Kato'aga: Rotuman Ceremonies

by Elizabeth K. Inia

Table of Contents


Part 1: Components of Ceremony

'Epa, Apei, and Päega: Ceremonial Mats
Koua: Earth Ovens
'Umefe: Chiefly Tables
Tefui: Garlands
Lolo: Anointing Oil
Mena: Turmeric
Mafua: Knowledgeable Elders
Fumarä'e: The Man in Charge
Etiquette and Manners
Numbers and Measurements

Part 2: Ceremonies

Death and Funerals
Birth Rituals
First Birthday
Hapagsu: Recurrence Prevention
Majau: The Power to Heal
Ag Forau: Farewell to Travellers
Mamasa: Welcoming Ceremonies
Installation of a Chief
Homage to Chiefs
Koua Puha
Ancient Marriage Rituals
Modern Marriage Customs

Rotuman Indigenous Spirituality

Part 2


As with the components of ceremonies discussed in Part 1, the form of ritual performances is similar from one kato'aga to another. In order not to repeat the same information over and over again, I have chosen to begin with a full description of death and funeral ceremonies, then to specify the variations that apply in other contexts. It is fitting to begin with funeral rituals because they involve the most direct communication with the spirits who underlie Rotuman rituals. In a very important sense, most Rotuman rituals are directed toward soliciting the good graces of ancestral and other spirits (see appendix 1 for an account of Rotuman spirituality).

Following this, I present ceremonies of childhood (birth and first birthday celebrations); cere-monies associated with life events (serious injury or misfortune, healing, leaving and returning to Rotuma); and installation of and ritual homage to chiefs.

The book concludes with a description of marriage rituals. Of all the Rotuman ceremonies, none are more elaborate than marriage, or more uplifting. The rituals required for a proper wedding take place over a period of weeks and involve large numbers of people from the bride's and the groom's families, villages, and districts. A wedding between the offspring of two chiefly families might be attended by nearly everyone on the island and require enormous mobilization of resources and labour. Marriage also provides an opportunity to contrast traditional rituals, as performed by my grandparents and my parents in the past, with marriage performance in modern times, which include many introduced and westernized ways. I therefore have included two separate essays on Rotuman marriage, one describing the old forms of ritual, the other detailing the new.

Except for the section on modern marriage customs, I have written the remainder of the book in the past tense because I am describing the ceremonies as they were performed in the past, during my parents' time. Recent innovations are enclosed in brackets.

To Death and Funerals