished pieces of thatch strung together and suspended by sinnet to the beam above; to open they are simply pushed up from inside, but in the day-time are usually supported open by a stake. On each side of them is placed a post to prevent the walls from being broken down by people entering, and further to support the beams i. The walls, too, have additional supports as requisite under i. At their base right round the house beams are laid, giving a finish to the whole. The floor is covered with pieces of coral or water-worn pebbles, and these again with mats.
In the old days, one or both ends of the house were very generally curtained off by mats as sleeping-places, the walls being often lined with all extra thickness of thatch inside to keep out the ramu, or mosquito. Bamboos or sticks used commonly to be placed on the cross beams of the house to form sleeping places, termed fatafata. The dimensions of the house given are taken from one on the island of Uea, where lime cannot be obtained, and these houses are always built. Many on Rotuma are larger, but are not as typical.
With the introduction of sorui, or lime, by the white man, houses began to be built with reed walls, plastered over, and thatch roofs; now houses are built of stone and plastered both inside and out. None, however, are as strong or stand a hurricane so well as the proper old house; its beams inside are of hard wood, and last practically for ever, while the storm passes lightly over its low-pitched roof and rounded gables.
Besides these houses for general use the men had sleeping houses, risi boki, built on piles close to the sea, 50-80 feet high; they were mounted by means of a pole with notches cut in it for steps. They were occupied generally by the younger men and boys to avoid the mosquitoes. There was, too, the kohea, or cook-house, a roughly constructed building, with open walls.
A necessary article in all houses is the kuruga, or pillow. Of these there is little variety, most of the true Rotuman ones very closely resembling the one represented in the figure.