Rotuman Culture: An overview
Rotuman culture is a variation of Western Polynesian cultures, showing heavy influences from Tonga, Samoa, Futuna, Uvea, and more recently, from Fiji. Social life on Rotuma is based in kinship relationships and a strong emphasis on communal sharing, although this value has come under threat by an increasingly money-based economy. The Rotuman term for kinship, kainaga, in its most general sense, denotes common membership in a class. It is used to describe animal and plant species, as well as human kinship, and applies to personal kindreds that function during life-crisis ceremonies (e.g., the bride's relatives), as well as to descent-based land holding units. Kin terms are essentially of the Hawaiian type (with minimal distinctions within generations). Descent is bilineal.
Infants and children are cared for by both parents, by grandparents, and by elder siblings. Children circulate freely between households in their vicinity, and are not excluded from adult-centered events. Value emphases are placed on sharing, cooperation, and respecting the autonomy of others.
The vast majority of households in Rotuma maintain gardens which supply their staples (taro, yams, tapioca, breadfruit and bananas). Pineapples, papaya, mangoes, watermelon and oranges are also grown in abundance to supplement the diet. The island is exceptionally fertile and food is generally plentiful. The main implements in gardening are the bush knife, for clearing land, and the dibble stick, which is used to make holes in the earth for planting root crops. Rotation of crops is the common pattern; typically yams are planted the first season, followed by taro and then by tapioca and banana trees. Although only a few men engage in deep-sea fishing, the fringing reef that surrounds the island is widely exploited for a variety of fish, octopus, crustaceans and edible seaweed. Chicken, canned corned beef and canned mackerel supplement the daily diet, while cattle, goats and pigs are consumed on special occasions such as weddings, funerals, and welcoming ceremonies.
On formal occasions titled men, and dignitaries such as ministers and priests, government officials and distinguished visitors, occupy a place of honor. They are ceremonially served kava to drink, and are served food from special baskets. In the daily routine of village life, however, they are not especially privileged. As yet no significant class distinctions based on wealth or control of resources have emerged, but investments in elaborate housing and motor vehicles by a few families have led to visible differences in standard of living.
Social control is maintained by a strong socialization emphasis on social responsibility and a sensitivity to shaming. Gossip serves as a mechanism for sanctioning deviation, but the most powerful deterrent to anti-social behavior is an abiding belief in immanent justice--that ancestral spirits will punish wrongdoing. Rotumans are a gentle people; violence is extremely rare and serious crime is nearly nonexistent.
Rotumans have earned a reputation for diligence, responsibility and hard work. They have achieved extraordinary success within the education system of Fiji and are considerably over-represented in professional, managerial and skilled occupations within Fiji.