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From J. Stanley Gardiner (1898), "The Natives of Rotuma," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 27:486-488.


In times of peace meetings used to be held between the different districts for cock-fighting, wrestling, canoe-sailing, etc. For the former the chiefs used to breed a small cock, somewhat similar to the Malayan fowl; great care was taken in the feeding, and the spur was especially sharpened and oiled. Usually pigs were put up on both sides, and went to the conquerors.

In wrestling any fall to the ground counted. The chosen champions watched each other carefully from a distance, and then, perhaps, one would rush on the other and make a feint, only to turn aside when they seemed bound to come to close quarters. The great idea was to get one's opponent, from the nature of his or your rush, into an awkward position, so that he could be seized round one thigh, and could not avoid a fall.

Canoe-sailing was carried on, especially on the occasions of certain big feasts in connection with the sou. The canoes employed were the small ones, the tavane, with mat sails. In each canoe only one man sailed, and the different districts would contest for the prize with ten, twenty, or even more representatives. There were also commonly canoe-races for the women. The course was always inside the reef, and much fun was caused by the constant capsizing of the canoes.

The Fijian game tiqa, or ulutoa, used to be very popular; it is now only played by the boys. Properly it seems to be a Fijian game, and was doubtless introduced from there. It is played by throwing from the forefinger, covered with a piece of cloth, a reed about 4 feet long, armed with a pointed piece of hard and heavy wood, 3-6 inches long. It is thrown along the ground, bouncing over it, the winner being, he who can throw it furthest.

The shooting of a large rail, the kale(Porphyrio smaragdinus, Temm.) was taboo to all, except the chiefs. For it, it is stated that small bows and arrows were used. A captive kale was tied up in the middle of some open space in the woods, and round it the chiefs hid themselves in the trees. To some extent the captive bird was trained, but in any case it would attract other birds of its own species by its cries. The possession of a well-trained bird always gave a chief a position of consequence among his fellows. The bows and arrows were, as far as I could find out, mere toys, and had no other use.

Hatana and Hoflewa, uninhabited islands off the west end, are regularly visited for the eggs and young birds of the nogo and lagea, two species of Anous. The adults were caught by means of large hand-nets, the birds being attracted by an imitation of their cry, a sort of cor-r-r-r, at which the natives are very proficient. The young birds become very tame, and readily return to their masters. Flying contests between different birds were not of unfrequent occurrence.

Of musical instruments the nose flute is now well known; it is of exactly of the same type as the nose flute of Fiji, and very possibly has been introduced from those islands. The few I saw were rough and made of very small joints of bamboo; I never came across any one in Rotuma who could get a tune from one. I saw also an instrument closely resembling Pan's pipes and a sort of Jew's-harp, made with a spring of bamboo. For none of them could I get any Rotuman name, so that I am compelled to regard all as foreign. The conch shell is much used in the bush for calling the people together, and also the chicken to their daily meal. The drum has already been referred to (pp. 458-9); it is used for summoning the village to church or to any meeting.

The children have a ball made square of cocoanut or pandanus leaves, and sometimes stuffed with grass. On windy days they may perhaps be seen with little windmills by the seashore. These are made of two crossed bits of cocoanut leaf on the end of the midrib of one of the leaflets. The kite also is not unknown. I saw one in Juju which was evidently of European design; another old one I saw in Losa was quite round and made out of an old mat, somewhat bellied, on a frame formed by the midrib of a cocoanut leaf. It had the remains of a tail, pieces of cocoanut leaf tied at equal intervals on a string of sinnet. I could not ascertain how far these were of Rotuman origin.

On moonlight nights the beach is alive with the girls and boys, singing and playing all sorts of games. A favourite one of these is a sort of "prisoner's base"; a kind of base is marked off, and then one side hides, while the other side searches for them; they have, if possible, to get back within this base. In another two sides are formed, and join opposite one another hand in hand; they then, singing, advance and retreat from one another or dance sideways up and down in front of one another. Then when the one side has managed to get the other all moving in the opposite direction, it suddenly turns, while the other side pushes it down the beach and tries to surround it. Another game ends up in a tug-of war, each clasping the one in front round the waist, while the two strongest of the opposite sides have hold of each other's wrists. In another two rings are formed, the one inside the other; they face towards one another and dance towards and away from one another or round in different directions in accordance with a song, which both will be singing. It ends up, too, in a general chase of the one line after the other down the beach, and perhaps even into the sea.

Another favourite amusement on the beach is to make a bank of sand and out of this to scrape a number of holes in the sand. A piece of coral is then taken in the hand and, while these are filled up, hid in one. When they are tired with the rougher games above, the whole beach may be seen strewn with young people, five or six together, playing this game. The unsuccessful in guessing, in which hole the coral has been placed, will be set on by the others, and covered in sand. The most recently introduced game is known by the name of bluff; it is really a kind of "poker," and is now much played for boxes of matches. Women are not allowed to play, but look on and sell cocoanuts, oranges, etc., to the players for boxes of matches.

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