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

Numbers and Measurements

There are special ways of counting various items in ceremonies, such as sea creatures, coconuts, chickens, and fekei (puddings). Rotumans also have their own system of measurements for mats.

Counting Food

Certain foods, such as fish, lobsters, octopus, and chickens, are brought to ceremonies in multiples of 10; bundles of fekei come in units of 30 to 50, depending on their size; coconuts are counted in pairs when they accompany a basket of food, or they may come in baskets.

10 pigs

puak sava'at

10 cows

kau sava'at

10 fish

ia' saiget

100 fish

ia' kato'at

10 lobsters

uar sava'at

20 lobsters

fekei kop uret*

10 octopus

he' sava'at

10 turtles

hoi sava'at

20 alili (kind of shellfish)

poa het

2 coconuts

niu asoat

4 coconuts

niu asoa rua

a basket of coconuts

'ajarao niu

10 roasted chickens in a basket*

raf moat or fekei moa het

50 fekei [puddings] in a basket

fekei kop het*

30 bundles of shark meat wrapped in banana leaves

fekei kop 'i'orot*

a hand of bananas

par ifit

a bunch of bananas

par 'ai

a bundle of five or more taro tied together

'a'an usi

* A fekei kopu is a basket containing 10 to 50 fekei, as stated above, and has two pieces of coconut leaves about three feet long plaited on both sides to make a small tent over the basket. The top part is decorated with feathers, taro leaves, the fins of a shark, or some such, depending on what the basket contains.

Measuring Mats

Mats may be measured in finger spans or by using various distances along the arm.

Hand measurement

Alternative measurement

Rotuman term       

1 span of fingers



2 spans of fingers

length between tip of the middle finger and the elbow (one cubit)

lo' ne si'ut

4 spans of fingers

length between tip of the middle finger and centre of chest


8 spans of fingers

length from finger tip to finger tip with arms fully extended (one fathom)

aga, tuimaro

Thus, 2 anika = 1 lo' ne si'ut; 2 lo 'ne si'ut = 1 tuifatfata; and 2 tuifatfata = 1 aga or tuimaro. The size of mats may vary depending on the size of people's finger spans and arm lengths.

Today's mats are much smaller than those of old. They are also less fine in weave and therefore take less time to make. Typical measurements of contemporary mats are:


5 by 12 lo' ne si'u


7 by 20 lo' ne si'u

'Eap ma 'on faua

5 by 12 lo' ne si'u

'Eap hapa

5 by 6 lo' ne si'u

Te hapa

4 by 6 lo' ne si'u

Other Measures

Unu (sennit) is measured in aga, or fathoms, for tying the wood in canoe making or house building. The length and width of a house is also measured in aga, ranging in size from a kohea (cookhouse) to kohea so'a (district chief's cookhouse), from the ri mosega (sleeping house) of a commoner to the su'ura of a sau (king's residence). For the roof, the ota, or sago palm leaves (Metroxylon warburgii),are measured in terms of how many oat ha (complete sago palm branches) or häle (section of the roof formed by two split sago palm branches tied together). The men say häl rua, häl fol, or häl häk (two, three, or four häle) for a big house.

Distances are measured by steps, for example, the length and width of a house foundation or of a marä'e (ceremonial ground).

Part 2: Ceremonies