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

äfe     liver

ag forau     entertaining and providing food for travellers before theyleave on a voyage

agrua     large pandanus mat (two fathoms wide)

ag su     entertaining (by performing dances) on the wedding day

ag 'inoso     entertaining and providing food for the bride and groom

ala     to die; death; a dead person

apei     finely woven white pandanus mat

apei'aki     to carry on the palms of the hands

arag ko     the hind leg of a cooked pig

aroagvaka     canopied canoe; symbolically, the death of chiefly person

av mane'a     period of play and relaxation during the hottest months (December and January)

a'aragi     one of two koua provided by the bride's family, in a betrothal ceremony or after the wedding, to accompany the couple when they visit the groom's home (literally, to get fresh air); also called haiho'aga (literally, to go about as a talebearer)

a'au     the koua that follows the groom on the wedding day, brought after the koua ne a'vahiag su ta as a kind of request that the couple return in a couple of day's time (literally, to follow); also called asi (see koua ne asi)

a'ofi      ritual conducted at the place where someone fell and was injured, to hasten recovery and prevent recurrence

a'ran maka     public performance of songs and dances that have been long rehearsed

a'vahiag su ta koua     served at conclusion of wedding festivities

fai ran ta     appoint the day [for the wedding]

fakasoko koua     prepared by the groom's side and presented to acknowledge the consummation of the marriage; see also kao filo'u

fakpeje     ceremonial poem

fakperperu     to call repeatedly on spirits of the deceased

fakpou     ceremonial carrying of bride on a bier at a wedding (literally, like a mast [of a ship])

fakmanuka     roof-supporting timbers; ridgepole

fakti'toga     chiefly allotment of puha, taro, yams, etc

fao a'a     feast cooked in a koua the night before a chiefly or government meeting, hosted in turn (a'a) by each district

fao te     food cooked in a koua and kept overnight for use the next day; also, day of preparation just before the wedding day

fa puer su     man who organizes the men's preparations for a wedding (food contributions, koua, etc)

farao     floor mats; all agrua mats collectively

faufisi     second highest ranking chief in a district

fau     ceremony in which bride and groom are wrapped in white mats

faua     ridge or crease of mat; also, ridge of house

fau fono     apei and 'epa given to thank chief after funeral feast (literally, cover the basket of food)

fau mua     to carry something (such as two pairs of coconuts, a bunch of bananas) in front on a carrying pole,to balance what is carried behind (such as a basket of food)

fau ne ut ta     'epa and apei that cover the utu of the groom at a wedding

fau so'ag henu    to cover a heap of coconut husks

fa 'es ho'aga     village chief

fa 'es itu'u    district chief

fa' as ta     posting the banns for a marriage (literally, write the names)

fa'u     back (fa' heta)

fekei     pudding made from a starch, coconut cream, and sugar

fekei kopu     green coconut-leaf baskets ('af jarava) containing 10–50 fekei with two pieces of coconut leaves about 3 feet long plaited on both sides to make a small tent over the basket; the top is decorated with things like feathers, taro leaves, shark fins, to indicate what the basket contains

fia' he     small kava root

filo' ne la' ta     head (filo'u) of the procession of those who attend a ceremony as a group (la'o); also, the apei they carry

finäe     intestines

fiso'a     old-style grave, made of four slabs of stone laid on their sides in pairs to make a rectangle, and filled with sand

fit'ak te     spreading the apei in front of the 'a su, the chiefs, and the bridal couple, at a wedding

foar su     public announcement of a wedding

fono     basket of baked food given to a chief as his share at a feast

forag'efe     feast to announce (fora) pregnancy ('efe)

fuag ri     named house site

fuarei     type of shallow coconut-leaf basket (la) made of two layers, used for funerals

fua'a     type of shallow coconut-leaf basket (la) with single-layer construction

fugaroto     lidless coffin shaped like a canoe

fui     single piece of a garland (tefui); also called sarsaru

fujia     a ring made from a ji leaf curled around and fastened

fumarä'e     village ceremonial leader

fu'u     marriage resulting from the boy's just going to stay at the girl's home (literally, to stay)

gagaj häl ta     group of chiefs

gagaj 'es itu'u     district chief

haian ne kava     women who prepare and serve the ceremonial kava

halava     large coconut shell used as a water bottle

häle     section of thatched roof formed by two split sago-palm branches tied together

han agai     woman who accompanies the kava preparer and pours the water into the kava bowl; she sits opposite (agai) the han ho kava

han ho kava     woman who prepares the kava

han mane'ak su     female clown at a wedding

han puer su     woman who organizes the women's preparations for a wedding (production of mats, etc)

hapagsu     feast given after certain illnesses, head wounds, imprisonment, or eating of forbidden food

hasu     gall bladder

hata     kind of pandanus; also, wooden bier

hau     kind of tree (Hibiscus tiliaceus)

ha' fali     wraparound, sulu, lavalava (from ha'u [clothes] and fali [to wear around the waist])

hefau     kind of hardwood tree (Calophyllum inophyllum)

he' 'atua     ritual invoking the spirits of a place

he'jia     to sneeze

ho ta     process for production of turmeric powder (mena) (literally, squeeze, wring)

hoa' rogo     to tell tales (literally, to carry reports or news)

hofak'aki 'umefe     to turn the chiefly table ('umefe) upside down, when a chief gives up his title or dies

höt'ak hafu     ceremony for erecting a headstone over a grave

ho'aga     clusters of households forming cooperating work groups

hula     coil of pandanus leaves prepared for mat-making; hual fisi (lighter leaves), hual kele (darker leaves)

hül asa     ceremony for installing a chiefly title (literally, turn over the name); same as hül 'umefe

hül 'umefe     ceremony for installing a chiefly title (literally, turn the table over [right side up])

ipu     coconut-shell drinking cups

is käkä'e     fine white mat that a woman has made completely by herself (literally, fingertips)

iat'ak se 'a su ta     showing the 'a su the best apei, which will be given to the 'a su at a later time

i'akiag ser heta     thrusting a knife into the cooked hind leg of a pig (arag ko), before using the knife to cut off the pig's head (literally, wiping the knife)

ji     kind of ornamental shrub (dracaena)

jio     fringes on the lowest end of the tefui

jöl niu     feast at installation of a new district chief (literally, pick coconuts)

kafa     to strike; to clap; also, a blow

kaf faksara     type of clapping with the middle finger of one hand bent toward the palm, making a distinctive sound

kafra     stem of kava plant

kainaga     descent group

kakepo     logs or stones placed around an earth oven for support

kakauag ta     one of two apei plaited by a new mother's mother, for her daughter's first bath after giving birth (kakau means to bathe); also called mä'lea

kakau sasi     to bathe in the sea

kao filo'u     ceremonial hitting of heads of close male relatives of the groom, to bloody them in recognition of the shedding of the bride's virginal blood

kato'aga     ceremony, festive gathering, festival, public celebration (usually including a feast)

kau fa     relatives of the groom; the groom's party when approaching the wedding site

kau hani     relatives of the bride

kava     kind of shrub (Piper mythisticum) from the roots of which a stimulating beverage is prepared; or the drink itself

kav hu fa' hatat     a full-sized kava plant presented at a ceremony, carried by two men

kav hu he     small kava plant with leaves still on, presented as a ceremonial gift along with a koua

kav hu suep     small kava plant with leaves and heta branches cut off, carried by one man in front of the procession of men carrying baskets of food, etc, in the groom's la'o

kav hu toso     huge kava plant tied up with torau (the new, white leaves of a coconut tree), carried by four men

kav putu     kava-drinking ceremony held for four evenings after a funeral, as part of the mourning ritual

ki     war chant

kivei     stick with end shaped like an enlarged barb, used for spreading the hot stones in the koua puha

kohea     cookhouse or kitchen

kohea so'a     cookhouse of a district chief (metaphorically, those who look after and feed the chief)

kokona     hanging shelf

kokono     disappointed or sad

kori     kind of shrub (Syzygium neurocalyx) with odiferous fruit used for making tefui

koua     earth oven; also, the meal cooked in such an oven

koua fahua     stage of preparing an earth oven in which lava stones have been piled over a mound of wood, ready for lighting (fahu)

koua hue'kia     stage when an earth oven is opened up (hu'e)

koua laloag ne su ta     main meal at the wedding

koua lifo'ia     stage when an earth oven has been covered (lifo'i) with leaves, old mats, and earth or sand, to retain the heat

koua mal'ia     stage of preparing an earth oven in which the cooking stones are red hot (mala)

koua mo' hani     meal baked in an earth oven presented to the girl's family by the boy's side to acknowledge agreement to a marriage when the couple come of age

koua ne asi     meal baked in an earth oven and brought by the groom's people to the newlywed couple, after the last wedding meal; the koua ne as ta signifies that the groom has the right to take his bride to his home in a few days' time (see a'au)

koua ne mose     meal baked in an earth oven and taken with the bridal couple to her home prior to the couple's sleeping together (mose)

koua puha     ceremonial baking of the roots of the ji (dracaena) in a large earth oven

koua 'afa     baked food in a green coconut leaf basket, which should include three starchy corms, two fekei, and two or three 'i'ini (pork, chicken, tins of meat, etc); it is sometimes simply called 'afa when presented to a mafua or the kava servers; when presented to a chief it is called fono

kuruga     wooden headrest, pillow

la     type of shallow basket made of coconut leaves

lag hao     taro garden planted (hao) in preparation (laga) for the feast of a first-born

la' kalu     to roam around the village (literally, to go round and round)

la'o     group of kin who participate in a ceremony as a unit; also, the gifts they bring

lei     small stone placed as a tombstone on grave of a child or young person; also, shaped whale's tooth worn as a pendant

lepa     leaves of the sa'a tree (Macaranga sp)

lol kapui     coconut oil (lolo) to which ginger leaves have been added (used for scabies or itchiness)

lolo     coconut oil

mafua     knowledgeable elder

mafuaga apei     plaited by the husband's and wife's mothers in preparation for the birth of the first grandchild

maimai     withered

mairo     kind of sweet-smelling plant (Alyxia stellata)

majau     craftsman, expert, traditional healer

makpurou     large slab of stone placed on top of grave

maliha     kind of white lily (amaryllis)

mamasa     ceremonial feast for people after a sea voyage, usually on their first visit or their first return after being away from the island (literally, to dry after bathing); also, the apei given to the district chief and his 'a su after a wedding

mamiag forau     ceremonial anointing of travellers

mamiag hafu     ceremonial anointing of headstone

mana     spiritual power or efficacy

manu'uag ne kava     symbolic stabbing of kava roots to begin kava ceremony

marä'e     open space in the middle of a village; ceremonial ground

ma'piga     grandchild; grandparent

mena     orange powder made from the rhizome of the turmeric plant (Curcuma longa) by baking in a koua; also, this powder mixed with coconut oil (lolo)

mosega     descent kin groups with rights to a title eligible for district chief; also, bed

moseag hoa'ho'a     travelling bed; also called moseag la'la'o

moskoi     kind of tree (Cananga odorata) with greenish-yellow flowers

mua     front

na 'inoso     sending the newlywed couple to the groom's home for a time before they return to live in the bride's home

nini     to anoint with oil, or to paint or smear with turmeric powder (mena), as in nin su, nin fau, nin sau, etc

no'o     midrib of coconut leaflet

nuj koua     pit dug in ground for earth oven

nukfetau     type of fan; also called nu'fetau

oat ha     complete sago palm (ota) branch, with leaf and stem

osi     set of new clothes (formerly, apei) for the honoree(s) in a ceremony such as a wedding, mamasa, or höt'ak hafu

oso     provisions for a journey

ota     leaves of the sago palm (Metroxylon warburgii)

pa     concrete platform over a grave, on which a headstone is placed

paag ri     cloth for decorating the ceremonial shelter at a wedding (literally, putting up the walls of the house)

päe fakhani     to sit in the (proper) manner of women

päega     seat of mats prepared for the central honorees in certain ceremonies

papai     kind of taro (Cyrtosperma chamissonis Schott)

parmea     kind of banana plant

pas ne kava     distribution of the kava root pieces at a feast

paufu     the male tree of the Pandanus tectorius, Parkinson

pen tot mafa     a certain smell that comes in with the tide at night, considered an omen of death; refers to the smell of sea worms (paroro); during October and November, they emit the smell of blood (toto), which is blown to shore by sea breezes

pirorogo     old-style gourd bottles

pitoi     stuffing (inside an animal or fish, as for cooking)

potea     first batch of scented coconut oil

puha     sweet tuberous root of the ji plant (dracaena)

pure     chiefly authority; household head; steward of family-held land

purotu     song composer or song leader

putu     mourning period after a death

pu'ak veko     to give the first taro from a village garden to the owner of the land

raga     turmeric plant (Curcuma longa)

ragkari     kind of tree (Aglaia sp) with very small, brown, sweet-smelling flowers

rag sa'aga     to split (raga) pandanas leaves (sa'aga) flatwise, tearing off and rejecting the back of the leaf, preparatory to making apei

ran fa'i     day of birth

rau tapariro     young leaves of parmea

rau 'ikou     live pig that is tied next to the raw taro from the groom's garden (utu) at a wedding (literally, taro leaves [the pig is a substitute for the taro leaves normally eaten with the taro])

ra'u     at a wedding, the two women supporters who sit behind the bride and groom to assist them (literally, to carry in the arms)

re muri     to perform concluding session with a patient of a traditional healer (majau)

reureu     kind of tapa cloth, thinner and softer than 'uha

ri hapa     temporary shelter

ri mosega     sleeping house

roki     end of traditional Rotuman house

rotu     Christianity

saio' su ta     occasion on which the district chief is informed of the wedding date, obligating him to bring his 'a su and a koua

sal hapa     major kin groups of the bride and groom; also, the contributions given by those groups

sala'a apei     that has already been slept on or walked on

samtutuki     double-hulled canoe

sarao     to heal by massage

sarsaru     fui; single piece of a garland (tefui)

sau     ceremonial position representing all of Rotuma in ritual intercession with the gods, often glossed simply as 'king'

sa'a     kind of tree (Macaraga spp.) with very large leaves (called lepa)

sa'aga     kind of pandanus; an unfinished apei

sa'aitu     company of spirits of chiefs and all men who were uncircumcised during their lifetime

sa'tui     mat or tray made of interlaced coconut leaves, sometimes used for carrying pigs

sigoa     namesake

sok fäega     formal negotiations for a marriage, usually followed by a traditional wedding

sope     plait of hair hanging on either side of a girl's head; formerly, this was a sign she was unmarried

sor majau     ritual for passing healing power from one generation to the next; to soro someone's forearm when giving her or him the power to sarao

soro     to rub, to wash the hands

sua     songs to which dances are performed

suasua     large, round wooden bowl for mixing fekei

süf hani     occasion on which the boy's side formally goes to the girl's family to ask for her hand in marriage

sui putu     ceremony to end the mourning restrictions

surne'aitu     reincarnated spirits or souls of people who were exceptionally beautiful and lived clean lives on earth

sur'aitu     company formed by spirits of women who died in childbirth

sur'atua     to be entered by a spirit; spirit possession

su'ura     residence of a sau; also, temple

taf'aga     large canoe

taga apei     used as a container to envelope the rest of the apei presented by relatives at a wedding (literally, bag or envelope)

tähroro     tangy cooking sauce made from fermented coconut and salt water

takai     ritual for returning widow to her parental home after the death of her spouse

taktak'aki     feast or meal given as soon as possible after the birth of the first-born child; customarily the first-born child is not allowed to be laid down (taka), but must be nursed, until this feast is given

tali     to plait, twist

tama     scraper used to grate the turmeric (raga) rhizomes

tamura     cemetery

tano'a     wooden bowl for mixing kava

täntäne     kind of bush (Polyscias sp) with leaves that are bleached for use as adornment or in garlands (tefui)

tar 'inoso     formerly, gathering at which close relatives discussed plans for a wedding (literally, wait for the couple)

tata     wooden scoop

tauga     closely woven flat-bottom baskets about a foot deep, used mostly for food

taumaka     to rehearse; rehearsal

taupiri     elopement, when the girl just goes to stay at the boy's home (literally, to follow)

tautoga     set of Rotuman group dances

tautei     fish-drive leader; head fisherman in a district

tau'a     sticky substance made from the rhizomes of the turmeric plant (raga), so called after the yellow froth (mena) is removed

te fakhanisi     gift

tefui     garland hung around the neck

tela'a     root-crops; food

telulu     fish or meat wrapped in a certain way with leaves

temafa     fruit and vegetables eaten raw, such as melon, pineapple, sugar-cane, cucumber (literally, green or uncooked things)

tepogi     portion of mena belonging to each man who participates in its production (literally, nightly thing)

temo     chant sung only by men

teran lima     ceremony on the fifth day following a death or the conclusion of a traditional healer's therapy

teran ne su ta     day of the wedding

te'eita     portion of feast for the chief

titi     leaf skirt

toftofo     to summon the spirit of a deceased person

tofua     wide waistband of woven strips of pandanus (sa'aga) leaves from which long strips are suspended

toko     subchief (literally, support)

tökrau     type of fan, used in kitchen

tonu     district messenger or herald

torau     new, white leaves of a coconut tree

to'ak 'aitu     to invoke spirits through a medium; to utter messages from the spirit world

tö'rere     best apei of those given at a wedding feast, presented to the bride's 'a su

tugito     formerly, a lock of hair on either side of the bride's head grown long as a sign she is a virgin; to be cut off only when she is married; see also sope

turo'     excuse [me]

tukuag 'omoe     the offering of food to the chief at the end of the year asking for his blessings on the people's gardens, poultry, and piggeries; nowadays people often take money instead

tupu'a     spirits that entered stones or other natural features of the landscape

tu'ura     spirit medium; or a spirit that takes up its abode in the body of a bird or an animal

uarepa     spirits of prematurely born babies or miscarriages

ui käkä'e     to whistle shrilly using the fingers (käkä'e) in the mouth

unu sennitutu     raw taro from the groom's garden; with a live pig, the groom's side presents this at a wedding as food for the period when the couple stays at the bride's home

u'u     close relatives who can be relied on to provide food and mats for a family member's wedding

vasvasi     kind of indigenous tree (Sterculia fanaiho Setchell)

vek ne hanua     village garden

'af jarava     basket woven of green coconut leaves; also called 'af jarao, 'ajarava, 'ajarao

'afmamasa     deep, narrow basket for fish (literally, dry basket)

'ai pu'uga     canoe-shaped wooden bowl

'ai ririga     wooden drum (slit-gong)

'Ait Mana     Almighty God

'aitu     god, object of worship'airoto apei made by the bride's mother for use in the ceremonial wrapping (fau), symbolizing the bride's virginity (literally, to cherish in mind, to hope)

'amaho     breakfast

'apea     giant taro (Alocasia macrorrhiza [L.])

'ape'aitu     spirit medium

'ar'ara     rough side of pandanus (sa'aga) leaf, the side that is stripped off and rejected when making white mats (apei)

'asi     kind of cockle shell, much used for scraping purposes

'a su     chief's representative (female) at a wedding (literally, to eat the wedding)

'ata     soul, spirit

'ate     feast; to eat

'at fara     small purse used by bride to carry essentials for wedding night

'atua     spirit, ghost

'atua ho'a     moaning of a spirit

'eap fiti     kind of pandanus imported from Fiji

'eap hapa     small brown pandanus mat, half the size of a 'eap ma 'on faua

'eap hap fiti     small brown pandanus mat made from a kind of pandanus imported from Fiji

'eap ma 'on faua     type of large pandanus mat (literally, mat with a fold)

'epa     brown pandanus mat; also, pandanus leaves prepared for mat-making

'ihauga     shoulder-stick for carrying burdens

'ikou sasi     feast for first-born, named for taro leaves ('ikou) cooked in fermented coconut sauce (tähroro) made with salt water (sasi)

'ilehi     tongs made from the midribs of coconut leaves

'io ru     woman who acts as a nurse to attend ('io) another woman in the pain (ru) of childbirth

'inos af'aki     betrothal contracted by parents on behalf of young children

'inos 'e 'on ava     wedding ceremony between partners who have come of age

'i'ini     meat or its equivalent, eaten as an accompaniment to starchy root-crops, tela'a

'öf sope     ceremonial cutting of bridal couple's hair

'oj'aki     main feast given in honour of a first-born child

'omoe     evening meal

'on te fakgagaja     pig, uncooked starchy roots, and mats provided by the chief for a ceremony

'Oroi     invisible spiritual villages under the sea off the reef that encircles Rotuma

'otai     chiefly dessert made from puha, coconut juice, and flesh of green coconuts

'uha tapa     cloth made from the bark of the mulberry tree

'umefe     small, short-legged tables used at meals by chiefs and honoured guests; metaphorically, a chief

'umef agai     minor chiefly titles