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The 2006 coup in Fiji has raised the question of whether or not Rotuma should strive to become independent. Below is a commentary by Joseph Penjueli concerning the feasibility of Rotuman independence from Fiji at this time. For a previous discussion of this issue, see Forum #3, Rotuman Independence.

The word independence means "a state of being free and not being controlled by another country." Now, are we talking about independence for Rotumans who live on the island or are we talking about independence for Rotumans as a race. For Rotumans on the island, I would say that from a technical viewpoint the island is already independent. We have a council comprised of Rotuman chiefs and district nominees who manage the island and decide what is best for those who live on the island. However, from a legal viewpoint, the island is a dependent on Fiji and therefore the laws of Fiji apply to the island as well.

If the question of independence is to be applied to Rotumans as a race, then that is a different matter altogether.

According to population figures from the 1996 census, the Rotuman population in general was 9,727. The numbers who lived on the island was 2,580. The report further states that about 73% of Rotumans, about 6,000, are scattered throughout Fiji and the remainder, between 500 – 1000, live abroad. The figures are not current and may have increased.

Lets look at the Rotuma situation from a hypothetical standpoint. I have chosen the island state of Tuvalu as an example.

Tuvalu’s land size is 26sq km. The population of Tuvalu is 10,000 people. Tuvalu’s biggest problem is its remoteness and the lack of proper infrastructure. The economy is dependant on the copra industry and fishing licenses, both of which are unstable. Fewer than 1000 tourists visit Tuvalu annually. Government revenue largely comes from the sale of stamps and coins.

The government is dependent on an annual income that comes from an international trust fund established by Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Tuvalu also receives income from a fisheries treaty signed with the US.

In 1998 Tuvalu started receiving royalties from its Area Code for “900” lines, and in 2000 from the lease of its .tv internet domain name.

In 1998 Tuvalu’s exports were AUD 270, 000 compared to over AUD 7 million imports. Tuvalu’s exports are a fraction of what it imports. Continued reliance is placed on fishing, Telecom license fees, and remittances from workers overseas and income from overseas assets.

Global warming is a big problem for the low-lying atolls that make up Tuvalu.

The Rotuman Situation

The majority of Rotumans live in Fiji -- about 73%, maybe more. They own homes and land. Some of them have their own farms in Fiji. In Fiji we have affordable schooling and health care. What would happen to them if Rotuma became independent?

Rotuma is about 43sq km. Do we have enough land for Rotumans wanting to return to the island, or in a worse case situation, for those forced to return or relocate somewhere?

How would we develop the island and encourage investment and grow the economy? Can the Rotuman economy sustain a new Rotuman government and pay for the governmental infrastructure, let alone pay for public services, or would we be dependent on handouts from friendly countries?

Land disputes and ownership problems would need to be resolved or it would discourage investment and growth.

Rotumans work well as individuals, but can we work together as a united people? We don’t have anything tangible to show for working together. The island does not have a boat that it can call its own because the districts can’t work together.


Fiji has helped Rotumans a lot when we think in terms of our numbers, contributions and where the majority of Rotumans live today. We can’t have our cake and eat it at the same time.

The rights of Rotumans have never been curtailed in Fiji. As a minority race of about 2%, I believe we have equal opportunity in Fiji.

The Tuvalu experience is an example of the difficulties we Rotumans would face if we became an independent state. Trust funds and treaties don’t last forever and treaties expire at some point in time.

If Rotumans want an independent state, then we should start showing signs of a people who are truly united and able to work together for our common good, because at present our divisions are pulling us apart.

Joseph Penjueli

Submitted 31 December 2006

From Vanessa Charters, North Yorkshire, United Kingdom


Rotuma has yet to give its formal answer to the interim regime of Fiji on their proposed charter devised by the National Council for Building a Better Fiji.

I for one hope and pray that our people and our leaders do not support the charter, the NCBBF or the interim regime.

For a military junta that imposed itself on the premise of championing accountability and transparency, and fighting corruption, this regime has proved itself time and again to be anything but accountable and transparent. They continually thwart free speech, the media and their critics. They invest far less energy into fighting corruption than they do in besmirching the elected SDL government.

I am very interested to know what other Rotumans, in Fiji, in Rotuma and overseas, think about this situation.

Because it is very dangerous for people in Fiji to identify themselves if they are speaking out against the regime (remember the crackdown on bloggers and activitists in Suva?), please feel free to email me directly on if you are uncomfortable in airing your honest view here.


Submitted 12 May 2008


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