Table of Contents
'Epa, Apei, and Päega: Ceremonial Mats
Death and Funerals
Mena, an orange powder extracted from raga tubers (Curcuma longa rhizomes), formerly played an important role at all stages in a person's life, as medicine and body paint. Our ancestors used it as an antiseptic during the birth of a child, a salve to put on cuts and wounds, a repellent and antiseptic against insect bites, and protection from sunburn. Dancers tinted their cheeks with it at performances.
The production of mena was called ho ta. The men who were involved in the ho were supposed to stay away from their wives during the entire production process. They camped at the site with enough food and pigs to sustain them. Because the ho has been so rare (performed only a few times during the 1900s), visitors from all parts of Rotuma went to observe whenever the work was done. The visitors were hosted and fed by the villagers making the mena. The ho was a happy function.
The raga tubers were dug up just as the leaves began to wither. A shelter (ri hapa) was built and a long board was fixed to the posts as a table. The tubers were washed and scraped into pulp on poles of wood about three feet in length, to which long cords of coconut fibres, or sennit, had been tied in rings to form a scraper (tama). Each tama was held up by a young boy while young men scraped the raga tubers up and down to produce a pulpy mash on the board. The raga pulp was then scooped up with a tata (wooden scoop) and poured into an 'ai pu'uga (canoe-shaped wooden bowl) containing water. Two men, one at each end, stirred this mixture briskly with long poles, pushing the pulpy mass to and fro, which produced a lot of yellow froth. The froth was taken off using the tata and baked in coconut shells to make a sticky substance (tau'a), which was mixed with starch to make a pudding (fekei).
The water was then drained from the wooden bowl by tipping it, and fresh water was poured in. This was repeated several times until all the bits of raga were removed leaving a starchy substance at the bottom of the bowl. The starch was left in fresh water overnight to settle. Then the water was drained away and the starch was put into coconut shells to bake in a koua. Each man's shells of starch were called his tepogi (nightly thing). The tepogi, when baked, turned into an orange powder (mena). If the mena came out lumpy and uneven, it signified that the owner of the cup had been unfaithful to the rule of the night (suggesting that he had gone off and slept with his wife).
The mena was stored in coconut shells with large eyes that made it possible to push the dry mena inside, to cork up the hole, and stored for many years. Each family kept at least one container for family use. The mena was mixed with coconut oil and smeared on various parts of the body, depending on the ceremonial purpose. For painting dancers' cheeks it was referred to as nin fau, for a wedded couple as nin su, for the installation of a sau (Rotuman 'king') as nin sau.