12. History, myth and Polynesian chieftainship: the case of Rotuman
[Published in Transformations of Polynesian Culture,
edited by A. Hooper and J. Huntsman Auckland: Polynesian Society,
The relationship between myth and history has become a central issue
for anthropologists interested in the study of traditional societies.
It has been brought to the fore by the work of Levi-Strauss on myth
and the sharp contrast he draws between these alternative modes of
organising discourse about social phenomena. The privileged position
Levi-Strauss grants to myth has led to impassioned critiques and
counter-critiques involving Marxists, structuralists and a number
of prominent European intellectuals. The issue is perhaps especially
important for Polynesianists since so much of the early literature
in the region focused on oral narratives, recounting the deeds of
ancestors whose characteristics ranged from godlike to mundanely
human. In large part this body of literature was spawned by European
fascination with the problem of Polynesian origins and migrations.
Informants were incessantly asked where their ancestors had migrated
from, triggering founding myths, stories of epic voyages, and the
like. However, it is also apparent that Polynesians found myth a
congenial medium for communication, and seem to have felt that they
were disclosing truly important information about themselves when
In attempting to make sense out of Polynesian myths early scholars
such as Abraham Fornander, S. Percy Smith, and Te Rangi Hiroa treated
them as ethnohistory, correct in their main features though possibly
incorrect in detail (see, for example, Smith 1910:19). They viewed
the narratives as reflective of actual events, some of which, particularly
those occurring in the distant past, were overlain with mythical
rhetoric. This view naturally reflected their own preoccupation with
historical problems and their eagerness to use the narratives, which
for the most part were translated into an historical idiom, as evidence
for their theories. Although such use of oral narratives was severely
attacked by sceptical critics, the effort to place these materials
in the service of history has not been readily abandoned. Roberton
(1962), for example, has argued that the distortions which creep
into legendary material can be compensated for by proper analytical
techniques, and that such data cannot be dismissed as unworthy of
serious consideration as history. Perhaps the most compelling use
of myth as history is incorporated in the study of Tikopia's prehistory
by Kirch and Yen. They evaluated the validity of oral traditions
collected by Firth by checking them against archaeological data and
found the correspondence much too close to dismiss their credibility
as history. In their opinion the oral traditions and the "quasi-history" they
...provide a window to the past quite different--although
complementary--to that offered by archaeology. This view is one of
social process, as opposed to that of the material, technological,
and environmental conditions of culture change more readily revealed
by archaeological evidence (1982:364).
An entirely different perspective on the relationship between history
and myth has recently been presented in a brilliant essay by Marshall
Sahlins. In considering the dramatic events that followed Captain
Cook's discovery of the Hawaiian Islands, Sahlins argues that "Hawaiian
history often repeats itself, since only the second time is it an
event. The first time it is myth" (1981a:9). For Polynesians, he
maintains, myths present archetype situations in which the experiences
of mythical protagonists are re-experienced by the living in analogous
If Sahlins is correct, and I believe that he is, the study of myth
in Polynesian societies can be viewed as an important means of organising and interpreting history
rather than chronicling it. In this paper I address an historical
problem from the island of Rotuma, which is now part of the Republic
of Fiji  The
problem concerns a curious form of kingship in which the position
was held by representatives of different districts in rotation, for
restricted periods of time. After providing historical documentation
of this institution, I present two myths for interpretation. The
interpretation forms a basis for reflection on the character of political
institutions in Rotuma, as conceived by the Rotumans. An attempt
is then made to relate these conceptions to political pragmatics,
particularly as these were affected by historical processes following
European intrusion. An explanation is offered for the institution
that has implications for Polynesian chieftainship in general, and
these are explored in the final section. It is my hope that the case
will prove sufficiently compelling so that others will be encouraged
to explore the value of myth for unravelling historical mysteries.
Early Accounts of the Rotuman Political System
At the time of discovery by Europeans in 1791 Rotuma was divided
into seven districts, each relatively autonomous and headed by a gagaj
'es itu'u 'district chief'. However, there were also three
positions that were pan-Rotuman in scope: the fakpure, sau and mua.
The fakpure was referred to primarily
in two capacities in the early literature: as convener and presiding
officer of the council of district chiefs, and as the person responsible
for appointing the sau and ensuring
that he was cared for properly. He was gagaj
'es itu'u of one of the districts, presumably the one who
headed an alliance that was victorious in the last war. The sau's basic
role was to take part in the ritual cycle, oriented towards ensuring
prosperity, as an object of veneration. The role of mua received
less commentary in the early literature than that of fakpure and sau,
but most of what was written refers to the mua's activities
in the ritual cycle. A French priest, Fr. Trouillet, wrote c. 1873
that the sau appeared to be an appendage
of the fakpure, while the mua appeared
to be more associated with spiritual power (Sumi Mission Station,
Most early accounts focus on the office of sau,
which generally was translated into English as 'king'. A curious
aspect of this position is that it was held by district representatives
in rotation, for restricted periods of time. Rotuman chieftainship
at this level has been compared with that of Mangaia and Easter Island,
two other Polynesian societies for which rotating chieftainship has
been documented (Williamson 1924).
There is general agreement among informants about several aspects
of the sau's office. All agree, for
example, that the sau was appointed
by the fakpure and that he was chosen
from different districts in turn, although no one specifies an order
to this rotation. It is also agreed that the sau exercised
no secular power and that his main tasks were to eat rather gluttonously
on a daily basis, drink kava and take part in the six-month ritual
cycle. There is some confusion or disagreement on several important
points, however. For example, it is unclear who was eligible to be
selected as sau. Lesson reported following
his visit in 1824 that Rotuma was divided into 24 districts, each
governed by a chief who succeeded to the office in order of seniority.
There is nothing known to correspond to these units, since there
are only seven itu'u 'districts' at
most and considerably more ho'aga, the
next smallest unit over which a chief presides. Nevertheless, there
does seem to be agreement among those who did comment that eligibility
was limited to individuals of chiefly rank  Whether
a person was actually supposed to hold a title in order to be eligible
is nowhere stated. The length of the sau's reign
is also unclear. Gardiner states that although the term of office
was for six months (one Rotuman ritual cycle), an incumbent sau could
continue in office as long as he could accumulate the great masses
of food that he was required to provide (Gardiner 1898:461). Since
he did not provide food by working, this may mean either that he
was allowed to remain in office as long as the island prospered,
or that his reign was extended as long as the people in the district
where he stayed were prepared to bear the burden of providing the
surplus food needed to maintain feasting at an appropriate level.
Lesson mentioned 20 months as the duration, which makes no sense
in terms of the Rotuman ritual cycle, but may reflect his informant's
estimate of an average reign (Lesson 1838-39, II:432). Allen, a Methodist
missionary who served in Rotuma during the late l9th century, reported
that the sau was generally "elected" for
short periods of six to twelve months (Allen 1895), while one of
Hocart's informants indicated that two cycles was usual (Hocart n.d.),
and Dillon was told,
...it sometimes happens that the president does not wish
to resign his post at the expiration of six months; when rather than
quarrel, they allow him to exceed the time appointed by law: but
should he persist in a further maintenance of his power, the other
chiefs league together, and compel him by force of arms to retire
A further puzzle concerns the rules of residence for sau.
Allen reported that the district whose turn it was to select a sau would
go to a neighbouring district, choose someone, and bring him to their
own district to live (Allen 1895), and in one narrative recorded
by Churchward, the story-teller stated that if it was one district's
turn to provide the sau, it would be
another's turn to look after him (Churchward 1938:356). Indeed, Trouillet's
oral history records numerous movements of the sau from
one district to another although no regularities appear. Perhaps
all that can be said is that Rotumans characterised sauship
in terms of interdistrict residence, possibly as a way of emphasising
that the role was pan-Rotuman in scope.
The mua also seems to have been a rotational
position. Thus Allardyce reported that the districts had the honour
of mua "in a kind of turn", and that
he was appointed by the fakpure for
an indefinite period, though it was customary to resign after about
a year (Allardyce 1885-6:142).
How are these early accounts to be interpreted? Just what do they
reveal to us about the constitution of the Rotuman polity? And what
else might we learn about Rotuman chieftainship by analysing the
texts of oral narratives? These three questions motivated the analysis
In answer to the first question, it is quite clear that the descriptions
were obtained verbally from informants, most likely in response to
specific questions, rather than from direct observation. None of
the accounts describes actual political or ritual events that were
witnessed by the writer. At most, then, the descriptions appear to
be based upon ideal statements concerning these roles rather than
upon political enactment. If Rotumans were motivated to record history
in the sense of providing an "accurate" account of actual events
we might nevertheless be inclined to treat such descriptions as characteristic
of actual practice, but there is sufficient evidence to suggest that
Rotuman oral narratives do not represent an attempt to do that kind
of work. Instead they appear to be motivated by an interest in exploring
the permutations of key structural dilemmas, as I shall try to demonstrate
below (see also Howard, in press). In essence, then, Rotuman
ethnohistory and myth merge with one another, both being powerfully
patterned by an underlying semiotic system of cultural logic. This
is not to say Rotumans are incapable of reporting events accurately,
they do so all the time. However, the statements recorded by early
observers were not of specific events but of presumed usual practice.
It is precisely here that the power of the semiotic codes is most
in evidence. In one important respect this simplifies our task, for
we can dismiss the problem of interpreting traditional political practice on
the grounds that we have virtually no usable evidence. All of the
data, however, including the mythical texts, are relevant for interpreting
Rotuman conceptions of chieftainship and political structure.
For these reasons we must treat Williamson's conclusions concerning
the Rotuman political system with extreme scepticism. He accepts
Gardiner's speculation that originally the offices of the sau 'sacred
ruler' and fakpure 'secular ruler' were
united, but that in time they became distinct (Gardiner 1898:460).
Concerning the rotation of sau Williamson
offers the following speculative scenario:
The sacred king and his family, the trunk family of the
group, would probably continue to occupy the ancestral demesne, and
there would be a number of families of chiefs, branches of the original
royal family, each occupying its own area. The office and over-riding
jurisdiction, so far as retained, of the sacred king, would remain
with the trunk family, in which the original godship and sanctity
would be believed to be specially immanent, and each chief would
be subject to that over-riding authority, such as it was, and to
the authority of the secular king, retaining, however, some local
jurisdiction over his own area. As time went on, the growth and development
of the group would continue; the branch families of the chiefs would
increase in numbers; and a powerful aristocracy would be evolved.
There would be among them a competition for power and predominance,
which would show itself in intrigue and inter-family fighting within
the group; matrimonial connections between families, and inter-family
military alliances would affect the powers of the respective families;
and the tendency would be for them to group themselves into mutually
hostile combined parties who would contend with each other for secular
dominance, success first falling to one and then to the other. Thus
would come into being the division of the people into two great camps--the
conquerors and the conquered, the strong and the weak--as described
by writers .
The position and authority of the sacred king himself might readily
be affected, and perhaps undermined, by developments of this character.
Thus, whilst in some islands, as in Mangaia, he continued to retain
immense power, in others as in Tonga, his power, and even his sacred
duties as a high priest, died out altogether, or nearly so; whilst
in Rotuma his office became a matter of periodic election from
one or other of the families of the island, its hereditary character
being lost, and indeed the evidence suggests that he was subject
at any time to deprivation of office and replacement as the result
of conflicts among his subjects (Williamson 1924:427-8).
Noble as such an attempt might be to account for the constitution
of the Rotuman polity, we must recognise that there is virtually
no evidence, beyond its inherent plausibility, to support such a
conclusion. The answer to the second question is therefore that we
know very little about either the historical sequence leading to
the political system as described or about the conduct of politics
in traditional Rotuma. What we do have is some information about
categories of actors and their associations with one another and
with types of activities. But this is a reasonable start if we are
to set our goal as comprehending the cultural logic of Rotuman politics,
and it is in the interest of developing such comprehension that we
approach the mythical texts. Before actually presenting the narrative
material however, it is necessary to deal with some fundamental issues
concerning the character of Rotuman myth and its relationship to
the cultural order.
Myth in Rotuman Culture
The first record of Rotuman oral narratives was collected by Fr.
Trouillet c. 1873. The account is in the form of a history of Rotuman
chieftainship, beginning with the founding of the island by a chief
from Samoa named Rao (Raho),  and
ending in 1868 when the last sau held
office. Stories and incidents are set in the reigns of various fakpure, mua and sau.
The document is remarkable for its chronological ordering of fabled
events, and sets a useful framework for the study of Rotuman mythology. 
In the years following Trouillet's initial account several other
visitors to the island collected texts of Rotuman narratives, many
of which provide alternative versions or elaborations of Trouillet's.
These include accounts by Romilly (1893), Gardiner (1898), Hocart
(n.d.), MacGregor (n.d.), Churchward (1937-9) and Russell (1942).
Of the published accounts, only that of Churchward includes Rotuman
texts; the rest appear only in English. 
We must recognise these texts for what they are--residues of living
performances, recorded by individuals who had particular notions
about what was worth recording. They provide virtually no information
about the teller and the context of performance, let alone the way
the stories were learned and transmitted. One suspects that they
are responses to specific questions such as: "Where did the Rotumans
come from?"- and "Do you know any other interesting stories about
the old days?" In such a context they would likely be stripped of
elaborations that would mark performance before indigenous audiences.
Nor do we know how the story-tellers classified their tales. Rotumans
distinguish between three types of narrative. The most mundane is
covered by the word rogo, which as a
verb translates as 'to be reported, heard of, generally known' and
as a noun as 'report, news' (Churchward 1940:300). The word, sometimes
used in its reduplicated form, refers essentially to events witnessed
by the teller or reported by presumed reliable sources. A second
category is hanuju 'tale, story, especially
a fictitious one'. Churchward speculates that this is probably a
corruption of hagnuju, from haga 'to
feed' and nuju 'mouth' (Churchward 1940:216).
The implication seems to be of frivolity, of stories meant merely
to entertain. This contrasts with the third type, fäeag
tupu'a 'legend, myth' (Churchward 1940:189). The first word, fäeag,  refers
to speech, the second, tupu'a, is translated
by Churchward as follows:
tupu'a, n., (in mythology)
immortal man; rock or stone reputed to be such a person petrified:
image, statue, idol, doll; star or constellation, esp. as a point
for steering by; point of the compass, direction, bearings (Churchward
One of Hocart's informants specifically stated that, in contrast
with hanuju, fäeag
tupu'a are "true" stories. Whether this referred to a belief
in the literal occurrence of events as described is problematic.
I suspect that the reference was rather to a notion of structural
truth--that these stories truly represent the nature of Rotuman collective
experience, in much the same way as an icon represents true religious
Yet another problem is that we know very little about the degree
of variation and its correlates. There is some evidence from Hocart's
notes that Rotumans of his day discussed specific myths in order
to arrive at a consensual account, but where we do have multiple
versions there are significant discrepancies. What makes the problem
of interpretation somewhat more acute is that the collection of texts
covers a period of some seven decades, and we cannot distinguish
genuine cultural changes through time from individual and geographical
variation within a given time period.
We are thus in a position somewhat akin to that of an archaeologist
who is attempting to reconstruct a material order from a fragmented
artefactual record, divorced from its performative context. The problem
is one of making reasonable inferences, based upon certain assumptions
about human behaviour, the utility of various artefacts, the consistency
of particular patterns, and so forth. Just as archaeologists have
found ethnographic observations (i.e., ethno-archaeology) and comparative
analysis useful for grounding such assumptions, analysts of myth
can benefit from like efforts. Based upon my own field work on Rotuma
in 1960, supplemented by the observations of others, and a comparison
of Rotuman cultural patterns with those of other Polynesian societies,
I have arrived at the following set of working assumptions concerning
Rotuman oral narratives:
1. Stories are constructed out of an extensive array of
semiotic codes, which are transmitted in a variety of media. In addition
to codes embedded in the string of words from which written texts
are constructed, there are expressive codes embedded in speech and
gesture, spatial and temporal codes, and a number of other performative
codes available that lend meaning to oral narratives when they are
told in vivo.
The Mythical Origins of Authority
2. Both digital and analogic codes are used. Digital codes are
constructed out of basic oppositions between such concepts as land/sea,
male/female, person/spirit, east/west, raw/cooked and so on. As
Lévi-Strauss has noted, digital codes generate mediating
categories, such as beaches, mountains, birds, male-like females,
demigods, etc. Digital codes are used in Rotuman myth (and perhaps
all myth) to convey messages about basic categories of social construction,
e.g., the components of chieftainship, the distinctions between
men and women, between humans and gods, and so on. Analogic codes
involve changes in degree of states, such as emotion, potency,
acceptability and the like. They are used to convey messages about
limits and boundaries, and about the implications of variation
within categorical parameters. They are most conveniently embedded
in expressive media such as gestures and voice intonation, and
hence are more prone to being lost when stories are transformed
into written texts. Perhaps this is one reason why digital codes
have received so much more attention from armchair analysts. 
3. In Rotuma, the codes used to construct oral narratives are
generative. That is to say that they are subject to a set of meta-rules,
or story syntax, that allows for the production of a range of acceptable
variation for any particular story. Generative possibilities are
influenced by variations in social settings in which stories are
told, time allotments, relations of teller to audience as well
as the personal and social characteristics of the story-teller.
This differs from some societies in which at least a significant
segment of oral literature is ritualised, embedded in chant and
otherwise restricted to singular versions. It means that attempts
to find "correct", "official" or "consensus" versions of Rotuman
myths are unwarranted, and raises some questions about the relationship
between cultural codes and individual usage. This makes it imperative
to examine the full range of available texts before attempting
inferences about the meaning of any particular narrative.
4. The written texts recorded by visitors to Rotuma that provide
the basis for our analysis are restricted to certain codes and
therefore only represent partial semantic structures. Their full
meaning has been lost, and it is possible that performative codes
significantly altered, perhaps even inverted, some of the meanings
in the written texts (as, for example, an ironic tone of voice
inverts meaning in English). Corollary to this, the full meaning
of key symbols, metaphors and metonyms cannot be recovered from
such residual texts. At best they can be inferred from the contextualisation
of their usage. For example, in Rotuman myths the opposition between
chiefs and commoners is so consistently associated with geographical
directions that I feel quite confident in making inferences based
upon them. More problematic are inferences to be drawn from proper
names of persons or places. In some instances the overt meaning
is blatantly obvious, in some it is somewhat suggestive but thoroughly
ambiguous, while in other instances there are no grounds whatever
for making an inference. This underscores the importance of examining
the full range of available texts for consistency of usage so that
at least core features of semantic units can be inferred with some
degree of conviction.  Fortunately,
a considerable degree of redundancy occurs in the texts, between
as well as within codes. It is reasonable to assume that the messages
of greatest concern were the most redundant, and that they were
the least likely to be nullified or drastically altered by unrecorded
5. Although the texts of narratives are often written in the idiom
of history, they do not appear intended to do the work of history
in our usual sense, i.e., to accurately record significant events
of the past in correct chronological sequence. Whether or not certain
incidents related in the narratives are based on actual events,
they are processed through such a powerful codification system
that their validity as history must be regarded as extremely problematic.
A more defensible view is that chronological sequencing provides
a mechanism by which structural oscillations are explored in their
various permutations (see Howard in press).
6. Rotuman myths appear to reflect a preoccupation with cultural
dilemmas associated with relations between humans and supernatural
beings, on the one hand, and between chiefs and commoners, on the
other. Since gods and chiefs merge conceptually at certain levels
of contrast, these two themes can be considered as derivative from
a single overarching cultural problem, namely the problem of the
genesis and control of mana 'potency'. 
At a more basic (often implicit) level the concern is with the
continual regenesis of life--with the fertility of the land and
the people. The fundamental issue is one of harnessing the mana of
the gods in the service of this goal.
7. Fäeag tupu'a 'myths' seem
to owe their sense of drama to the fact that they involve explorations
of basic structural properties of the cultural system. In contrast
with rogo or hanuju,
which deal with variations within the received structure, myths
explore the consequences of altering the parameters of structure.
They thus probe structural properties, and examine the possibilities
for structural transformations. Within myths the possible effects
of adding, deleting or altering the value of categories can be
played with, a process which has the effect of providing a visibility
to key aspects of the cultural order that might not be elsewhere
apparent (except, perhaps, in ritual). It must be added that the
overall effect of myth in Rotuma appears to have been conservative
in so far as it focuses on the negative consequences of breaching
fundamental principles of structure, e.g., of violating the rules
of the use of power (see Howard, in press).
The mythical bases for political authority in Rotuma are contained
in stories concerning two key characters, Raho (Rao) and Tokainiua
(Tokaniua). Raho is described as a Samoan chief in most versions,
although in some accounts his origins are ambiguously Samoan or Tongan.  He
is credited with "founding" Rotuma, and is associated with a cultural
category, hanuet, that can be glossed
as 'indigenous inhabitants' or 'people of the land'. Tokainiua is
generally considered to be of Tongan origin, although in Trouillet's
account he is described as coming from Fiji. He follows Raho to Rotuma
and challenges him for supremacy. Tokainiua is a prototypical usurping
warrior and is associated with a cultural category that is in opposition
to 'people of the land'; for want of a better gloss we can label
this category as 'chief'.  It
is in the feats of these two demigod figures, and the interplay between
them, that the cultural logic of the Rotuman polity is encoded. Since
Churchward's versions were the most carefully collected, and include
both Rotuman text and English translation, I shall use them as the
basis for my interpretation, citing other versions where they suggest
elaborations or alternative possibilities. Two narratives, originally
published in Oceania (Churchward 1937:109-16, 250-60) are
presented below. My procedure is to present a segment of the English
text, followed by interpretation, another segment of text, additional
interpretation, and so forth. Let us begin with the story of "The
Founding of Rotuma," or as Churchward points out in a footnote, more
literally, "The Planting of this Rotuma".
1. A chief was living in Samoa, named Raho. He had
three sisters. 2. The name of the eldest was Mamaere; the
middle one, Mamahioväre; the youngest, Mamafiarere.
3. The youngest was the one that ruled over Savai'i, while the eldest
was the one that ruled over the place where Raho lived.
4. Now it was the custom of the eldest sister, as soon as the
sun had set [each evening], to go to the door of the house
that faced the west, to sleep there; 5. and as soon as the sun
rose, she would go along to sleep at the door that faced the east.
6. Now after a short time Mamaere became pregnant; 7. and
everybody came to know that the woman was with child, 8. but they
were afraid to tell Raho about it, since the woman had no
9. But, as time went on, Raho discovered that his sister
was approaching confinement. 10. Thereupon he gathered his people
together and asked them who it was that was responsible for his
sister's condition. 11. To which the people replied that none of
them had been near the woman. 12. So Raho then told the
people to start making preparations for the birth-feast.
13. By and by the woman's time arrived and her pains came on.
14. So Raho sent word round and his people gathered together.
15. But the birth-pains continued until night, 16. and it was not
until [the next morning], just at sunrise. that the woman
was delivered. The baby was a girl. 17. And then the baby rolled
as far as the doorway that faced the east, and immediately sat
up, 18. and called out to her father, "Raho!"
19. The man asked [what the child wanted], 20. to which [she] replied
that she was hungry.
21 Raho then told his people to bring some food, 22. and
they brought what had been cooked for the child, namely a hand
of bananas and a pig. 23. So they got things ready and fed the
child. 24. But her mother was still having pains. 25. And as soon
as the child had finished eating, she got up and went out to play,
saying to Raho, 26. "I am going, Raho; and note that
my name is Nujmaga."
27. By and by, as the day wore on, and the sun was on the point
of setting, the woman gave birth to another baby girl. 28. And
the baby at once called out Raho's name, adding that she
was hungry. 29. So Raho told those who were attending to
the cooking to bring some food, and the people brought another
hand of bananas and a pig wherewith to feed the child. 30. And
no sooner had the child finished eating than she got up to go out
to plan, saying to Raho, 31. "My name is Nujka'u."
32. The two children also gave orders to Raho to refrain
from calling them. 33. If, however, a day should arrive when he
should have a special task to be performed for him, then (but not
'till then) he was to call them.
34. Now Raho's second* sister (Mamahioväre) had
Notes to text: 
34. Lit., middle.
A number of important features of Rotuman cultural logic are foreshadowed
in these opening paragraphs. To begin with, some basic elements of
the digital code are introduced, including male/female, east/west,  sunrise/sunset
and chief/people. The importance of bananas and pig as symbolic items
is also established. It should be noted that all of the introductory
characters, with the exception of Raho, are female, and that the
eldest and youngest sisters are pure 'rulers' and thus surpass Raho
in political power. The importance of women for political structuring
is thus unequivocally set in these first few lines. Significantly,
the eldest and youngest siblings are rulers. The middle sister is
excluded from mention in this capacity and, in addition, her impotence
is underlined by a specific statement (line 34) to the effect that
she had no children. This would seem to mark eldest and youngest
siblings (at least of the same sex) as of special cultural relevance.
Perhaps most fundamental is the concern that is introduced for fertility,
and the involvement of spirits in it. This goes beyond the contrast
between the fertile elder sister and the barren middle one; it is
implicit in the types of food prepared for the birth-feast. Both
pigs and bananas (particularly the red variety specified in the text)
are sacrificial foods presented to the gods at ritual presentations.  They
are foods used to feed the gods, in exchange for which the gods are
expected to provide prosperity, including fertility of land and people.
The names of the characters in the story are of interest in this
regard insofar as they signal a preoccupation with food and eating.
The word mama, which is the common root
in each of Raho's sisters' names, as a verb translates as either
'to chew' or 'to cover a native oven with leaves'; as a noun it refers
to chewed food' or 'the leaves used in covering a native oven' (Churchward
1940:258).  Likewise,
the word nuju, which is the common root
of the twins' names, translates as 'mouth'. 
The central message of this introductory segment, however, concerns
the undifferentiated nature of Rotuma's beginnings, and is embedded
in a code based on kinship relations. Thus, we start with only Raho
and his sisters--a set of siblings, all of the same substance (i.e.,
parentage).  This
undifferentiated condition is underscored by the circumstances surrounding
Mamaere's pregnancy. On the one hand her conceiving is associated
with the sun; on the other there is a strong hint of incest between
Raho and his sister.  In
either instance, there is no legitimate husband-wife relationship
represented, and it is the husband-wife relationship that is the
essence of persons of different substance uniting.
Incest is therefore, by cultural logic, prototypical of undifferentiated
nature reproducing itself. The results of the union further dramatise
this condition, for the offspring are twins of the same sex, the
epitome of sameness in the idiom of kinship. They are even more like
one another than their parents' sibling group. The paranormal circumstances
surrounding their production is reinforced by the fact that twins
are a culturally anomalous category to whom supernatural abilities
are attributed. Indeed, female twins are central characters in Rotuman
mythology, and are known as han lep he rua 'women'
+ 'sandy projection of land into the sea' + diminutive + 'two'. They
often appear in the form of birds and perform guidance or locative
functions that connect one place with another. As this and their
name suggests, they are mediators. Their very births, in relation
to one another, symbolically mediate between sunrise and sunset,
between east and west, between night and day, between indoors and
outdoors. As actors, as we shall see, the twins mediate between sky
and earth, sea and land, or more generically, between spirits (who
dwell beneath or beyond the sea or in the sky) and humans (who dwell
on the land). In every respect, then, Nujmaga and Nujka'u represent
the principle of merging, of unification. In the beginning, this
segment of the myth decisively communicates, the world was a unity,
constructed of the same substance.
To continue the narrative:
35. But Raho had a daughter whose name was Vamarasi,
36. who was married to a high chief in Samoa named Tu'toga.
37. Tu'toga, moreover, had a Samoan wife [as well],
38. And the Samoan wife became pregnant first, and was approaching
the time of her confinement, before the fact that Vamarasi [also] was
with child became noticeable. 39. And the Samoans started to make
preparations for the feast that would be held in honour of the Samoan-
woman's baby, without considering Vamarasi's baby. 40. Raho did
not like this--the Samoans preparing a birth-feast for the baby of
their own kinswoman, while neglecting the baby of Vamarasi.
41. And so Raho made ready a present, and then sent for
his two children (Nujmaga and Nujka'u). 42. After
a while these two girls came and asked Raho what it was
that he wanted. 43. To which Raho replied that he wanted Vamarasi's
baby to be born before the Samoan woman's. 44. "Unfortunately the
woman is approaching the time of her confinement," said the two
girls, "whereas the fact that Vamarasi is with child has
only just become [apparent]."
45. But Raho still wanted Vamarasi to be delivered
before the Samoan woman. 46. So [finally] the two girls
said, "it is a prodigious thing that is about to happen here in
Savai'i--this change that you are going to bring about."
47. So when the Samoan woman's birth-pains began, the* two girls
went to her at once, and pressed on the feet of the [unborn] child,
48. so that the child turned round and the woman's birth-pains
ceased. 49. The two girls then went immediately to Vamarasi,
and pummelled her abdomen to bring on the birth, 50. keeping at
it until the woman succeeded in giving birth [to the baby].
51. The result was that the feast which the Samoans had got ready
was given to the baby of Vamarasi, 52. and was made the
feast of the first-born. 53. Now Vamarasi's baby was a girl,
her name being Maiva.
54. When the feast was over, the Samoan woman's pains came on
again. 55. And after a while she gave birth to a boy, 56. to whom
they gave the name Fumaru.
Notes to text:
39. Lit., their.
47. Lit., these. And similarly in many other places.
In this segment, the processes of differentiation come into play
that will result eventually in Rotuma's separation from Samoa. Note,
however, that the purity of the initial generation is preserved--no
wife is attributed to Raho, and his daughter is implicitly wholly
of his substance. But this daughter, Vamarasi, has a husband, and
so a new and different substance is introduced. The process of differentiation
is given impetus in two precise ways. First, Vamarasi's husband's
name, Tu'Tonga (Tu'i Tonga) translates as 'King of Tonga',  setting
up a contrast between Tonga and Samoa, which is represented by her
husband's other wife. A full examination of Rotuman myth strongly
suggests that Tonga, as a concept in Rotuman thought, represents
the male principles of potency and vitality, while Samoa represents
the female principles of fecundity and domesticity. As we shall see,
it is in the meshing of these complementary principles that the legitimation
of authority resides. Second, Vamarasi's child, Maiva, has a half-sibling
of the opposite sex. Paternal half-siblings are, par excellence within
the idiom of kinship, representative of entities that are the same,
but different. They both share substance and are of different substance.
Socially they are traditionally portrayed as rivals, and are therefore
ideal symbols for a pivotal point from which differentiation occurs.
Raho's concern that his grandchild be born first reflects this competitive
aspect, as well as the significance of the common Polynesian preoccupation
with genealogical precedence. So we have in this segment a structure
that sets the stage for differentiation--a symbolic shift from the
unity of twins of the same sex to half-siblings of opposite sex.
The next segment describes the incident leading to Raho's decision
to leave Samoa:
57. As time went on these two children grew up, 58. and
one day they* went to the beach to play, 59. and began fishing for penus named Tua'nakvalu.
60. And as they continued fishing for penus, Maiva caught
a red penu* named Tua'nakvalu,
61. which she thereupon took and put into a vessel of water. 62.
By and by Fumaru came and found the penu in
the vessel of water, 63. and picked it up and surreptitiously put
into his mouth the penu that belonged
to his sister. 64. Afterwards Maiva came back, and found that
her penu had been taken. 65. So she
went along and told Fumaru to drop her penu out
of his mouth. 66. But the boy refused to do so. 67. So then Maiva went
to her grandfather (Raho), crying, and telling [him] what
her brother had done to her. 68. Raho then pleaded with his
granddaughter, but she would not relent.
69. Raho then sent for the twins* again, 70. and they came,
and Raho told them what had happened to his granddaughter;
71. and [he said that] he wanted to make a home for his
granddaughter, which should be far away from Samoa.
Notes to text:
58. Lit., this brother-and-sister.
60. A very small variety of crab.
69. Lit., the two sandy-point (lepi) girls (hani).
Both the beach and the penu 'a variety
of crab' are intermediate categories, the beach between land and
sea, the crab between land food and sea food. Fumaru, Maiva's half-brother,
takes her catch and symbolically consumes it. In doing so he not
only challenges the legitimacy of their birth order (older siblings
have license to take objects from younger siblings, but not vice
versa), he also deprives her of food that she has produced. This
incident sets the stage for a theme of differentiation leading to
the eventual branching off of the Rotuman polity. From half-siblings
on a beach catching crabs (all intermediate, hence merged, categories)
emerges a usurping male and a dispossessed female figure. Their alienation
foreshadows a distinction between two sets of association that form
an integral part of the digital code: male:chief:sea:: female:commoner:land.
The impetus towards the founding of Rotuma is here rooted in an
issue of chiefly prerogative (represented by Fumaru, a male) versus
commoner rights (represented by Maiva, a female), particularly with
regard to food.  This
is an issue that pervades Rotuman myth in one form or another (see,
for example, Howard in press). Several variations of this
legendary incident have been recorded in other texts, but they are
structurally consistent with each other. The incident is always located
on a beach and the disputed item is always a crab. Maiva is always
initially partially merged with her antagonist (sometimes male, sometimes
female) as a close relative or playmate. In some versions alienation
is precipitated by her antagonist challenging the legitimacy of Maiva's
heritage (for example, in one account her rival calls her a foreigner
without claims on the family [Russell 1942:240]). In other
versions Maiva's anger is piqued by insults directed at her deformed
foot,  suggesting
a stigmatised status. The movement from a relatively (but not entirely)
undifferentiated to a differentiated state is therefore at the heart
of the myth. This differentiation is symbolised strongly by the geographical
separation that follows.
72. Thereupon the twins* filled two baskets with earth--a
presentation basket and an ordinary basket. 73. The name of the presentation
basket was Fuarei, while the name of the ordinary basket was Fua'a.
74. The twins then put these two baskets on board a canoe of aftea wood,
75. and they, together with Raho and his household, got into
the canoe and came to found this island of Rotuma.
76. Now it is said that when Raho came to found this island
many high chiefs in Tonga and Samoa heard about it. 77. And so,
when Raho and his company left, a chief named Tokainiua (it
is not known whether he was a Tongan or Samoan), accompanied by
a number of others, went after Raho.
78. [By] and [by] Raho with his company
came 79. and found in the midst of the ocean a rock of great size,
80. the two extremities of which were well above the water, while
the middle was just awash. 81. So the twins emptied out the presentation
basket of earth on to the rock, 82. [thus] forming an island.
83. This done, the twins left Raho and his company behind
on the island, 84. and took the [other] basket of earth
and flew off [with it] towards Futuna. 85. On and on the
two girls flew till they got there, 86. and then they emptied out
the basket of earth and formed the island known as 'Arofi.
Notes to text:
72. Lit., these two girls.
The key symbols in this segment are the baskets, which affirm the
differentiation of chiefs and commoners previously described. A la
agai 'presentation' basket is used for presenting food to
chiefs and is a common metonym for chieftainship. It also symbolises
chiefly rights to food. A common basket stands in metonymic relationship
to commoner status, and symbolises the people of the land (i.e.,
those who produce food from the land). In this version of the tale
Rotuma is formed from the contents of the chiefly basket, and is
differentiated as an entity from geographically remote 'Arofi (Alofi),
which is presumably common.  A
more compacted and structurally more significant version has the
presentation basket tipped out in the district of Malhaha, the common
basket tipped out in Faguta (see Churchward 1937:109). This conforms
to a north-south opposition used to codify chief-commoner relations
in other narratives (see footnote 12 and Howard in press).
There follows an incident that echoes Maiva's dispute with Fumaru,
involving Raho and Tokainiua.
87. The twins then came back, and found that Raho and
his people were still here, 88. and they suggested to Raho that
he should mark the island as his, 89. in case another person should
come later on and a dispute should arise. 90. And so Raho marked
the* island as his by means of a green coconut-leaf tied round the
fesi tree at Vakpäre, 91. requesting the twins to go
to Tonga to bring him some kava.
92. But, as soon as the twins had departed, Tokainiua and
his company sighted this island, and thereupon directed their [canoe] towards
it. 93. They* landed at Oinafa. 34 By and by Tokainiua came
to Malhaha, and discovered Raho's coconut-leaf tied
round the fesi tree at Vakpäre,
and [noticed that] it was still green. 95. Thereupon he
resorted to a strategem: 96. he fetched a coconut-leaf that was
already dry, and tied that round the tree to mark the island as
97. After a while Raho came and found Tokainiua standing
by the fesi tree, having marked the
island as his by means of a dry coconut-leaf. 98. And so the two
men began arguing. 99. Raho said it was his land, 100. while Tokainiua said
it was his. 101. Raho said it was he that had formed the
land; 102. but Tokainiua maintained that the land was his--
103. his coconut-leaf had been fixed round the tree for a long
time, while that of Raho [as shown by the fact that
it was still green] had been put on quite recently.
Notes to text:
90. Lit., this.
93. Lit., the travellers.
96. Lit., and made down as his fapui.
A fapui is something set up to mark a tree
or a plantation etc. as forbidden to others. Usually it consists of a coconut-leaf
tied round the trunk of the tree.
Just as Maiva found the penu, then
had it taken away from her by guile, Raho founds (literally, 'plants')
Rotuma only to be tricked out of his rightful claim by Tokainiua.
This completes the inversion of Raho's initial trickery, i.e., his
use of the twins to alter the birth order of Maiva and Fumaru. Raho
creates Maiva's precedence in Samoa through guile, then has his own
precedence in Rotuma usurped in like manner. In Trouillet's account
this inversion occurs in a stronger form inasmuch as the very twins
who do Raho's bidding in the first instance turn against him in his
dispute with Tokainiua. The Trouillet version also marks the association
of Raho with the land and Tokainiua with the sea in a more direct
manner. It reads as follows:
Tokaniua accosts Rao, saying to him: This country, to whom
does it belong?--It is my country, answers Rao.--But where are your
subjects? says Tokaniua.--They are in the interior, responds Rao.--But,
says Rao in his turn, where are your subjects? --they are on the
seashore, replies Tokaniua. Let us go see, says Rao, and together
they go around Rotuma. Rao notices that indeed the country is inhabited
and upon their return to Oinafa the quarrel becomes livelier.
Rao tries at first to embarrass Tokaniua. He goes down to the
sea, brings back an immense basket of sand which he spreads on
a mat and tells Tokaniua to count the grains. Tokaniua accepts
the challenge and right then pulls from his breast two small serpents
which he had brought with him: One of them sprawls in the sand
and the other counts the grains; the one who counted the grains
first then sprawls in his turn and the other counts the grains,
and so it goes until the contents of the basket had been counted
entirely. Tokaniua gives an account to Rao who had nothing to say.
From that moment on the two Leprua women, displeased by Rao's conduct
and by his lack of success, abandon him and even help Tokaniua
to embarrass Rao; they advise him to tell Rao to count the waves
of the sea which constantly come onto the rocks which are called
Vos. Tokaniua follows this advice and Rao accepts; he therefore
goes to the seashore, he counts one full day and one whole night,
but the waves keep succeeding each other; at last he is tired out
and in confusion he flees; his foot is caught in the serpent who
is called Kine, he falls down, gets up and full of shame he escapes
to Atana [Hatana] (Sumi Mission Station, Rotuma manuscript).
Trouillet's version of the encounter accentuates the importance
of women, in the form of the twins, for effecting a transfer of power.
The twins' infidelity to Raho and their complicity in Tokainiua's
deception is instrumental in bringing about the success of the latter's
attempted usurpation. The central role of women in rebellions against
established authority is a pervasive theme in Rotuman myth. They
appear as victim provocateurs, as mediators with the supernatural
and as leaders of rebellion (see Howard in press) . It seems
that, while chiefly authority is considered to be essentially a male
prerogative in Rotuman thought, setting up the male:chief::female
:commoner opposition in the digital code, females are instrumental
for increasing or decreasing chiefly potency in the analogic code.
But the story does not end here, with Tokainiua's apparent triumph.
From a logical standpoint the nature of legitimate authority remains
problematic, for Tokainiua's putative claim to precedence is patently
false. His true basis for assuming priority is his mana--in
the fact of his triumph. This sets up the central problem of the
myth, namely, how is legitimate authority to be constituted given
the antagonistic claims of the people of the land (based on their
priority as planters and food producers) and chiefs (based on genealogical
priority and efficacy in contests)? The Rotuman solution is to treat
these principles as complementary, and to emphasise constraint of
both. This is the theme of the final segment of Churchward's narrative.
104. Upon this [Tokainiua's successful challenge] Raho became
angry and struck Tokainiua. 105. But the Sa'aitu* came and
held Raho back, and covered Tokainiua over at the foot
of the fesi tree, 106. and Raho did
not see him again.
107. Raho then took it into his head to go and break up
the island, 108. so that Tokainiua should not have it. 109.
So Raho went along to the western end of the island, 110.
and took a digging-stick, 111. and drove it into the ground 112.
and levered up the point, 113. and [lo and behold the small
islands of] Uea, Hatana and Hafliua sprang into
114. But the woman who lived in the scrub, observing that the
land was about to he spoiled by Raho, 115. came running
towards him, 116. and bowed herself at his feet, 117. and besought
him 118. not to be angry, and not to spoil the land, 119. for Tokainiua had
told a lie, the land being really Raho's.
120. "That being so," replied Raho, "I will do as you request."*
121. With that, he pulled his digging-stick out of the ground,
122. put it on his shoulder, 123. and returned to Malhaha.*
124. [In doing this] Raho came [first] to Motusa.
125. He then followed the inland road, 126. going on until he reached
the country behind the houses at Vai. 127. There he let
down his digging-stick, 128. and dragged it towards the coast,
129. and the place where he dragged the stick along became a watercourse,
130. the name of which is the Watercourse of 'Alüstägtäge.
131. Raho then went down to the beach, but the kava was
not there. 132. Now the twins had arrived at Tonga, 133. and had
sent the kava plant 134. which had
then come [over the water] alone. 135. But on arriving
here, it had learned that Raho, in a fit of anger, had gone
to spoil the island, 136. and so the kava plant
had left Valta* and had gone inland, 137. and had made its
way to the queen at Fag'uta.
138. After a while the twins came back, but Raho had not
yet had any kava to drink. 139. So Raho sent
them again, 140. and once more they returned to Tonga, 141. and
brought some dry kava, 142. wrapped
in palm-leaves. 143. Raho's kava was then prepared on top
of the Kamea stone. 144. And the bowl-like hollow* is there
even now on top of the rock, 145. and there [nearby] is
the spring [that supplied the water] with which the kava was
146. And after drinking the kava,*
then it was that Raho and his women-folk went to [live
Notes to text:
105. A certain class of supernatural beings.
120. Lit., and then Raho said, "Only that, and it-is-good."
123. Lit., and then his return to Malhaha.
136. A part of the village of Pa'olo, in the Oinafa district.
144. Lit., the kava-bowl (tano'a).
146. Lit., at the finishing of the kava.
146. (end). See the next story.
Whereas the emphasis in the early part of the myth is upon differentiation
of people from chiefs, in the final segment a reintegration, rather
weak in form, takes place. Thus, Tokainiua, the usurping warrior
from overseas, is covered with earth at the foot of a fesi tree
(a metonym for chieftainship). He "takes root" in the land and so
is constrained, and symbolically made indigenous. His powers are
thus domesticated. On the other side of the coin, Raho, after his
humiliation, reasserts his rights to the land through shaping its
features. His rage is assuaged by hanit e ma'us (translated
by Churchward as 'the woman who lived in the scrub', but more appropriately
'the wild-woman', or 'spirit-woman' of the bush). She is a well-known
character in Rotuman myth, and combines female domesticity with supernatural
danger, particularly as a succubus. Her assurance to Raho that the
land is really his, despite the success of Tokainiua's challenge
re-establishes his legitimacy, and with it, the rights of the hanuet 'people
of the land'. Nevertheless, Raho leaves the main island and goes
to dwell on the islet of Hatana, off the western end of Rotuma. His
claim is thus constrained by the sea between Hatana and Rotuma, just
as Tokainiua's claim is constrained by the land which covers him.
This incipient complementarity is signalled in another way in the
text. Note that, whereas Tokainiua gains ascendancy through the symbolism
of a dry, withered coconut frond from Rotuma, Raho gains symbolic
sanctity through the medium of dried kava from
Tonga.  In combination
these codes serve to provide a mythical foundation for a complementary
system of rights and obligations between chiefs and commoners. The
conceptual separation of chief and commoner is retained, however,
and even strengthened symbolically, by locating Tokainiua on the
eastern end of the island (the chiefly side) while Raho is placed
at the extreme western end of the Rotuman world (the commoner side).
We shall now consider a second myth related by Churchward, which
he calls Sau Mumua 'e Rotuam 'i 'The First Kings in Rotuma'.
Although the myth is presented as a separate story, Raho is located
at Hatana and Tokainiua at the fesi tree
in Malhaha, their positions at the end of the founding myth. In fact,
the narrative amplifies the theme of the initial story and further
develops the cultural logic that lies behind Rotuman conceptions
of chieftainship. The story begins in the sky.
1. It is said that there was a country in the sky, 2. and
that there was a king in that country named Tü'rotoma,
the mua being named Tü'feua.*
3. And when these two men saw Rotuma down below, 4. they thought
they would like to send somebody down to see whether it was a good
land or a bad one.
5. And so the king chose a man from [the people of] his
country, to go down to see what this country was like. 6. It is
said that the name of the man was Titofo. 7. And so they
lowered Titofo, 8. and he arrived down here below, 9. happening
to alight at a place at Pephaua named Faufono, 10.
where there was a tupu'a named Toväe.*
11. So Titofo took up his abode with this tupu'a at Faufono 12.
while he went and looked at the various parts of this country,
to see what sort [of a place] it was. 13. And as he continued
his investigations, he found that this country was quite a good
place, not a place to be afraid of.* 14. Finally, therefore, Titofo returned
to the sky to tell the king that the country was a very good one.
15. When Titofo arrived at his destination, he said to
the king, 16. "The country, sir, is a splendid country."
17. So the king then gave his son, Fagatriroa, 18. while
the mua gave one of his daughters, Päreagsau by
name, 19. that the two of them should come down here below 20.
to take care of this country. 21. The king appointed also two men,
to come down with these two young folk, 22. to remain and to look
after them. 23. And so the four of them came down [from the
sky], and dwelt at Pephaua. 24. Of these two men, the
name of one was Moeauita, while that of the other was Orivai.
25. They remained for a long time, and then Päreagsau became
pregnant by Fagatriroa, 26. And when the two men observed
that the woman was with child, 27. they were angry, 28. and they
returned to the sky, 29. leaving Päreagsau and Fagatriroa here
below. 30. On arrival [in the sky], they told the king
and the mua what their two children
had done, 31. and [that] they did not approve of it 32.
and [so] had left them down below. 33. But the king answered
the two men, saying, 34. "Don't be angry, 35. for that is the very
thing that we sent them down to do, 36. so that the country should
be populated by their children."
Notes to text:
2. In olden times the mua was a chief
next in rank to the sau or king. Neither office
10. In Rotuman mythology, a tupu'a appears
to be a kind of immortal man. Nowadays its principal meaning is image,
statue, doll, or idol. It also means heavenly body, star, or constellation.
13. Lit., a cruel place.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the opening segment of this
myth is the way in which it inverts significant aspects of the previous
story. In this instance it is men rather than women who rule in the
place of origin, and it is two men rather than two women who act
as mediators. Instead of facilitating a birth they are made angry
by its prospect. More central is the inversion of the differentiation
theme. In this case differentiation is a feature of the polity from
the beginning. Rule is divided in the sky between a sau and mua,
Rotuma already exists as a distinct entity, and the first child is
the offspring of an unrelated couple (of different substance). Also
contained in this segment is a clue to the conceptual relationship
between sau and mua.
The sau provides a son and the mua a
daughter in the interest of fertility. It appears, then, and other
data strongly support such a conclusion, that the sau represents
the male principle of vitality while the mua represents
the female principle of fecundity. They thus represent a complementarity
parallel to that symbolised by Tokainiua and Raho, and indeed it
seems clear that Raho:Tokainiua::mua:sau.
The plausibility of this interpretation is strengthened by the fact
that mua means 'first', and Raho was
the first to 'plant' Rotuma. The story continues:
37. And so the two men came back once again to the earth,
38. to look after Fagatriroa and his wife.* 39. And in the
course of time the woman gave birth to her child: it was a boy. 40.
and [they] called his name Muasio. 41. By and by the
woman became pregnant again, 42. and gave birth to another boy, 43.
whom [they] called Seamrefäega. 44. Now [the
births of] these first two children were not reported to Raho at Hatana;*
45. but, as time went on, and the third child was born, 46. the two
men proceeded to Hatana to tell Raho about it. 47. Upon arrival
they said to Raho, 48. "Fagatriroa and Päreagsau have
a baby boy--he has just been born--49. and so we have come to report
the matter to you, 50. so that you may be kind enough to say what
is to be done about it."
51. Raho's reply to the two men was: 52. "I know all about
it: 53. there were two children born before, and you did not tell
me. 54. However, go back, and name the child Tu'iterotuma;*
55. he is to be the king of the country, 56. and a courtyard is
to be cleared for him* at Halafa so as to be near me. 57.
And the name of the courtyard is to be Mariki. "
Notes to text:
38. Lit., this married couple.
44. Cf. "The founding of Rotuma" 146. Hatana is a small island
off the western end of Rotuma.
54. Meaning the (-t) king (tu'i) in
(e) Rotuma. In Rotuman the word tu'i (king)
seems to be used only in compounds.
56. Lit., his courtyard is to be swept.
Again we have an inversion. Instead of three female siblings in
the parental generation, we have here three male siblings in the
generation of offspring. But we also have a parallel with the first
myth insofar as here, too, Raho inverts the order of precedence,
granting to the last conceived child priority over siblings conceived
previously. The implication that I draw from this is that legitimate
authority derives only secondarily from chiefly pedigree. Its primary
source of legitimation rests upon the consent of the people, as symbolised
by Raho. It is the prerogative of the people, ultimately, to decide
upon which eligible contender is to be elevated. This message is
underscored by Raho's locating the selected child at Halafa, which
is on the extreme western end of Rotuma, opposite Hatana. A curious
58. So, as soon as the two men had arrived back from Hatana,
59. they conveyed Raho's decision to Fagatriroa and
his wife, 60. and immediately went [up] to the sky to give
an account of how they were all getting on, 61. and to get [a] pig
with which to prepare a feast of cooked food to take to Hatana.
62. And as soon as they arrived in the sky, they had a talk with
the king, 63. and finally the king gave them a pig (64. a boar of
no mean size* it is said to have been), 65. and they brought it down
to prepare the feast.
66. But as the two men were carrying their pig, and had not yet
arrived at their destination, 67. they met Seamrefäega.
68. And the man took the pig from them by force, killed it, and
put it into the oven to roast. 69. And when the oven was opened
up, 70. Seamrefäega cut the pig in halves across the
centre, 71. and said to the two men, 72. "You are to take the fore
part to Raho at Hatana, 73. but I am going to have
this hinder part myself."
74. And so the two men proceeded to take the fore part [of
the pig] to Raho at Hatana. 75. But when they
arrived with it, 76. Raho said to them, 77. "Haven't I told
you 78. that a partially eaten thing is never to be brought to
me, 79. but that if [you] had a thing that had not been
eaten at all you might bring it along? 80. Who was it that told
you to bring this half-eaten thing?"
81. And then Raho, in anger, flung the half pig into the
sea,-- 82. and that is the origin of the blow-hole which foams
in the sea at Hatana at the present time.*
Notes to text:
64. Lit., a boar not to-be-joked-about.
82. There is a pun here on the word kou, which has two meanings--boar
(or other male quadruped) and blowhole.
Structurally this incident duplicates the encounter between Raho
and Tokainiua in the founding myth. In this case Raho's precedence
is symbolised by the gift of a pig from the sau in
the sky (i.e., from the gods). The pig, however, is seized and spoiled--it
is "half-eaten" by Seamrefäega, the second son of Päreagsau
and Fagatriroa. Seamrefäega is associated with the sky, being
a direct descendant of the sau and mua in
the sky, but he is the conceptual equivalent of Tokainiua, who comes
from overseas, since sea:land::sky:earth. Thus, again an outside
usurper, using guile, blunts Raho's claim. But Raho is pointedly
still given the forepart of the pig, signalling his ultimate priority
in the now disputed claim. This conveys the same message as the assurance
provided by hanit e ma'us 'the wild
woman of the bush'--that the land really belongs to Raho. The final
equivalence is more direct. As before, Raho expresses his anger by
altering geographical features, again symbolically recreating the
land. The fact that in both instances the features shaped by Raho
include land and water suggests a conceptual reintegration of these
complementary components of structure. A blowhole is perhaps the
ideal symbol of the dynamics of relationship between these components.
The sea rushes in, penetrates the land, spouts up towards the sky,
washes down to overwhelm the land, then recedes only to repeat the
process. And so it is with chiefs. They come into office with great
vitality, ascend to heights of virility and sanctity, overwhelming
the people of the land; they then decline and either die or are deposed
by a vigorous new chief, and the process repeats. The sexual symbolism
of penetration adds another dimension to the metaphor, since chiefs
are the symbolic inseminators of the land, bringing fertility and
prosperity to the people. Or so the idealised conception goes.
Next comes a segment involving the death of Tu'iterotuma, the first
83. So the two men returned from Hatana, 84. and
then proceeded to carry out Raho's instructions regarding Tu'iterotutma's
being made king. 85. And, gathering the people together, 86. they
went to Halafa, 87. and cleared a courtyard for the king at Mariki,
88. and made that the king's place of abode. 89. And then the king
was brought to Halafa to live, so as to be near Raho at Hatana.
90. A long period elapsed, and then the king was taken ill, 91.
and before long he died. 92. Thereupon the two men went to Hatana,
and told Raho that the king was dead. 93. Raho told
them to go back, 94. and to have a bier made,* and to place the [dead] king
thereon. 95. The people were then to support [the bier] on
their shoulders, 96. and to carry it across country, 97. while
he would send two birds to go in front of the bearers [to show
98. So the two men returned to Halafa, 99. and the people
made a bier, 100. and placed the dead king thereon, 101. and began
carrying it across country, 102. when, lo and behold, the two birds
that Raho had sent came flying along,-- 103. the name of
the one being Manteifi, that of the other Manteafa.
104. So the two birds flew on ahead, 105. while the bearers walked
along behind them. 106. On and on they went until they reached
a spot inland from Lopta* in the region of Muasolo,
107. when [they noticed that] the two birds* acted as if
they were about to alight. 108. the bearers then stopped and looked,
109. and [they saw that] the two birds did not actually
settle, but just flew on. 110. Moeautia and Orivai thereupon
told them to put the [dead] king down, 111. for that was
what Raho had told them to look out for: 112. [he had
said] that when the two birds acted as if they were about to
settle in a certain spot, 113. that was the spot where Tu'iterotuma's
grave was to be dug.
114. Accordingly, they put the corpse down, and there they dug
the grave, 115. after which they buried their king [there] at Muasolo.
116. Raho had said, moreover, 117. "The place where Tu'iterotuma is
to be buried, that is the place which will produce abundant supplies
of food for this country." 118. And that was the first cemetery
here in Rotuma, namely the cemetery in which the first person to
be buried was Tu'iterotuma, at Muasolo, a little
way inland* from Huo (Lopta).
119. After that one of Tu'iterotuma's two brothers became
king 120. which of them [we] do not know.
Notes to text:
94. Lit., that they (pl., not dual) should bind (fa'u)
106. Lit., the-back-of-the-houses at Lopta.
107. Lit., these two little (he) things
118. See note on 106.
A proper interpretation of this segment requires some background
knowledge concerning the importance of cemeteries, and particularly
the burial places of sau and mua,
in traditional Rotuman culture. Gordon MacGregor, an anthropologist
who visited Rotuma in 1932, made the following observations:
The Rotuman graves form the most fascinating side of the study of
their culture. The island has been described not inaccurately as "one
great cemetery." Certainly graves are to be found everywhere, under
house sites, alongside most of the roadways, in great village cemeteries
now preserved by European law, on top of little islands along the
reefs, and throughout the bush. They are monuments to a remarkable
industry and devotion to the dead, qualities now sadly failing among
the present inhabitants. The dead were buried in double stone vaults
of great size built up of thick slabs of conglomerate rock or coral
cut from the reef. Important graves had top slabs cut from a quarry
of basaltic rock in the western end of the island. All these were
transported overland by groups of labourers while a priest stood
on top and muttered incantations and prayers to make the burden lighter.
Great crafts were built too, to carry these stones longer distances
down the coast. One slab of coral found on the King's cemetery high
in the bush measured 17 by 7 by one and half feet. The lower vault
of the grave was made of six slabs of stone in box shape set in the
ground. The body was wrapped in mats and the whole was buried in
sand. On top of this vault the superstructure varied according to
the importance of the dead in the estimation of the family. Chiefs
and family vaults for later corpses were covered by a second vault
which rested on the ground level. Some had merely a capstone or an
upright monolith as markers (MacGregor n.d.).
The burial places of the sau and mua were
the focus of ritual attention during the annual cycle. One of the
important feasts in the cycle took place at Muasolo (in Oinafa),
the burial place of the mua. Mua were
interred in a special house built for them there. At the feast the
burial house was rethatched and the old thatch was distributed, presumably
to ensure the possessors a fruitful season. After this, kava was
prepared and an entire bowl was poured out to the dead mua.
A description of the event is provided by Gardiner:
A great quantity of food is then placed in the [burial] house,
as this feast differed from all others in that no food could be carried
away from it. The mua alone can enter
the house, and so has to carry all the food in. The old people, both
men and women, while he is doing so, walk in procession round the
house, while a prayer for a fruitful season is chanted, each fruit
being mentioned by name.
Te moiea naragosou, mua ...
Be fruitful, mighty spirit, mua.
E te moiea favorou' mua ...
Be fruitful to the fava tree, mua
Te moiea se, oh, oh, oh ...
Be fruitful to us, oh, oh, oh.
Moiea ifi ma moiea fava ...
A fruitful ifi and a fruitful fava
Te moiea se, oh, oh, oh, etc.,etc
Be fruitful to us, oh, oh, oh, etc., etc.
Se le mua le; sol, oh, oh, oh
(Gardiner 1898:465). 
Another major feast was held on the top of the hill at Sisilo (in
Noatau) where the sau were buried. Kava
was poured on the graves of the various sau,
and the living sau would also drink
kava, then eat of the different grasses on the hill. The sau's
graves, rather than being in a house, were marked by stone tombs
and were meticulously maintained. Lesson described the site as containing
about 20 tombs in 1824. At the head of each tomb rose an eight-foot
stone slab, with a four-foot stone at the foot and two long stones
on either side. The area was surrounded with a grove of trees that
had been planted with care (Lesson 1838-9, II:437).
It is evident from these accounts, and from a wealth of additional
information, that the mua and sau not
only were primary links to supernatural spirits who brought good
or ill fortune to the island, but that they themselves were also
transformed into powerful spirits at death. In fact, it was in death,
as spirits, that they were most able to perform their major function
of ensuring prosperity.
If we examine the foregoing segment of myth against this background
several points stand out. One is that the dead "king" is carried
on the shoulders of "the people" across Rotuma from the western to
the eastern end of the island. The metaphor is straight-forward enough--it
is the people who are responsible for elevating chiefs, for facilitating
their sanctification. They are the very foundation of chieftainship.
This underlying theme is nicely underscored in the phrasing used
by Raho concerning the preparation of the funeral bier. He uses the
word fa'u 'to bind'. The word is also
used in reference to 'space or place further from the sea, further
inland', and for the western end of Rotuma. As a verb it translates
as 'to follow, to go behind or after; to back up, support' (Churchward
1940:198-9). The chief is bound to the people of the land, who are
his followers and supporters.
The incident described in this segment resonates with two previous
events involving Raho. On the one hand, it recalls the founding expedition,
also guided by the twins. In the former case, however, the journey
was from east to west, resulting in the formation of the land; in
this case the voyage is from west to east, establishing the sanctity
of chieftainship. On the other hand, it reinforces the message conveyed
by Raho's selection of Tu'iterotuma as king. Thus, here again it
is Raho who arranges for Tu'iterotuma's elevation. The message that
it is the people who are the ultimate source of chiefly authority
is redundantly communicated.
The statement that the cemetery is the place that will provide abundant
supplies of food reflects Rotuman conceptions of the role of supernatural
spirits in bringing prosperity. Their belief that in death chiefs
are deified--that they become powerful spirits capable of bringing
good or ill fortune to the land--is a presupposition to this statement.
As a focus for the transformation from human being to powerful spirit
the cemeteries of the mua and sau were
the most sacred places for the Rotumans.
Although Tu'iterotuma is described in the text as sau,
he is interred at Muasolo, burial place of the mua.
This constitutes evidence for the equivalence of the two offices
at some level of conceptualisation. Indeed, there are several parallels
in the symbolism associated with the sau and mua,
and Trouillet describes an historical sequence in which the position
of mua is initially established by Raho,
then is superseded several generations later when the position of sau emerges
following a rebellion against the eighth mua.
Overall the evidence suggests that the positions of sau and mua symbolise
complementary aspects of sacred chieftainship, with the mua representing
that component of authority which derives from first occupancy, traced
back to Raho, and the sau representing
that component of authority derived from conquest and usurpation,
traced back to Tokainiua. Rotuman conceptions thus seem to be sequentially
oriented, such that the initial position of mua is
differentiated into mua and sau.
There is linguistic support for such an interpretation inasmuch as mua means
'to be or go in front or before or first--either in place or in time'
(Churchward 1940:268). In this case mua might
be interpreted as 'the first sau, or
'the one who preceded the sau.' This
notion of differentiation parallels a conception of chiefs emerging
as persons of a different order from common Rotumans. They are of
the people of the land, but are different from them (hence the common
symbolism of their emerging from the sea). In the founding myth this
sequence is symbolised by Tokainiua's successful challenge to Raho's
sole claim. We can illustrate this structure in the following way:
- mua = sau
- mua (:Raho)/sau (:Tokainiua)
This indicates that the primary concept of mua incorporates
the notion of sauship in Rotuman thought
(i.e., that the mua and sau were
initially one and the same, with mua the
unmarked category), but that from this undifferentiated state emerged
the positions of mua, associated with
Raho and incorporating the principle of first occupancy, and sau,
associated with Tokainiua and incorporating the principle of military
vitality. The apparent anomaly of the sau being
buried in the mua's cemetery thus seems
to reflect the concepts in their undifferentiated state.
An interesting additional feature of this segment is the indifference
as to which elder brother succeeds Tu'iterotuma. The proper order
of succession (from eldest to youngest) had already been violated
by the initial choice of the youngest sibling; the indifference to
the birth order of his successor merely punctuates the underlying
message--that approval of the people is the basic condition of legitimate
We go on now to the next segment of the myth.
121. Not very long after this, Fagatriroa, Päreagsau's
husband, died; 122. and they took and buried him at a spot in the
interior of Malhaha, named Tagkoroa. 123. And that
was the second cemetery to be opened on this island.
124. It was not so very long after this when a company of voyagers
came from Samoa, 125. led by a man named Vilo. 126. And
it is said that one of the men from this company went ashore and
took up his abode with Raho at Hatana. 127. This
man's name was Fuanofo. 128. After a while Fuanofo took
a fancy to Päreagsau, the widow of Fagatriroa 129.
Accordingly, Fuanofo and Päreagsau were married,
that they might produce children who would be the first Samoan
half-castes here in Rotuma.
130. So the marriage was properly celebrated, 131. and then, after
a somewhat lengthy period, Päreagsau became pregnant.
132. And when Päreagsau's child was born--a boy-- 133.
the name by which [they] called him was Takalhöl'aki.
134. Time went on, and this couple had another child, a boy [as
before], 135. and [they] named him Tukmasui.
136. Then, later on, they had still another child, a boy [once
again], 137. to whom they gave the name Muamea.
138. Now it is said that when, in the course of time, both of Tu'iterotuma's
brothers died, 139. then Takalhöl'aki, the child of Päreagsau by Fuanofo,
became king. 140. And when Takalhöl'aki died, his younger
brother Tukmasui succeeded him. 141. And when Tukmasui died,
then Muamea was [made] king in his stead.
142. It is said, further, that during the time when Tukmasui was
king the people of Noa'tau * equipped an army for the purpose
of going to kill the king. 143. The army then went off, and fought,
144. but the king's army gained the victory, 145. and the Noa'tau army
returned home without killing the king 146. And it is said that
that was the first war that ever took place on this island.
Notes to text:
142. Lit., this Noa'tau: the story being related at Noa'tau.
Fagatriroa's death opens the way for a second set of brothers to
assume the sauship, this time in the
appropriate order of priority, from eldest to youngest. As father
to the sau, Fagatriroa is also a sacred
personage and his burial is of considerable importance. The theme
relating cemeteries to material abundance here seems to be encoded
in the name of the burial ground; tag 'to
move convulsively' + koroa 'goods, wealth,
possessions, riches', suggesting the gorging up of plenitude.
The identification of Päreagsau's second husband as Samoan,
and his residential affiliation with Raho, exemplifies the
paradox referred to above--that the chiefs are of the people, but
are different from them. Fuanofo, like Raho, is from Samoa.
In this sense he is identified with the people of the land; but he
is also from overseas, hence not from the land. Of course, Raho also
presents the same anomaly, and it is in this light that we can understand
the symbolism involved in their residence on the offshore islet of
Hatana, for an islet is both of an island (the land) and different
The paradox is a central one that pervades Rotuman myth. It is the
source of oscillations in the narratives between indigenously conceived
chiefs and those from elsewhere. The designation of Fuanofo's children
with Päreagsau, all of whom become sau,
as half-caste Samoans, symbolises very effectively the anomalous
position of chiefs.
It is noteworthy that the first war is described as an insurrection
against the sau by the people of
Noa'tau rather than as a challenge by a rival chief. In contrast
with the mythology of other Polynesian cultures (e.g., Hawai'i),
Rotuman narratives play upon the problematic relationship between
people and chiefs much more than on chiefly rivalry. The failure
of the insurrection amounts to an assertion of the legitimacy of
the sau's authority, especially since
no cause is given to justify rebellion.
147. Later on, during the reign of Muamea, a man
at Noa'tau named Moea went and married a woman at Malhaha named Panai.
148. And after a while, it is said, the king developed a liking for
the woman, 149. and spoke to her, suggesting that she, Panai,
should leave Moea and marry him [instead]. 150. Thereupon Panai left
her husband and lived in adultery with Muamea. 151. And it
is said that that was the first case of adultery here in Rotuma.
152. Moea then came to Noa'tau, 153. weeping, and
telling his people* what had befallen him at Malhaha. 154.
He was very sore over what Muamea had done, 155. and he
loved his wife too, 156. but he would not be able to get her again,
seeing that she preferred the king.
157. On hearing this, Hanfakiu his sister said, 158. "Don't
cry! it's all right! stay where you are, 159. and I will accomplish
what you desire. 160. You are a man, and yet you cry like a child."*
161. Now what the woman proposed was that Noa'tau should
go to war with Malhaha, 162. with a view to killing the
king (Muamea). 163. And so she* went to her house, and strangled
herself, and so died. 164. Having died, she then proceeded to Malhaha,
165. the person whom she was going to see being an 'atua*
at Malhaha named Penua. 166. On she went until she came
in sight of Penua's home, where she found Penua sitting.
167. Penua at once turned round to see Hanfakiu approaching,
and noticed what a sight she looked. 168-169. "Good gracious, Hanfakiu," she
said, "how terrible you look! 170. your eyes are all bloodshot.
171. and your tongue is hanging out helplessly."
172. "I have come," said Hanfakiu, "to get something done.
173. And I want you to be kind enough to help me to carry it out."
174. Penua asked what it was that she wanted done; 175.
to which Hanfakiu replied, 176. "The fact is that I want
the king to be killed, to avenge my brother."
177. Penua then said, 178. "You go to the fesi tree
at Vakpäre: 179. for Tokainiua has been struck
by Raho, and the sa'aitu have
covered him over,* and he is still lying [there]. 180.
So you go and look closely, 181. and when you see one of his big
toes, 182. make a grab at it, 183. grip it tightly, 184. and pull
him up, with a sudden jerk, into a standing position. 185. If you
succeed in doing this to the man, your desire will be fulfilled."
186. So the woman went straight to the spot indicated to her by Penua,
to find the earth heaped up at the foot of the fesi tree.
187. She then looked narrowly at it until she spied one of his
big toes, 188. whereupon she made a grab at it, 189. and grasped
it tightly, 190. and gave a sudden jerk upwards, and Tokainiua stood
191. The woman then said to the man, 192. "Come with me to Noa'tau,
and let us equip an army, that we may come and fight against Muamea and
his people. 193. And if we are victorious, [the District of] Oinafa will
194. "Very well," replied the man, "let us go."
195. So the two of them came to Noa'tau, 196. and this
District equipped its army, 197. and then proceeded to Malhaha to
fight against Muamea and his men, 198. the leader of the [Noa'tau] army
being Tokainiua .
199. When they arrived, the fighting began immediately; 200. and
they fought on until the battle ended with the death of the king, Noa'tau gaining
the victory. 201. Thus Noa'tau gained the right of choosing
the king,* 202. and immediately on returning home they annointed Riamkau,
at Sav'ea, as king. 203. Thus the kingship was now conferred
on Riamkau,* 204. while Oinafa became Tokainiua's:
205. all the land from Remoa* to the stony ground between Huo and Malhaha was
given to Tokainiua at the conclusion of this war.
206. And from that time onwards [it was the custom] that
the kings of Rotuma should be chosen from each District in turn.
Notes to text:
153. Lit., and he wept to his elders and made-known the thing which
had happened to him, etc.
160. Lit., like little children.
163. Lit., this Hanfakiu. And similarly in many other places.
165. That is, a ghost or a dead person thought of as still living
in a ghostly (but not immaterial) form.
179. See "Founding of Rotuma" 105.
201. Lit., and so this Noa'tau brought the chiefship.
203. This appears to be the sense required by the context,
though it can hardly be got from the Rotuman text, which, literally,
means, "And so the fan would now be opposed (or, matched) by
(or, at) Riamkau's accession"
205. The eastern extremity of the island.
In this instance the rebellion is given justification, and it is
successful. The ostensible reason is the sau's
usurpation of a wife from one of "the people", but encoded in the
names is a deeper message. The man's name, Moea, means 'crops, harvest',
while his wife's name, Panai, means 'of certain trees, about to fruit'.
The suggestion is that the sau takes
more than his share of the fruit of the land, justifying a rebellion.
In another version of the myth the rebellion is provoked by a failure
of the chief (in this case mua) to distribute
food at a feast in an equitable manner (Sumi Mission Papers; see
also Howard in press). The notion that the rebellion is a
popular one is reinforced by the name of Moea's sister, Hanfakiu,
which is composed of the roots for 'woman' 'man', and 'ten thousand'.
The success of the rebellion, which is facilitated by 'atua 'spirits'
and the demigod Tokainiua, results in the sauship
passing to a Rotuman, as opposed to a half-Samoan. In Trouillet's
oral history, this is the beginning of a series of oscillations between
indigenous and stranger chiefs,  as
well as the first in a series of successful rebellions (Howard in
The solicitation of Tokainiua's assistance in this rebellion is
ironic in so far as he is the prototype of the alien chief, but the
incident merely reinforces the earlier development of complementarity
between him and Raho, symbolised by his burial under the fesi tree
and Raho's movement to Hatana. Here Tokainiua is further domesticated
and indigenised, to the point of being given a district established
for him--a symbolic way of transforming him into a founder in the
mould of Raho. The differentiation dramatised in their initial encounter
is thus markedly softened.
The connection between the success of the rebellion and the final
statement in the narrative--that from that time onward it was the
custom that the kings in Rotuma should be chosen from each district
in turn--is not immediately apparent. In part, however, it seems
to suggest a resolution to the basic paradox of chieftainship. The
custom, it will be recalled, is for the sau to
be selected from one district and to reside in another. He is therefore
a stranger to the district of his residence, though a native to the
whole of Rotuma, over which he presides. In this way both aspects
of chieftainship--being indigenous yet a stranger--are expressed.
More than this, however, the statement is the culmination of a set
of redundant messages that there can be no sustained legitimate hegemony
in Rotuma, either of a kin-based aristocracy or of district pre-eminence.
Thus, no one kinship line sustains dominance, nor does one district
prevail. Rather it is the impermanence of authority that is underscored
Summary of Rotuman Political Conceptions
The two myths presented above reveal a conceptual paradigm that
lies at the heart of Rotuman political thought. Of fundamental concern
is the issue of prosperity--the prosperity of the island as manifest
in human fertility and the productivity of the land. The central
symbol is food; its abundance is indicative of a proper political
order, its scarcity indicative of political malaise. The ultimate
source of prosperity is the spirit world, but it is the primary responsibility
of chiefs to act as intermediaries with the gods who dwell there
(some of whom are presumed to be their ancestors) and so influence
them to act benignly. Conceptually the distinction between gods and
chiefs is somewhat blurred and chiefs, upon their death, are transformed
into powerful spirits. The mythical prototypes of chiefs, Raho and
Tokainiua, are best described as demigods, with characteristics of
both men and spirits. This conceptualisation sets up the central
paradox of the myths --that chiefs are at once persons and not persons.
They come from the people but are different from them.
The paradox is expressed in the myths through explorations of themes
involving differentiation and reintegration. Rotuma is differentiated
from Samoa, the land is differentiated from the sea, and people are
differentiated from chiefs; then, in various ways, reintegration
takes place and constraints are placed upon the oppositions involved.
Mediating categories such as islets and trees come to predominate
over oppositions between sea and land, sky and earth. As part of
this reintegration, the opposition between the people, represented
by Raho, and the chiefs, represented by Tokainiua, is muted and constrained.
The relationship between people and chiefs, is finally construed
as one of complementarity, with the people producing food (and other
goods and services) for the benefit of chiefs, who intercede with
the gods, who provide abundance to the land. However, this conception
renders the nature of chieftainship problematic, for where is the
source from which legitimate chiefly authority derives? Is it from
the gods, whose association with the chiefs provides them with supernatural
potency, or is it from the people, who have elevated the chiefs and
supported them with the products of their labour? Both, of course,
are sources of legitimacy, but the degree of emphasis on one or the
other has important implications. The problem is common to all Polynesian
societies, and resolutions differ. Some of them, particularly the
highly stratified ones like Fiji, Tonga, Hawai'i and Tahiti, emphasise
the affiliation of chiefs and gods. The association is strengthened
through lengthy genealogies tracing descent directly to ancestral
deities, and the differentiation of chiefs from the people is clearly
and sharply drawn. In those societies the mythology seems to reflect
a preoccupation with chiefly rivalry, and in practice chiefs vied
with one another for ascendance and manipulated their genealogies
to legitimate their affiliation with the gods. In Rotuma the situation
was different. While there is undeniable rivalry between chiefs reflected
in the narratives (the contest between Raho and Tokainiua being a
case in point), a more salient theme concerns relations between chiefs
and the people. The relative lack of differentiation between them
accentuates the underlying anomaly, and the resultant tension is
expressed through numerous tales of insurrection and rebellion (Howard in
press). The basic message appears to be that chiefs are expected
to use their godly powers for the benefit of the people, and that
if they do not, if they turn mean and selfish at the expense of the
people, then rebellion is not only justified, it is likely to be
supported by the gods.
The myths also help to clarify the positions of mua and sau in
Rotuman political thought. Both apparently embody representation
of the total Rotuman polity, the mua in
its primal undifferentiated generic state of conception, and as representative
of the people in its differentiated form; the sau as
representative of chieftainship in its differentiated form. In its
differentiated state the mua and sau represent
the complementary principles of domestication and vitality that together
are the essence of legitimate chieftainship.
Structurally the second myth inverts key aspects of the first one.
Thus, the founding myth begins with an undifferentiated world and
moves towards a differentiated polity characterised by a stabilised
opposition between the people of the land (symbolised by Raho) and
chiefs (symbolised by Tokainiua). The second myth begins with this
stabilised opposition (symbolised by the mua and sau in
the sky) and moves towards an instability requiring rotation of authority
as a solution. By means of this rotation unity is re-established.
But while the myths encode the fundamental logic of Rotuman political
thought, and thus provide a necessary background for interpreting
political institutions, such narratives do not provide sufficient
information for explaining their historical manifestations. The completion
of the picture requires an examination of political pragmatics, to
which I now turn.
It will be recalled that at the time of discovery by Europeans Rotuma
was divided into seven districts headed by gagaj
'es itu'u 'district chiefs' and that the fakpure,
who presumably appointed the sau and mua,
was the head of one of these districts. The districts were divided
into territorially distinct kinship communities known as ho'aga,
each of which was headed by a titled male. Titles were ranked, and
in theory district chiefs were chosen from a set of ho'aga tracing
ancestry to a common chiefly source (moseaga 'from
the same bed'). Ho'aga in the set were
supposed to rotate the privilege of choosing a successor to district
chieftainship, with kinship seniority heavily weighted as a criterion
for selection.  If
the man appointed to the position proved unsatisfactory for one reason
or another he could be deposed by members of his ho'aga,
who had the right to take away the title, hence authority, and allocate
it to another.
In contrast with those stratified societies in which all major chiefs
traced their ancestry directly to deified ancestors, Rotuman district
chiefs thus drew their authority more directly from the people in
their locality, and since the districts were autonomous political
units, this posed a problem with regard to the relationship of the
island as a whole to the gods. The problem was one of potency, for
only truly powerful chiefs could exert influence upon the gods, who
were perceived as capricious and willful. There was therefore a strong
cultural push towards a chiefly hierarchy reflecting relative potency,
or perhaps more accurately, demonstrating the great potency of the
dominant chief. Since success in warfare was prima facie evidence
of potency, a chief whose district was on the winning side of a battle
was a candidate for paramouncy. All available evidence suggests that
wars in Rotuma generally involved dichotomous alliances, and that
the head of the prevailing alliance would assume a position of paramouncy,
This still left a problem, however. Since the fakpure was
chief of one district among seven, and since he was engaged in secular
politics, he was not a very suitable figure for symbolising the unity
of Rotuma. The position of sau was a
solution. The sau occupied a sacred
post, divorced from secular politics. He personified the total polity,
and represented it (along with the mua,
who for these purposes was alter ego to the sau)
to the gods. His suitability, measured by the net prosperity of the
people (bounty minus labour and tribute), was a direct reflection
of the suitability of the fakpure, whose
secular power kept the sau in office.  The
solution was elegant, but it entailed some practical problems associated
with the selection of candidates and the burden of supporting the sau in
an appropriate manner. In the system of ranked lineages which characterised
the great Polynesian chiefdoms, selection did not pose the same order
of problem, since rank was relatively unambiguous and primogeniture
provided a definite rationale for choice. As a corollary, persons
of lesser rank were obligated to provide support for their superiors
by the extension of kinship rules. In Rotuma, however, where locality
outweighed kinship as a political principle, ranking was far more
problematic. Thus, there were multiple contenders for sauship
making succession a recurrent issue of potential dispute. Warfare
was one mechanism for resolving such status ambiguities; rotation,
as Williamson pointed out, was another. Rotation appears as an early
solution in Rotuman myth, but never to the exclusion of warfare.
Indeed, Trouillet's narrative relates repetitive challenges to fakpure and sau suggesting
that rotation between districts did not settle the issues involved.
A key issue seems to have been the appropriate length of a sau's
reign. Rotation ingeniously involved selecting a person from one
district and setting up his residence in another, thus symbolising
both qualities--indigenous and foreign--which combine to constitute
paramount chieftainship. It seems from the narratives, however, that
the people of the host district bore the brunt of responsibility
for supplying the gluttonous needs of the sau and
for them the balance of benefits versus costs may have quickly shifted.
Resentment of such burdensome demands is a prominent theme throughout
the oral history of the island. There is evidence to suggest that
over time the term of office for sauship
shortened, and by the time the institution was terminated c. 1870 sau were
serving for minimal periods. From Trouillet's documentation of sauship
during historic times (1797-1870), three periods can be distinguished,
One might hypothesise that this decline resulted from acculturative
factors that increased the burden of caring for the sau at
the same time that it was becoming increasingly difficult for fakpure to
exert secular power to enforce compliance. A second possibility is
that the diseases and other misfortunes brought by Europeans, which
resulted in depopulation,  led
Rotumans to question more intensely the efficacy of individuals who
occupied the office of sau. It may well
have been, as Frazer pointed out many years ago in The Golden
Bough, that as the public image of a chief approached impotence,
the need to replace him increased. Rotumans seem to have simply amplified
the institutionalised mechanism already available to them, and used
installation as a repetitive means of revitalising the declining
* * *
I have suggested in the foregoing analysis that the problem in cultural
logic confronting Rotumans in conceptualising their political system
arose from a set of categorical paradoxes associated with chieftainship:
that chiefs are gods, but are human; that they are of the people,
but are different from them; that they represent the unity of the
polity, but have parochial interests within it. While these paradoxes
are posed in digital form within the myths, I believe they are constructed
from an underlying set of analogical premises, common to all Polynesian
systems. In short, I suspect Polynesians conceived of people as more
or less godlike, with the paradoxical dilemmas emerging in relation
to specific instances (the myths being, in this view, an exploration
of such instances). Two principles were involved, rank and distance.
Rank was conceived primarily in genealogical terms, traced back through
first-born children of first-born parents to founding ancestors,
and, ideally, to the gods of creation. In many Polynesian societies
genealogies were truncated as a result of other contingencies, Rotuma
being an extreme example. In terms of process, this principle was
one of elevation, i.e., establishing correct genealogical
links was a means of elevating one's social status. The principle
of distance had both physical and social aspects. Physically, removal
of a person from normal social arenas was a way of making him more
remote; socially, distancing was achieved through ritual prohibitions
and other means of differentiating the person's behaviour from normal
patterns. At the extreme, such persons inverted social norms (e.g.,
committed incest, ate human flesh), thus emulating the behaviour
of gods. From a processual standpoint distancing involved the principle
of mystification, rendering the person less culturally human
and more like the gods. The two principles can be portrayed diagrammatically
as in Figure 1.
At the apex of rank and distance were the high gods of Polynesian
mythology, at the base were slaves, persons utterly without rank
or sanctity. As suggested by their positioning in the figure, local
secular chiefs enjoyed some rank but were only slightly distanced,
local gods somewhat greater rank and a moderate degree of distancing,
while high chiefs were in the upper ranges of both dimensions, at
least in the more stratified societies. However, to think of persons
or supernatural beings as fixed in position is to miss the point,
for two reasons. One is that positions were relative--a chief may
have been godlike to a commoner, but just another man to a person
of comparable status while a commoner may have been perceived as
godlike by his children. In other words, space within the figure
should be thought of as fluid and relational, except, perhaps, at
its extreme parameters. A second reason that positions should not
be thought of as fixed is that the Polynesian concept of mana, which
might loosely be translated as 'potency', involved a notion of inherent
instability, since it was in action that it was manifest and codified
(see Firth 1940). Hence all statuses vis-à-vis one another
were continuously waxing or waning.
The point I wish to make is that this underlying Polynesian cultural
logic unfolded differently in different societies, depending upon
historical circumstances. In those archipelagos containing large
islands and substantial populations, where lineality was unrestrained
by pragmatic circumstances favouring local autonomy, these principles
were carried to their logical extremes. Genealogies were traced back
to creator gods, and high chiefs were distanced from commoners both
physically and socially to the point where their mystification approximated
that of high gods. As a class they were so far removed from the realm
of the people that their significant relationships were confined
to each other and to the gods. The myths from these societies reflect
this situation. In Rotuma, however, which is an isolated island of
rather small size (43 square kilometers) and a medium-sized population,
pragmatic constraints favoured local autonomy and set limits on the
degree to which chiefs could be differentiated from the people. Genealogies
were shallow and distancing was difficult both physically, because
of the small size of the island, and socially, because the population
was too small to facilitate a distinct breeding population of chiefs,
keeping kinship distance within boundaries. As a result Rotuman chiefs
were not in a strong position to be either elevated in rank or mystified
to a level approximating gods. Conceptually they were much closer
to the people, and this presented the problems that Rotuman myths
Further comparative analysis should help to clarify the way in which
cultural logic interacted with particular environments to produce
the variety of political structures in the Polynesian culture area.
In such an endeavour the analysis of myth can be expected to play
a central role.
This paper was inspired by participation in a seminar on Polynesian
chieftainship held at the University of Hawaii during the Spring
of 1981. All participants in the seminar contributed to the interpretations
presented in this paper, but I am especially indebted to Marshall
Sahlins, whose work on Fijian and Hawaiian cultures provided the
theoretical framework for discussion. He supplied a detailed critique
of a first draft of this paper and I have revised accordingly. I
am also grateful to Jacob Bilmes, David Hanlon, John Kirkpatrick
and Bradd Shore, each of whom provided insightful criticism.
1 For background on Rotuman history and ethnography
consult Gardiner 1898; Howard 1966, 1970. [back
2 Even this agreement is called into question,
however, by one of Hocart's informants who referred to a time when
there was only one eligible person in Rotuma, the legendary Fonmon.
He was supposed to have impregnated ambitious women from around the
island, making their offspring eligible. The informant added, however,
that sometimes and individual was appointed as a result of hard work
(Hocart n.d.). That a person might conceivably be appointed sau for
achievement is also hinted at in several myths. [back
3 Where there are multiple versions of the same
name used in different accounts I have included alternative representations
in parentheses at strategic points. Throughout this paper I use Churchward's
orthography except when quoting directly from another source. He
offers the following guide to pronunciation, using English equivalents:
a as in clam, but shorter, unless written a; a as in want; a as in
cat; ä as in fan; e as in bet; f as in fish; g as ng in sing;
h as in heart; i as in sit; j as tch in pitch; k as in rake; l as
in laugh; m as in mask; n as in nine; o as in obey; ö pronounced
in German, somewhat like er in her; p pronounced as in English, but
blunted somewhat towards b; r pronounced with a slight trill; s between
English s and sh; t pronounced strictly dental, the tip of the tongue
being pressed against the back of the top teeth; u as in put; ü pronounced
as in German (this sound may be approximated by endeavouring to pronounce
ee in see, with the lips rounded); v as in vat; when v falls at the
end of a word, particularly following an a, it is often imperfectly
articulated and sounds like o; ' glottal stop (Churchward 1940, Part
II). [back to text]
4 Trouillet's account, in French, was never published
and his journals were transported to the Vatican archives just before
my arrival in 1960. Fortunately, however, copies were made by Gordon
MacGregor, an anthropologist who visited the island in 1932, and
by H.S. Evan, and Englishman who served as District Officer on Rotuma
from 1949-1952. [back to text]
5 Hocart collected texts in Rotuman but these
were neither translated nor published; they remain in his collection
of field notes at the Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. [back
6 This is a metathesised form of the complete
phase of the word, which is fäega (see Churchward 1940:189). [back
7 This is not to deny that some analysts (e.g.,
Freudians) pay attention to analogic properties of codes when interpreting
myth. [back to text]
8 My assumption is that proper names used in
Rotuman myths condense a range of associated meanings in much the
same way that dream symbolism does. Without the opportunity to elicit
association we are unable to decipher all but the most obvious meanings. [back
9 I am following the usage of Keesing (n.d.),
who suggests we gloss the term mana as 'potency' rather than 'power'
since the stative form fails to capture the dynamic nature of the
concept. [back to text]
10 Neither the concept of "Samoa" not "Tonga" should
be interpreted as simply a reference to the corresponding geographical
entities. A full examination of their usage suggests a more complex
semantic structure. "Savai'i" or Savaiki" are often substituted for "Samoa" in
the myths, these being cognate forms for the generic Polynesian "homeland".
I suspect that they represent traditional usage, and that only after
European contact were they replaced by "Samoa" (the island of Savai'i
being identified by Europeans as part of the Samoan archipelago).
The term "Tonga" seems to be a generic term referring to a mythical,
or quasi-mythical, source of supernatural potency. In some narratives "Tonga" is
located beneath the earth or sea. The word is also used as a adjective
in reference to the south-east trade wind. [back
11 There are several terms in Rotuman that can
be glossed as 'chief', none of which are clear equivalents. The problem
is that 'chief' condenses various aspect of rank which Rotuman differentiates
them. [back to text]
12 The notes following each segment of text are
Churchward's, as is the numbering of sentences. Only those of Churchward's
notations that pertain to translation are included; additional notes
refer to points of grammar in the Rotuman text. [back
13 Rotuman myth uses a geographical code based
on the east-west distinction. East is associated with chieftainship,
and particularly with conquering chiefs who come from abroad, while
west is associated with the indigenous people. Within Rotuma the
geographical code is based on a division of the island into three
segments along the east-west axis, and a north-south division. The
island is divided into two main parts, joined by an isthmus of sand,
forming a configuration of about 13 kilometres long and at its widest
nearly 5 kilometres across, with its lengthwise axis running almost
due east and west. That portion of the land to the east of the isthmus
is called Fa'u 'Back' and is strongly associated with the indigenous
people. This contrasts with the remainder of the island, which is
termed mua 'Front'. (The west end of
the island is also referred to as sio 'down', the east end as se'e
'up'.) The eastern segment is further divided into an end and middle
section. The end section includes Oinafa and Noatau, which, being
at the extreme eastern part of the island, is most closely associated
with stranger-chiefs. The mid-section includes Malhaha, Fag'uta and
the portion of Itu'ti'u east of the isthmus. In the myths, contrasts
between the extremities of the island (e.g., between Oinafa/Noatau
and Fa'u) imply strong opposition; contrasts between either end and
the mid-section a somewhat weaker form. Another opposition is between
north and south, north being associated with chieftainship, south
with common status. Whereas east is used to signify externally derived
chieftainship, north is a marker for indigenously derived chiefs
(see Howard in press). [back to text]
14 The equation of pig = human sacrificial cannibal
victim is explicit in the myth of Möstoto (Churchward 1939:462-9).
The red colour of the variety of bananas referred to (prmea) is apparently
associated with blood, making this, too, a "blood sacrifice." [back
15 If we assume, in a Freudian vein, that associated
words add semantic value to a condensed symbol (see
note 8), it is likely that the word mama (with a lengthened final
vowel) is implied as well. It translates as 'without clothes, in
a state of nakedness', or alternatively (in 'a mama) 'to eat meat
or fish, etc., without vegetables or with very little vegetable food'
(Churchward 1940:258). Both imply a god-like state. [back
16 Further speculation with these names is possible
but would involve skating on thin ice. For example, Nujmaga translates
as 'Big mouth', Nujka'u as 'Little mouth' (more properly 'a mouth
distorted by yaws') (Churchward 1939:330fn.). The latter might be
a euphemism for 'anus', suggesting a contrastive set based on:
If one wanted to push the argument one could find supporting evidence
in the names of Raho's sisters: the eldest = mama + e + re = 'maker
of chewed food', the youngest = mama + fia'rere = 'chewed food +
'to squat' (hence to defecate?). The middle sister's name, Mamahioväre,
implies uselessness or barrenness: hio = 'an ancient dance' + väre
= 'worthless'. Tempting as such speculations may be, it would be
extending interpretive licence a bit far to accept them at face value.
In fact, alternative roots could be postulated with quite different
results. [back to text]
17 In Rotuma, as in other Polynesian societies,
consanguineal kinsmen as conceived as sharing the same substance
both through common descent and through sharing food from the same
ancestral lands. [back to text]
18 In some versions of the myth the sun is explicitly
identified as progenitor. [back to text]
19 This should not be construed as a literal
reference to the Tongan archipelago, but rather to a mythical source
of supernatural potency (see note 10). Tü'toga thus implies
enormous power. The concept is also used in reference to 'food grown
on a strip of gardening land, going right across a number of adjacent
gardens, and set aside as sacred to a high chief' (Churchward 1940:338). [back
20 This interpretation is based on the notion
that, although sisters have superior status over their brothers in
the tradition of Western Polynesia (as manifest in the superior status
of Raho's sisters), women as wives, i.e., childbearers, are of inferior,
common status. Maiva, as a half-sibling, is in a somewhat anomalous
position. The myth uses this anomaly as a basis for furthering the
theme of differentiation (see Ortner 1981, Shore 1981 for an explication
of the symbolic significance of woman as sister versus woman as childbearer). [back
21 As in the Oedipus myth a deformed foot suggests
association with the earth, with incomplete differentiation from
it. Symbolically this "roots' Maiva to the land as opposed to the
sky. [back to text]
22 Alofi is a small island adjacent to Futuna.
As the smaller of a pair of islands it nicely symbolises the inferior
half of an implied opposition. [back to text]
23 There is more to the kava incident than this,
of course. The initial kava, which is given anthropomorphic characteristics,
forsakes Raho for an unnamed female chief (sauhani =
female sau). This seems to call into
question Raho's primacy and points to the prior association of the
female principle with the people of the land. Raho, being male, might
only be a second order symbol. [back to text]
24 Concerning the interpretation of this chant
"The language is antique, and now nearly forgotten; I could get
no translation to the last two lines. The third and fourth lines
are repeated with the names for all the fruits substituted for the
ifi and fava; uktrua is supposed to mean that it is finished. All
carry during the ceremony a stick, the poki; it is held over the
head with both hands and moved rhythmically to and fro with the singing.
The garagsou was explained to me as the head of Limari, the abode
of departed spirits, and also as the god of the winds, rain, and
sun, but Marafu identified him as being the same as Tagaloa Siria [the
highest god] (Gardiner 1898:465). [back
25 The notion of "stranger chiefs", (i.e., individuals
who either in fact or symbolically come from outside to reconstitute
the social order) has been compellingly developed by Sahlins for
Fiji (see Sahlins 1981b). [back to text]
26 For a more extensive account of succession
see Howard 1964. [back to text]
27 Although I have presented the case in temporal
terms, the issue is one of cultural logic rather than history. There
is no imputation of chronology intended. [back
28 The population declined from an estimated
3000-5000 at contact to fewer than 2000 in the early part of the
20th century (see Howard 1979). [back to text]
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