Kato'aga: Rotuman Ceremonies

by Elizabeth K. Inia

Table of Contents


Part 1: Components of Ceremony

'Epa, Apei, and Päega: Ceremonial Mats
Koua: Earth Ovens
'Umefe: Chiefly Tables
Tefui: Garlands
Lolo: Anointing Oil
Mena: Turmeric
Mafua: Knowledgeable Elders
Fumarä'e: The Man in Charge
Etiquette and Manners
Numbers and Measurements

Part 2: Ceremonies

Death and Funerals
Birth Rituals
First Birthday
Hapagsu: Recurrence Prevention
Majau: The Power to Heal
Ag Forau: Farewell to Travellers
Mamasa: Welcoming Ceremonies
Installation of a Chief
Homage to Chiefs
Koua Puha
Ancient Marriage Rituals
Modern Marriage Customs

Rotuman Indigenous Spirituality


By their very nature, ceremonies are repetitive. They are composed of ritual elements that are particularly meaningful to people, and the most important of these elements appear in a wide variety of ceremonial contexts. In Rotuman custom, for example, certain material goods—'epa (mats), and particularly apei (fine white mats); koua (food cooked in a earth oven); 'umefe (chiefly tables); tefui (garlands); lolo (anointing oil); and mena (turmeric)—are, or once were (in the case of mena), components of nearly every important ceremony performed on Rotuma. To underscore their significance, I have chosen to describe their meaning and/or the process of producing them separately. If readers are aware of their importance in Rotuman culture, and the work that goes into producing them, they will better appreciate the performance of the ceremonies themselves.

Likewise, certain roles are key in nearly every ceremony, such as that of mafua (knowledgeable elder), fumarä'e (village ceremonial leader) and chief. Mafua act as ritual leaders who guide ceremonies through their various stages; fumarä'e take charge of major ceremonies conducted in their village; and chiefs lend dignity to ceremonies by their very presence. Chiefs are central to the fabric of Rotuman society, and to give readers a better understanding of their importance in ceremonies, I present a section on hierarchy in Rotuman culture.

Other aspects of Rotuman culture essential to the performance of ceremonies include proper etiquette and the system of counting different items. I have chosen to present them in this section because one needs this kind of general knowledge to conduct ceremonies properly.

In some respects, the most important cultural information concerning Rotuman ceremonies is the role that spirits were once thought to play. Many of the rituals performed at kato'aga (festival gatherings) were originally communications with ancestral spirits or high gods. I have therefore decided to include, as an appendix, an essay on Rotuman spirituality that I prepared for the World Indigenous Peoples' Conference on Education in Hilo, Hawai'i, in August 1999.

To Ceremonial Mats