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Rotuman Custom as told to Gordon MacGregor in 1932
from notes archived at
Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawai'i





Raho (1)



MacGregor's Notes


Maio, daughter of Raho caught a penu (a white shellfish with body like a miniature crawfish). But her cousin Vaimarosi stole it. The girl ran to her father to have him get her penu back. Vaimarosi denied stealing it, but Raho would not believe him, because he could see the boy's footprint in the sand where Maio had left her penu. The boy was a club foot and left an unmistakeable mark. But Raho could not regain the penu so he went to the bush to make a canoe to leave his island. After he had brought the wood for the canoe down from the bush he filled two baskets with sand. The names of these were fuari and fua'a. These baskets were the la type or the four handle baskets that are used to serve the chief his food.

The baskets were carried by two women who could turn themselves into birds. The place where the sand was taken from on Savai'i is called Rotuma.

The man who steered Raho's canoes was Tariafini.

Vaimarosi stood on the shore and cried when the canoe sailed away.

Raho went first to a reef near Fiji and built his island there, but fearing trouble with Fiji so near he decided to move away and sent the hanlepherua up in the air and told them to fly north and west until the mountain on the top of Futuna was out of sight. At that point were two rocks Haf Kamea and Tarasua showing above the surface and on these they dumped the two baskets and the island was made. These rocks are in Malhaha, one on the shore and one in the bush.

Raho came to Rotuma from Samoa in a party of three canoes. In the first canoe was Raho, Maive (a woman), Sinakirivau (a woman), Sinativao (a woman), and Tui Savarak. In the second canoe was Fuanofo, and in the third, Vilu.

Sinativao and her brother Tui Savarak went to live in Oinafa. Tokaniua was born of Sinativao. He came to Malhaha and claimed the island from Raho because in Oinafa he did not know that there were any other people on the island. After the quarrel Raho left and went to Hatana to live.

The people who had come from Samoa built a house at Malhaha where they had landed. This was a very long house from which it took its name Ri Roa. The people of this house subsequently became an aristocracy of Rotuma.

There was no one on island when Raho landed at Malha'a.

When Raho left for Hatana he told the people in Ri Roa to tell him if any children were born. Tove and Maive had three children after Raho left but they did not tell him until the third arrived; this was Tu te Rotuam. The first was Morsio, and the second Muameata.

When the people told Raho that Tui te Rotuam had been born, he made him king of Rotuma and told him to live at Halafa in Itu'muta. Here Raho could watch him from Hatana (Halafa is on the opposite side of Maftoa in Itu'muta). When Tu te Rotuam died he was buried in Muasol. The second "king of Rotuma" was Tukmasui.

Moameata became mua of Rotuma but in a war made on Malhaha by Noa'tau, he was killed and his wife Panoi was taken to Noa'tau. The next mua who lived in Noa'tau called himself Moameata. Soon Panoi had a son, named Riamkau, and when he grew up he was made sau in Rotuma.

Moameata was reduced to second position and the place of mua has retained that ever since.

All the people who came from Samoa lived in the house that Raho built for them. This was called Ri Roa. All the people of Ri Roa were the muas of Rotuma until Malhaha was conquered by Noa'tau. The people and descendants of Ri Roa were regarded with some high position for they were always addressed as Noi'ia or La'o fa Ri Roa or han Ri Roa. But after the Noa'tau war and Riamkau had been made sau of Rotuma the family in Noa'tau and the people, too, of the district were addressed La'o fa Noa'tau etc.

This custom is still preserved and old people at weddings use the term Fa Noa'tau for men of that district. Also used to address corpses of Noa'tau people at burials.

The Ri Roa were the only people who became muas before the Noa'tau conquest.

Regarding greetings and terms of address, Niua said mua called Fa Riroa and Chiefs called Fa ne Sahoa, which is said to be a place in Noa'tau.

Raho or Tui Manua gave the island to Tui Rotuma and stayed in Hatana. He never died but has turned to a stone on the reef there. Raho also said to be (later) two black basaltic rocks which stand upright on the beach. These are surrounded by the Sa'a Sina, white stones, women who sing to Raho.

When Raho quarreled with Tokaniua, he buried all the food of the island in Muasol so that Tokaniua would have none, and then proceeded to Hatana to live










The two women were known as hanlepherua, literally 'the two sandy point women'


























king = sau




Raho (2)



MacGregor's Notes


He gave the story of Raho precisely as Varumua but he added the incident of the coconut fapui being tied to the trees as the basis of their quarrel, a part that Varumua left out.

Also he said that there was a stone on the reef at Hatana called Raho.

The stony parts of Oinafa are due to the fact that the hanlepherua flew over them and did not put any sand from the baskets on them.

The island between Haf Ahai and Hafliua is called Haveiagalolo. It is the place where the hanlepherua dried the oil for Raho's massage.

Speech. Raho ta ese te moanoa ka tau forau ka aloaga.

fapui = a leaf used as a sign of taboo




Raho (3)



MacGregor's Notes


Ana went to Samoa from Tonga. Aaragai-Sa Hanlepherua filled baskets. Two baskets, one planted Rotuma, one Alofi. Ana stayed in Samoa. Raho came. They thought that they had travelled far enough and decided to plant the island. They planted Rotuma with one basket. Hanlep flew to Futuna; when that was out of sight, planted Alofi.

After the island was planted, Raho made a fapui at Solmena, the chiefly foundation in Malhaha. Sina kiri vau - name of bush. After the planting Raho stayed in Malhaha.

Tokainiua heard Raho had gone to Rotuma so he followed him and landed at Mafhanua in East Oinafa. Malhaha asked Oinafa to come to a feast for Tokaniua's people. They cooked turtle, the chiefly food, for the crews. Tokaniua's people got larger share. Raho got angry and said he would go to Hatana.

Then Tokainiua put an old fapui in tree next to Raho's fapui. After an argument over the fapui the land was given to Tokainiua.

Sa'aitu came and buried Tokainiua and saved his life.

Raho went to Halafa, drove a planting stick into ground and tried to break up island. Hole = Mamfiri. Hanitemaus asked where is the rest of this?

There was a sau and a mua in the sky who looked down and saw Rotuma.

Sau Tui te Rotomah (Penamena says sau in text meaning king, also for 3rd son, but name is Tui, probably the original word for a chief).

  • Fagatriroa = sau's son
  • Tuifeua & Pariagsau = mua and son
  • They let down Titof to Rotuma. They let him down so that they could find out if it were a place of giants. If he was not eaten he would return. Titof was let down at Fanfana in Pephaua - a place called Tavei. He returned and Fagatriroa and Pareagsau and two men (Moeauita and Oravai) were let down.

    Pareagsau became pregnant by Fagatriroa. The two men who were to look after them got angry and returned to the sky to tell what the brother and sister had done. Their father said they had come for this.

    1. son born - Muasiu; Raho was not told
    2. son born - Seamrefäega; Raho was not told
    3. Son born

    Raho was told of the births by two men servants who went to Hatana. Raho said he knew of first two sons, but the couple had only told him of the third so he would be called Tui te Rotuam and chief of land. He told the two men to make a playground at Halafa called Moriki. Raho then told servants not to bring any food that had been cut or eaten. The two men went to sky. Mua and sau gave them a boar for the king; this was the first food.

    Seamrefäeag met them and stopped them; he killed the boar and cooked it. After he cooked it he took half and sent rest to Tui te Rotuma. Tui te Rotuma sent it to Raho, for that it was his first food, and they took it and told Raho that it was Tui te Rotuma's first food and that it was brought from sky. Raho said, " I told you to tell Tui te Rotuma not to bring any food that had not been eaten ". Raho threw the pig into the sea at a place called Kon. When they returned Tui te Rotuma was dead. Went and told Raho and wanted him to come see Tui te Rotuma. Raho refused, and told them to tell the people to make a hata and carry it through the land. He would send two birds (Manteifi and Manteafa) to lead the way.

    When they flew near the ground but did not land; Tui te Rotuma was buried at that place. That is the place where food will come down to feed the island. The birds came down at Muasol and this was the first funeral and death in Rotuma.

    They returned to Malhaha and Fagatriroa (father of Tui te Rotuma) died and he was buried at Tagkoroa. This was the 2nd death and burial on Rotuma.

    Then Viol came from Tonga and brought another chief, Fuanofo. Viol and Pareagsau had a son, Takahöl'ak. He was a sau.

    Tokainiua's people fought the Tongans but could not defeat them.

    Tukmasui, brother of Takahulek, became sau when Takahulek died. He was known as Laptamasui!

    Tokainiua attacked again but lost.

    Muameata, the 3rd brother became the next sau. He was the 3rd son of the Tongan and Pareagsau. Then one of Tokainiua's people, Moea of Noatau, married a woman named Panai. She fell in love with Muameata and Moea was jealous and went back to Noa'tau for help.

    His sister was Hanfakina, and she heard him crying and asked him why. He said because Muameata had taken his wife. Hanfakina told him to stop but he could not stop crying.

    Hanfakina hanged herself and her fakatua went to Malhaha to an 'atua called Penua. When he saw her with her tongue out (from hanging), he asked what she had come for and she asked for his help because Panai had been taken by Muameata. Moea came to Noa'tau crying and said I'd help him.

    Will you get revenge on Muameata for him. Penua said, "go to Fesi in Pepehaua, look around and you will find the toe of Tokainiua. He is still lying there from the time the sa'aitu carried him. Grab his toe and give him a jerk so he will stand. He will help you ." She did as told. He asked what she wanted and she said, "will you try and defeat Muameata." He said okay. Hanfakina said, "I will go and bring back all your people."

    Hanfakina brought the people and Tokainiua led them and ravaged Malhaha and defeated them. He captured Muameata. So they took title and used in Noa'tau. It belongs there now.

    He put up Riamkau as a sau, and now title used in Sanea. He was the first sau in Noatau.

    Riamkau was the first sau to have a palm leaf umbrella over his head.

    People liked this and asked him for titles for their districts. They were impressed by procession and palm leaf umbrella. That's when the custom of rotating sau around the island started. When it came back, many times later, to Noa'tau, Maraf Terio was put up as sau. And the island was then given to Great Britain. That is why they say Maraf governed the island and gave it, because he was sau.

    1st war in Rotuma was Noa'tau vs. Malhaha and Muameata.

    Maraf = Ma'af = a Tongan name.

    3 kinds of people, Tongan, Samoan, Rotuman.

    la agai = name of the baskets










    Hanitemaus = wild woman of the bush
































    hata = bier, litter




















    fakatua = spirit




    Raho (4)



    MacGregor's Notes


    Raho came from Samoa.

    Tokainiua came from Tonga.

    There were no people on the island when they arrived.

    Raho, when he found Tokainiua owned the island because of his old fapui, became angry and started to dig up the island. Mamfiri is the hole from Raho's stick, at Itu'ti'u.

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