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From J. Stanley Gardiner (1898), "The Natives of Rotuma," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 27:402-407. 


In Rotuman legends mention is made of visitors from Tonga, Samoa, and Niuafoou, but only a few voyagers can be remembered, and their approximate date ascertained from the genealogical trees of their descendants. I allow twenty years for each generation, and add the age of the descendant who gave me the information.

The first comers remembered were the people of Niuafoou, an island to the north of the Tongan group, who came in several big canoes about 240 years ago; they are supposed to have numbered about 300 men, with no women or children. They landed at Noatau, where they made friends with the people and learned their language. Physically, they are described as a tall and powerful race. First they assisted the Noatau people to conquer the rest of the island, and then themselves turned round and conquered Noatau. Their chief married the daughter of Urakmata, the chief of Noatau. Henceforward we find the possessor of their chief's name, Marafu, drinking kava second on the island and generally looked up to. Finally, after holding the whole island for a generation, they were conquered by Olili, of Maftau, and confined to Noatau.

Next came one "immense" double canoe from Tarawa, in the Gilbert islands, in all absolutely exhausted condition, with both women and children. Fonmon, a Noatau man, brought their canoe to the shore, and then took them before the sou, or king, who made a big feast and divided them out among all the districts, where they married and settled down. They stated that they had lost their way owing to a change of wind, and that they had tried to get home again, but were too exhausted to do so; then a fresh wind came up and blew them to Rotuma. One woman, Teauia, is remembered by name. She married Fonmon, and by him had a son, who married the daughter of Matiere. The last had a daughter, who married Maragtu, and their daughter married the great-grandfather of the present Marafu. This gives five generations, 100 years, and Marafu is at least 60 years old, so that their arrival must have been 160 years ago. According to Marafu, it was not the custom in the old days to marry so young, so that it would be probably nearer 200 years ago.

Next came one large canoe from Ruaniua, or according to another account from Tipokia, shortly before the advent of the white man, or about 1780. There was one large canoe, crowded with people, which came to Hatana and remained there, sometimes hiding behind Hoflewa, for several days. They landed twice in the night at Sihe, in Losa, and killed a number of people, whom they took away with them and devoured. They were finally seen from the top of Sol Sorou, a hill above Losa, and preparations made for them. Accordingly, when they landed the third time, the women were all singing in a house, round which the men were ambuscaded. The raiders thought of course they had an easy prey, but, when they had surrounded the house, they were set upon on both sides, and all killed or captured. Several families at the present day trace their descent from them. The name of the place, from whence they came, is given indifferently as Ruaniua or Tipokia. If pressed as to which place, they say Ruaniua, and will give you as the direction from which they came due west; the people are not described as being in any way different from themselves. I have no doubt that Ruaniua is the same as Leuanewa (Lord Howe's Island, or Ontong Java), and that the canoe came by way of Tucopia, or Cheres Island.

The next visitor was from Tonga, apparently just before the advent of the white man. He is supposed to have come in a big double canoe from Fortuna, and to have left three of the women of that island in Rotuma, and to have taken three Rotuma women instead. He also is supposed to have told the people about the white men, and to have left the Marafu of that day, among other things, an iron axe.

William Mariner gives an account [fn. "The Natives of the Tonga Islands," by William Mariner, 1817, vol. i, pp. 322 et seq.] of the voyages of Cow Mooala, who returned to Tonga, after an absence of fourteen years, in 1807. "In his way he touched at the island of Lotooma (about a day's sail from Fotoona), a place noted for the peaceable disposition of the inhabitants, and where he was received with an uncommon degree of respect. As they were little accustomed to the appearance of strangers, they were greatly surprised at the sight of so large a canoe, and considered the chief and his men as hotooas (gods), or superior beings, and would not suffer them to land till they had spread on the ground a large roll of gnatoo, which extended about fifty yards, reaching from the shore to the house prepared for them. At this island Cow Mooala remained but a short time. During his stay, however, the natives treated him with very great respect, and took him to see some bones, which were supposed to have belonged once to an immense giant, about whom they relate a marvellous account, which is current at Tonga as well as at Lotooma.

"At a period before men of common stature lived at Tonga, two enormous giants resided there, who happening on some occasion to offend their god, he punished them by causing a scarcity on all the Tonga islands, which obliged them to go and seek their food elsewhere. As they were vastly above the ordinary size of the sons of men now-a-days, they were able, with the greatest imaginable ease, to stride from one island to another, provided the distance was not more than about a couple of miles; at all events, their stature enabled them to wade through the sea without danger, the water in general not coming higher than their knees, and in the deepest places not higher than their hips. Thus situated, no alternative was left them but to splash through the water in search of a more plentiful soil. At length they came in sight of the island of Lotooma, and viewing it at a distance with hungry eyes, one of them bethought himself that if this small island was ever so fruitful, it could not supply more food than would be sufficient for himself at one meal; he resolved therefore wisely, out of pure consideration for his own stomach, to make an end of his companion. This he accordingly did, but by what means, whether by drowning him, strangling him, or giving him a blow on the head, tradition does not say. When he arrived at Lotooma he was no doubt very hungry, but at the same time he felt himself so sleepy, that he was resolved to lie down and take a nap, particularly as night was fast approaching and to satisfy his hunger the next morning; and very lucky it was for the poor natives he did so (for it appears this island was inhabited at that time). He accordingly made a pillow of the island of Lotooma, and not choosing to lie in the water, he stretched his legs over to the island of Fotoona, making a sort of bridge from one place to the other. By-and-by he snored to such a degree that both islands, particularly Lotooma, were shaken as if by an earthquake, so as greatly to disturb the peaceable inhabitants. The people of the latter island being roused from their slumbers, were greatly alarmed--and well they might be--at this unseasonable and extraordinary noise. Having repaired to the place where his head lay, and discovering, that it was a gigantic being fast asleep, they held a consultation as to what was best to be done, and came at length to the resolution of killing him, if possible, before he awoke, lest he might eat them all up. With this intention, every man armed himself with an axe, and at a signal given they all struck his head at the same moment. Up started the giant with a tremendous roar, and recovering his feet, he stood aloft on the island of Lotooma, but being stunned with the blows, he staggered and fell again, with his head and body in the sea; and being unable to recover himself, he was drowned, his feet remaining upon dry land, and thus the great enemy was destroyed."

"As a proof of these facts they show two enormous bones which, as they say, belonged to this giant, and the natives in general believe it. The people of Tonga, however, are not so credulous with respect to this story, which they generally tell in a jocose way. Mr. Mariner asked Cow Mooala what sort of bones they were. He replied that they were enormously large, he could not well describe their shape, that he was sure they were bones, though they were not at all like any human bones, and he supposed they must have belonged to some fish. To any new-comer from Lotooma the first question is, 'Have you seen the giant's bones?' But it would appear that communications with Lotooma were not very frequent, since the inhabitants made so sad a mistake as to think Cow Mooala and his followers gods.

"Cow Mooala shortly took his departure from Lotooma, with three of the native women on board, in addition to his other followers, and sailed for the Fiji islands."

I have no doubt that the visitor from Fortuna was the Cow Mooala, whom Mariner speaks of. Marafu told me fragments of a legend similar to the above, but he stated that it could not be true, as he himself saw the bones when he was a boy, and that they belonged to a whale. He affirmed, though, that the break in the island was caused by the neck of a giant, who had used the island for a pillow; but he had completely forgotten the story, and did not connect it with the bones he spoke of.

A canoe next came from Funafuti, Ellice islands, with both men and women, nearly exhausted from starvation; this would seem to have been about 1815. They have left traces of themselves in several special songs, words, and modes of singing; I know of about thirty people, who trace descent from them.

Shortly afterwards came two canoes from Tonga and shipped 100 men, under Konou of Matusa, to go to Erromango, in the New Hebrides, for sandal-wood. Most of the men caught fever there and died, but both canoes returned in safety with full cargoes. This was the first sandal-wood which came to Rotuma. The date is given by Marasea, a man of about seventy, whose father went there when he was a boy; the date would be hence about 1820.

About 1830 a large double canoe was seen off Noatau, crowded with people in an absolutely exhausted condition, and brought on shore. Their point of departure was Nui, Ellice islands. They too intermarried and settled on the island.

In recent years many single canoes are remembered to have come from the Ellice islands, and two from Fortuna, but the latter people alone seem to have had any idea as to where they were going.

Since annexation to England a boat arrived from Niuataboutabou with three men, two women, and a child on board; it was a carvel-built boat and 22 feet long. They stole it from a German firm at this place, and, in fear of the Tonga Government, embarked with only a Small mat sail and one broken oar, while their only provisions were green cocoanuts. After the tenth day they had nothing to eat. The woman's milk dried up, but the baby was kept alive by squeezing water into its mouth out of their clothes, wetted by the rain and the dew. On the seventeenth day Rotuma was reached, and they were brought on shore. Their joy was extreme, as they thought they had reached the Solomon islands, and expected to be eaten.

A canoe, when I was in Rotuma, drifted on shore at Noatau; it was 34 feet long and covered with barnacles. In build it was certainly not Fijian nor Rotuman, and probably came from Uea (Wallis Island) or Fortuna.

Inquiries on the island as to voyages, formerly undertaken by its people, were futile. Marafu's reply was to the effect that formerly they had big canoes of their own and used to voyage in every direction, but that that was before the Niuafoou people conquered the island. The names of stars are as a rule fanciful now, but Marafu pointed me out some named according to the different islands. On my inquiry as to where Tipokia was one evening, he took me outside and pointed to a star which he said was just over it. It may be noted that Cook charts Rotuma as well known to the Tongans in his "Voyages."

Captain Dillon states that the people were accustomed to undertake long voyages to Withuboo for shells, and mentions one canoe which was cast away on Hamoa, or Samoa. Withuboo is probably the same as Oaitupu, one of the more northerly islands of the Ellice group.

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