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From J. Stanley Gardiner (1898), "The Natives of Rotuma," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 27:460-466. 


The head chief of the island, or fakpure, was also one of the officers of a spiritual chief, who was termed the sou, but who really had little to do with the government of the island, and who lived wherever he was placed by the fakpure and the other chiefs. The position seems to have been directly comparable to that of the how of Tonga, [fn. See Mariner, loc. cit.] but, while the latter had considerable temporal power, the sou had none. There are indications, however, that the two functions, spiritual and temporal, were not always separate, in some of the privileges of the sou, and in his officers and their duty towards him. In the legend of Rahou (Sec. XXV,a), he is described as making a great chief in Rotuma, who is called Souiftuga, while in the legend about the coming of the kava (Sec. XXV, g) the office is held by a woman, the conqueror in a recent war. The woman's name, Souhoni (the woman sou), is at the present day a very big name and restricted to certain hoag, indeed, it is the only woman's name, about which I found any restriction as to use. In a list (App. I) of the last sixty sou, all are men, but in many legends the names are those given to women at the present day. Inquiry merely brought out that that was before the Tokalau, or Gilbert islanders, came to Rotuma, but no further explanation was ever forthcoming. Possibly the connection was in Fonmon, a Noatau sou, who is supposed to have got the best-looking girls from each district, and ordained that from his offspring with these the sou was to be chosen; the name is the same as that of the man who brought the Tokalau people on shore (p. 403). Before this all the sou are stated to have come from Noatau.

The appointment to the office was for a term of six months, each district taking it in turn to appoint. The old sou however could continue as long as he liked, or as long as he could manage to get together the great masses of food that he was required to provide. The Rotuman year likewise consisted of six months: Noatauta, Houeata, Fosuoghouida, Kasepta, Afopugida, and Oipapta. The list is approximately the same as given by the Wilkes Expedition (p. 402), but there is the month Taftafi, which corresponds to Noatauta. Probably the former name was the correct one, and the latter a modern one from the great feast held in that month in Noatau. Kasepta and Afopugida too in my list have changed places. Oipapta is stated to correspond to January and July, but my information reversed this order and made it correspond to June and December. The division into months was stated to me not to have been into moons, but to have been arbitrary, each consisting of a certain number of days, but not the same number in each month, while the sum total was the same as with us. Unless record was very carefully kept of days, I fail to see the method. Crops do not come regularly in such low latitudes, but vary much in accordance with the time of planting. The coming of certain fish on to the reef however is very regular and well known, as is the breeding of the different species of birds; there is also the fructification of the breadfruit in October. All the same, I doubt whether a month was not rather a moon, and the Rotuman year six moons; an English year would then be two Rotuman years and one month.

The sou had as attendants a number of officers whose duty it was to protect him, at the risk of their own lives, even if he was fighting with their own districts; they were drawn out of all the districts and supposed to be representative men of each. If the sou was killed in war, they were all killed too, if they did not die fighting. Their bodies, however, were not mutilated, and were always given back to their own districts to bury. Their names or titles were in order of precedence mua (chief priest), hagnata, titopu, fakpure (head chief), fanhoga (wife to sou) fahoa, fagata, tonhida (messenger), and mafuida (the presiding officer over all feasts).

The dress of the sou consisted of a fine mat, over which the malhida was worn. This dress was made of the leaves of the saaga(Pandanus sp. ?), split up, and plaited together like sinnet at the top, and hanging down loose. They were stained for the most part red, but some might be left white. Black was sometimes introduced by means of the bark of the si, a species of banana, which on drying turns a dull black. Another dress, pertaining to some of the officers, was the ololi; it appears to have been really a sort of apron, made of a fine mat, and hung down in front. It was almost completely covered with the red feathers of the arumea(Myzomela chermesina, Gray); its use was restricted to particular feasts. Round the neck might be a necklace of beads of whale's teeth, the tifui lei, and on each wrist was the muleli, described to me as a round piece of turtle bone. I dug up one when I opened the graves of the mua; it is certainly not bone, but resembles somewhat the horny and prismatic layers of the outer part of a pearl shell. It is about 2 inches in diameter, and has a large hole in the centre (Plate XXV, Fig. 7). On the breast was the pearl shell, tiaf hapa, but the really distinctive part was the malhida, which it was taboo for any one else to wear. The muleli was only worn by the mua as well as the sou, but the other ornaments were more generally used.

The duty of the sou was simply to see after the proper performance of the various feasts, all of which had some religious rites. He was however in no way under the priests of the different atua (p. 468), nor does he seem to have had any connection with them. It was his business to preside over the feasts, and, whatever might be desired, he had to pray for at the same time as he poured out the kava to the god. He was, when sou, under the protection of this god, and could not be harmed by spirits and ghosts. He lived where he was put, but at the new moon it was his own district which had to bring food. First-fruits from all the districts had to be presented to him, and it was the business of the fakpure to look after this and see that they were properly paid. If he desired a new fanhoga, he simply had to give the fakpure the name of the girl he had chosen, and she remained with him till he gave up his office or sent her away.

Of the other officers, the hagnata, titopu, fahoa, and fagata formed with some of their people a special guard for the sou, always accompanying him; they usually belonged to four several districts. They were armed with spears, which in times of peace--i.e., if the sou was not engaged in a war--always had their ends covered with a strip of banana leaf, tied on. Two of these spears, or jou, obtained from Rotuma, are very remarkable; they were evidently spliced on to a handle, which was said to be of soft wood. The splice is 6-7 inches long, not cut in one, but really in two parts, in such a way that it could not possibly by any chance slip. Above this the spears have a length of 3 l/2 feet carved, and on the end of one are fixed the spines of the stinging ray with sinnet; there are three perfect spines, and there is also the butt end of a fourth, the rest of which has broken off. These spines have along their edges recurved teeth, so that, when thrust into any one, they can only be extracted with difficulty and make a very jagged wound. If left in the wound, after being, broken off, they gradually work their way through the body and come out elsewhere. Any one meeting the sou had to pay the proper marks of respect: to sit down at the side of the path, lower the hair, and cover the face. Failing to do so, they would have the spears thrust into them, the stinging rays broken off, and also the soft wood handle; the spear would then be grasped in the hand, and the offender thrust at with the spliced end.

The sou commences office in Noatauta, and at once the district in which he is placed holds a big fish-drive, and on the following day a feast; this feast and fish-drive is termed the kako-sose (the washing in the salt water), and was supposed to purify the sou for the biggest feast in the year, which almost at once followed, the tofi. The tonhida was sent round the island to tell the people, and at the same time seized all food, pigs, cloth, mats, etc., he saw on the road; he was usually accompanied by all the boys to assist him in seizing and carrying the things to the sou. On the day, the sou was stuffed out to as large a size as possible with mats and sticks, and dressed for the first time in the malhida and muleli; he sits on the right under an awning alone, with his officers in another opposite to him, and the people on one side. The mafuida calls out the name of the sou, addressing him on this occasion as Faupa, on which the tonhida causes the food which the sou has had prepared to be brought forward and piled up in the middle; it was supposed to be larger than any pile which should be prepared and brought during that day. Next the near relatives of the sou are called, and they have to make a heap nearly as big. In succession come the mua and his people, and the different districts likewise; a few small heaps, too, used to be made for the dead sou, and were the perquisites of the priests. The sou and the mua exchange heaps, and the different districts likewise; there are no heaps for the other officers of the sou. The kava is prepared, and after being called and poured out to the different dead sou, is called to the living sou and his officers in the given order. The chewing, which is performed as usual by the women, is presided over by the fanhoga. After the feast the fanhoga, too, divides out the residue to the several officers and districts, which take it home with them. Separate presents of food and mats used to be brought to the sou at the same feast by all the districts.

Another feast nearly as big, the sisiolda, almost immediately used to follow in Noatau on the top of the hill of Seselo, where the sou are buried. The kava is poured on to the graves of the several sou, and the living sou, after receiving it, has to eat of all the different grasses on the hill. Two small feasts follow at Ranulda and Vaimossi, where two sou, killed in war, were buried, the latter by the Niuafoou people. All the sou were buried, quite independently of their district, on this hill, but the flat top was divided roughly into separate graveyards for the several districts. The one belonging to Itomotu is characterised by its large flat basaltic stones; there is only one for Pepji and Juju, and that of Noatau is very large. Many of the stones are immense; one belonging to a Noatau sou is of beach sand rock, about 10 feet long by 5 broad and 5-6 inches thick, and another is represented by a small cannon obtained probably from some whaler. The bodies are recumbent and buried about 6 feet deep

In Houeata, there is a big feast in Oinafa, to which all go except the fanhoga; in Oipapta there are three big feasts in Juju, Malaha, and on Muasolo. At the first the sou is not present, but the mua takes his place, and to the third the fagata goes as the sou dressed in the malhida. As soon as it is over he returns the malhida to the sou, and at the same time smears him plentifully with the turmeric, or mena, with which he is covered; he then retires by the back door, and on the following day his people have to get ready a big pile of food and bring it to the sou. The mua were all buried on Muasolo, a small hill near Lopta, in Oinafa; there were two holes for the purpose, in the one of which only the mua from Oinafa were placed. The position was a sitting one, with the tiaf hapa, or pearl-shell breastplate, round the neck, and between the legs the voironu (Plate XXVIII, Fig. 10) was placed. The holes were simply covered over by a mat, but otherwise open; over them was a native house. When a former mua died, he always had to be buried by the living mua. With him, but with no one else, was usually placed a piece of the bark of the breadfruit tree, so that he might have a crop in the next world. Fouma (Sec. XXV,d) is supposed to have told them where to bury the mua and to have built the house there. For this the people had to cut posts and bring sinnet. Two men, however, from Savelei omitted to do so. The whole is finished except one end, for which two posts are wanted; so Fouma drives one of these men into the hole and places the other as a crosspiece over him. A large hole is dug underneath, and the people are told to bury all the mua there, but never to fill up the hole.

At the feast the house was always rethatched, the old thatch being equally divided, to ensure the possessors a fruitful season. When this was completed, the kava was prepared, and a whole tanoa poured out to the dead mua. A great quantity of food is then placed in the house, as this feast differed from all others in that no food could be carried away from it. The mua alone can enter the house, and so has to carry all the food in. The old people, both men and women, while he is doing so, walk in procession round the house, while a prayer for a fruitful season is chanted, each fruit being mentioned by name.

Te moiea naragosou, mua

...Be fruitful, mighty spirit, mua.

E te moiea favorou, mua....

...Be fruitful to the fava tree, mua.

Te moiea se, oh,oh,oh......

...Be fruitful to us, oh, oh, oh.

Moiea ifi, ma moiea fava....

...A fruitful ifi and fruitful fava.

Te moiea se, oh,oh,oh etc., etc.

...Be fruitful to us, oh, oh, oh, etc.

Se le mua le; sol, oh, oh, oh.


The language is antique, and now nearly forgotten; I could get no translation to the last two lines. The third and fourth lines are repeated with the names for all other fruits substituted for the ifi and fava; uktrua is supposed to mean that it is finished. All carry during the ceremony a stick, the poki; it is held over the head with both hands and moved rhythmically to and fro with the singing. The naragosou was explained to me as the head of Limari, the abode of departed spirits, and also as the god of the winds, rain, and sun, but Marafu identified him as being the same as Tagaloa Siria (Sec. XV).

During Noatauta, Houeata, and Oipapta, on account of all these feasts, marriage used to be forbidden, except the parties had been formerly married; the idea was that it would cause a great deal of work in preparing the feast. During the other three months, all planting and house-building had to be done. The sou was left alone, but was not allowed to relax in any part of his state or to go anywhere by himself.

Peculiar, I believe, to the sou was a stool with four very thick legs, and carved out above so as to fit the body, when seated on it. Its height is about 10 inches at the sides by 7 in the middle, and breadth about 16 inches. It is carved out of a solid block of hifo, and has underneath, between two of the legs, a piece left with a hole in it, to hang it up by. The one, figured, is considerably more massive than two others which I saw, but one of these was evidently of no great age.

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