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

Mamasa: Welcoming Visitors and Returnees

A mamasa is a ceremony traditionally performed for a person after a sea voyage or a deep-sea fishing expedition. The word mamasa refers to the act of drying a person who has been wet. [1] Our forefathers went to fish in large canoes (taf'aga) or double canoes (samtutuki). They spent many days braving the sea, and on their return, the people welcomed them with a feast and performed the mamasa ceremony to wash away the salt from their bodies. The fishermen distributed the fish they caught, reciprocating the people's efforts in preparing the ceremony.

People who left the island (forau) on canoes (or after Europeans arrived, on ships), on returning, brought with them foreign goods that they distributed to those who held a mamasa for them (much in the same manner as fish were distributed following fishing expeditions). In some instances, songs and dances were composed commemorating the voyages. For example, when my father was a young man, he served on the crew of a sailing ship, and when he and his cousin Pagkale of Tua'koi returned to Rotuma for the first time, the following sua was sung at their mamasa:

Taumua se 'atumotu helava

The bow was turned toward the beautiful islands abroad

Sepe ta furifuriena ia

As the ship was turning herself

Käpe tiro ma foh vahi 'e jaja

The captain with his telescope and map knew where to go

Uli ka mata'u 'e vasa

He steered carefully in the vast ocean

My mother, Kijiana, composed many sua for mamasa, including the following:

Tauraga ta valu

The harbour is full of big waves

Tuk favi la mose karau

Drop the anchor and let us sleep for a while

He'ak la suia läe afu

Commanded to furl the sails

Aja' se to ne kilaku

Listen for the alarm clock

When her two grandsons returned to Fiji from Australia around 1951, she composed this sua in their honour:

Tui mala rua la'o la mane'a

Two chiefly brothers went for a holiday

Fa'u sio se vik tasor'ak

They left behind the string band they played with

'Otou fanau ta 'on huga sirer

My daughter was full of longing for them

Ma la marös 'on ro'aitu se rer

She had to pray hard to God above

And when the Rotuman crew of the cable ship Lakeba returned to Fiji for the first time, she wrote this for them:

Fuifui ta tatafua se mua

Like a flock of birds they went abroad

La a'sokoa värväre ne huga

To do whatever their hearts desired

Kel furi'akia 'e 'atu Fiti

They visited the islands of Fiji (and abroad)

Ma tä ho'imea se noh tari

And came back to the people waiting for them

To prepare for a mamasa required a päega, a koua, a tefui, and scented coconut oil. A change of clothes for the returnee(s) (osi) was also a must. If dances were performed, the mamiag forau was performed first in a ri hapa (temporary shelter).

Mamiag Forau: Ceremonial Anointing

A päega was prepared for the forau to sit on. A young woman came forward in ceremonial fashion with a tefui wrapped in an 'apea leaf, the oil, and osi. She assisted the forau to change their outer clothes (this was done in a modest fashion), then anointed them with oil, pouring a few drops of oil on their head, then rubbing it on their faces, limbs, and other exposed areas. Next she tied tefui around their necks. [Nowadays she sprays the tefui and their clothes with perfume as well.This use of perfume is a post-European contact innovation.] After this, songs and dances were performed, or if there was no performance, the feast began.

Feasts at mamasa followed the usual procedures with the exception of the announcement of the päega. The mafua announced the ceremony as "Mamasa te', mamiag forau, päeag ta agrua rua, 'eap ma 'on faua saghul, 'eap hap ruag hul, rer se ma 'e tu'ruet, siliket, sar het, liuliu het" (The seat consists of 2 agrua, 10 'eap ma 'on faua, 20 'eap hapa, a white mat on top, a silken cloth, a garland, and oil), then the koua in the usual way.

After the feast, the forau presented their gifts from abroad to the people who prepared the feast. [2] The dancers were thanked in the usual way with an apei and mats because they had come in a la'o with an apei and mats before they performed their dances.

Notes to Mamasa

[1] In the olden days Rotumans used apei to dry a visitor who was wet. The term mamasa also refers to the apei given during a wedding celebration to the 'a su (the white mat shown to her at fit'ak te) and to the chief and his wife; see Modern Marriage Customs. back to text

[2] These were often items that were unavailable on the island, such as soap, cloth, and manufactured goods. Nowadays, with shops stocking most of these goods, this part of the ceremony is often dispensed with, although T-shirts from foreign lands or other exotic items are still greatly appreciated and can be dispensed at this time. back to text

To Installation of a Chief