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

Modern Marriage Customs

Sok fäeag ta: The negotiation

A chief or any near relative of the boy goes to the girl's parents to tell them that they wish her to be the wife of the boy they represent. If the parents agree, the süf hani comes next.

Süf han ta: The proposal

This occasion can be initiated with gifts of kava (fia' he) or a koua. Chiefs are required at this stage. The boy's side needs someone to carry the kava or koua, while the chiefs walk in front to the girl's house and enter through the back door. The girl's side prepares breakfast or refreshments. The chiefs and the girl's parents agree on the date of the wedding and how it is to be performed: re faksu, in a grand way including all marriage rituals, or kat re faksu ra, a scaled-down event. The bride-to-be comes into the house to shake hands with the chiefs so that they can see her. Then breakfast is eaten and sometimes the koua from the boy's side is shared.

The boy's party goes back to his parents' place, where his relatives have gathered to wait for the news. The girl's relatives gather at the site of the süf hani. These u'u (close relatives) can be relied on to help make mats and provide food for the wedding. The women on each side discuss the wedding day, and the han puer su chooses who is to produce the various items needed, such as fau mats, 'at fara, farao ta, paag ri, [1] taga, [2] mosquito nets, bedspread, and osi. Many people may be called on to help; some people volunteer without being asked. When the men and women gather again on the day of fao te prior to the wedding day (see no. 6 below), the han puer su announces (marag) which girls and women will fill the various roles during the wedding: servers, kava girls, ra'u (supporters, two women who sit behind the bride and groom to help them), mafua, those who will put up the paag ri, and han mane'ak su. Knowing their roles ahead of time, the girls and women can come prepared on the wedding day with whatever equipment they need (for instance, the servers bring knives, fans, banana leaves, and tea towels).

Likewise, on each side a man known as the fa puer su is in charge of the men's work. He encourages the men to prepare a lot of food; this is especially important for the kau fa (groom's side), because their koua is displayed in front of the ri hapa at the wedding.

During the colonial period, all this discussion took place at another gathering, called the tar 'inoso (waiting for the couple, which took place after fa' as ta; see below). First the couple went to the groom's place and had a feast; then they went to the bride's place for another feast. All the close relatives on each side were invited to the respective tar 'inoso, and they all knew that it meant they had responsibilities for the wedding. Later, a European Resident Commissioner stopped this practice, considering it too expensive.

The people who are doing the work prefer that the bride's parents set the date far in advance, to give them a chance to make their items; this is especially true of the women who plait the mats. The people who come to the süf hani tell their relatives to come with them as sal hapa (one of the bride's or groom's major kin groups) to the fao te; these people are likely to receive mats as thanks after the wedding. If there are not enough mats for all of them, they do not mind because these people are such close relatives.

If the wedding is big, the parents can send the public announcement (foar su) to other relatives who live in distant places. In case of a small wedding, they do not have the foar su, although other people may come if they want to.

Fa' as ta: Posting the banns

Before fa' as ta, the bride and groom must obtain a letter of approval from their respective district chiefs (fa 'es itu'u). They themselves have to go together to each chief for his advice and blessings. The day of the fa' as ta the boy's side prepares a newly sewn set of clothes (osi) for the bride-to-be and a koua for her and her companions. Some female friends or relatives act as chaperones, accompanying her to the government station to wait while the couple register the banns. After posting the banns, they go to the boy's home where the bride is given her osi and changes into the new outfit. [3] The boy's side serves lunch and provides a koua for the girl to take home to her family (a'aragi). Her female friends each take a basket of food ('afa) from the koua back to their own homes.

Fai ran ta: Confirming the date

 The boy's side has to provide a koua of fai rani and take it to the girl's home to confirm the date for the marriage ceremony. The girl's parents have the right to confirm the date agreed to on süf hani day or change the date if they wish. Usually, they confirm the original date.

Saio' su ta: Informing the district chief

The couple's elders approach the fa 'es itu'u to inform him of the date and to ask for his assistance and support (na'ia 'on te fakgagaja). The invitation carries the implicit expectation that he will provide what is expected. Each side goes to their own chief and brings either a koua or money (approximately equivalent to the cost of a pig, depending on how much they can afford). If they bring a koua, a titled person such as their village headman (fa 'es ho'aga) should accompany them and do the talking on their behalf. If they take money instead of koua, they don't need a chief to go with them or to speak on their behalf; under these circumstances they do their own talking. (If they do not saio' su, the chief is very disappointed [kokono] and does not attend the wedding, so it does not conform to proper custom.) The chief knows that on the appointed day (fao te), he has to take something to the kohea as his portion to help (a pig and raw food to be baked in the nuj koua); his wife (or someone else appointed to be the 'a su) goes with a la'o (women bringing an apei and some 'epa).

The pig and raw food the chief provides (his la'o) together with the mats he and his 'a su bring, is called 'on te fakgagaja. In return, the chief (with his wife) receives the best of the apei (called mamasa), mats,[4] and cooked food including a pig (te'eita). (What the family gives the chief is also called 'on te fakgagaja. It is called 'on te fakgagaja in both instances, when given by or to a chief.)

The bride's side carries the best apei in front of all others is the best one, and sets it aside for the 'a su. While this apei is still folded, one of the two women spreading the white mats in front of the 'a su, chiefs, bride, and groom for their inspection, stands up, bows slightly, and extends it in the palms of her hand (iat'aki) for the 'a su to look at. Then the two women spread it out for others to see. They display it first, followed by other white mats, during the fit'ak te (apei display). After they display the white mats, they fold and carry them away, the one for the 'a su being the last folded. This apei is known as the mamasa of the 'a su. The groom's side takes it with other mats and the te'eita to the district chief's home during the preparation of the wedding feast.

In the case of a bridegroom who lives elsewhere, the groom's side sends out the te'eita and mamasa for the 'a su to the chief's place before the groom's party moves to the wedding location. Therefore, at the times of apei display (fit'ak te), the groom's side spreads the apei for inspection as usual, without the special one to be shown to the 'a su (iat'ak).

Fao te: The Day Before the wedding

On the day before the wedding (fao te), the couple's relatives bring mats, raw food, and all the other items agreed on at the süf hani to the parents of the bride and groom. The various sal hapa (or la'o) come with their gifts early in the morning, and there must be a koua to feed them at noon. On each side, a female relative of the fa 'es ho'aga leads each sal hapa; she carries an apei. Other women accompany her, carrying mats; the chiefs and men follow with the raw food and pigs, cartons of corned beef, and other foods for the koua.

After lunch on the day of the fao te, most of the people return to their homes and come back the next day, but relatives stay for the night. They prepare the food for the wedding feast mostly during the night of fao te. The men make the koua and fekei while the women prepare food for an early breakfast. This is a prime time for young men and women to become acquainted, and possibly pair off during the dances held on the night of fao te. [5]

Teran ne su ta: The Day of the Wedding

The morning of the wedding the groom's party take to the chief's home the te'eita, koua, and mats set aside for the chief and 'a su. If the bride and groom are from the same district, the chief awaits the groom's party at the bride's home. He appoints a subchief to represent him on the groom's side. The bride's party takes their te'eita to the chief's house before the wedding feast.

The men from the groom's party set aside two koua, a'vahiag su ta (koua served at the conclusion of the wedding festivities) and koua ne as ta, also called a'au (literally, to follow). The groom's side does not take these to where the wedding is held, but keeps them in the neighbourhood, and presents them one by one after the wedding feast.

La' ne kau fa ta: Procession of the groom's side

The chief's wife or a close relative is the 'a su (to lead; literally, to eat the wedding). The 'a su is always a woman. She comes first in everything. If the bride or the groom is from the currently ruling mosega, the fa 'es itu'u may give her or him the right of 'a su. This means they can lead their own party. The 'a su leads the groom's procession, and behind her are the groom, the best man (a recent innovation), and the women who carry the apei, mats, pillows, bedspreads, and other items, including the cloth for the paag ri. The men with the kava and the koua follow the women.

A woman mafua walks beside the groom to announce his arrival. As the procession approaches the house (or nowadays the ri hapa, a shelter built for the occasion), the male mafua from the bride's side who awaits them calls out: "Kavo-o-o-o-o-o-o, marie', marie', marie'!" This refers to the small kava (kav hu suep heta) being carried at the front of the men.

The whole party assumes a crouching position prior to the announcement of their arrival. The groom's mafua greets the bride, who is sitting on the päega, and her chiefs. Then on behalf of the groom she asks permission to enter the ri hapa. She calls out:

 "Kalog, han gate' . . . noa'ia 'e nohnoho ma 'aitu, han gate', ma te' ne 'au fau gagaj ne mia'mia' 'e laloag ri hap ta'ag, usia' te' ofiofua." (Sirs; greetings to the bride . . . thank you for living a godly life; greetings to the 'a su; greetings to all the chiefs who are sitting under the shed; that is all.)

The female mafua of the bride's 'a su responds, inviting the groom's party in:

"Kalog, han gate', fa gate', ma te' ne 'au fau gagaj 'atakoa heta'ag, mas ne laam se laloag ri hap te'." (Sirs; greetings to the 'a su; greetings to the bridegroom, and to all of you; do come into this shelter.)

After this the groom's party stands up; the 'a su enters first, and shakes hands with the bride; then the groom enters, greets the bride, and goes straight to his seat on the päega to the right of her. His 'a su takes a seat beside him, off the päega.

Once the groom sits down, the apei bearers come. In the groom's procession, the apei bearers carry their own mats. They present their apei by placing them in front of the päega, then shake hands with the bride and her chiefs and settle down near the 'a su of the groom. The mafua of the bride's 'a su calls "Han gate'" to every woman who carries in an apei.

Apei always come first in the la'o and are called filo' ne la' ta (the head of the party). They are followed by 'eap hapa (half-sized brown mats decorated with wool); agrua fiti, if any; then by 'eap ma 'on faua (brown mats without wool, twice the size of the 'eap hapa). Then comes 'the tail' (reu ta), the agrua 'double-size' mats. Collectively, all the agrua  are called farao ta (pupui 'to cover the floor'). In a proper ceremony, the agrua are always presented last. The reason for doing this is that anytime mats are piled up ready for a päega or a mosega, the women from the groom's side spread the agrua first as a base or farao ta, then place the smaller mats ('eap ma 'on faua) on them, followed by 'eap hapa, and topped off by apei. This procedure derives from the respect that must be shown to the mats on ceremonial occasions. It is not appropriate to throw some mats aside while looking for the next one to come. (The han puer su can direct the women to lay out some agrua, especially from the bride's side, for people to sit on.) However, in Fiji and some parts of Rotuma, ceremonies have taken place in which the groom's side presented agrua immediately after the apei, and then 'eap ma 'on faua, and last 'eap hapa.

After the mats come the women carrying the mosega: mosquito net, pillows, bedspread, and a length of cloth for the paag ri. The women carrying these items may dance as they process. Accompanying them, at the end of the women, are the older women who carry nothing but dance and clown as they come. The women from the groom's side now decorate the ri hapa with the paag ri.

The chiefs from the groom's side lead the men who bring the kava and food. The chiefs greet the couple and her chiefs, then proceed to the groom's ri hapa to sit down.

 Next after the chiefs are the men carrying the kava: first, kav hu suep heta (a very small kava plant); next kav ne 'a su ta (kava for the 'a su of the kau fa); then another kava for the fa 'es itu'u, to be served in the ri hapa where he sits. After the kava come the baskets of food (baked starchy roots) and the 'i'ini (meats). The men from the groom's side bring whole roasted pigs on sa'tui (coconut leaves woven together so that two men can carry one pig) before the roasted pieces of beef, each wrapped in coconut leaves and piled on a hata made of poles with cross pieces and coconut leaves on it. They present fekei moa (see below, in 'Ate ta) and cartons of corned beef, followed by the fekei (in fekei kopu). Then comes te mafathe fruit (watermelons and pineapples in baskets), coconuts (these should be tied together in twos, but for a big crowd they may be carried in baskets) and last, sugar-cane (long poles of it). The food is laid out nicely in front of the ri hapa, especially the kau fa. They leave room for the bride's side (kau hani) to place their offerings later, when it is nearly time to eat, so that the cooked food is nice and warm. Meanwhile the groom's side cover their offerings with leaves (or tarpaulin) to keep the flies off.

After the men who brought the food put it down, they go back to bring the utu (the raw taro from the groom's garden), plus a live pig, tied up. The men carry one taro each, going back and forth to show just how many taro are being provided. They must cover the pile of taro and the trussed-up pig with a brown mat and an apei(fau ne ut ta). The utu and the live pig are food for the first few days when the groom is living with his bride. This relieves him of the need to go to his garden to get food.

Whoever comes first to the utu unties the pig (rau 'ikou) and drags it away to be his or hers. (The pig is called rau 'ikou [taro leaves] because it is to be eaten with the taro when cooked.) The person who takes this pig away should think twice, for the pig is meant to be eaten with the taro in the utu. Therefore the person should replace it with a carton of corned beef or the monetary equivalent of the cost of the pig. [6]

Then the groom's side presents the osi (clothes for both the bride and groom), welcoming the bride. The couple change clothes and are bedecked with tefui and perfumed.

The mafua from the groom's side then comes to where the food is and announces that this is all that has been brought:

"Marie', marie', marie'. Kalog, han gate', han gate', fa ne Saho'a he ma te' ne 'au fau gagaj ne mia'mia' 'e lag ri hap ta'ag, usia' te' ofiofua; marie', marie', marie'!" (Greetings, 'a su, bride, district chief, subchiefs, any who wear red inside the shelter, that is all; thank you, thank you, thank you!) [7]

Next a male mafua from the bride's side comes forward to thank the groom's party. The chiefs from both parties may then each deliver a short speech. After that the bride's side presents the ös te marä'e (change of clothes for the ceremonial ground), Nowadays people bring money instead of clothes to the couple and tag it onto their tefui or their clothes.

The han mane'ak su leads the dancing while people wait for the time to go to church. The bride's side provide the han mane'ak su with her costume for the day, including her dress, titi, tefui, ha' fali, and anything else she needs. Later, they thank her with mats and food, and sometimes money.

Meanwhile, the groom's side removes all the 'epa and takes them to a designated place (they have not displayed them yet). The bride may change into her wedding gown (she goes inside to do this), but the groom remains sitting on the päega. Then he and his best man go to the church to wait for the bride. A European-style wedding ceremony takes place there.

Fit'ak te: Showing the white mats

When they come back from church, both sides present another osi. Although they should change, nowadays the bride often stays in her wedding gown and the groom in his suit. Next comes the fit'ak te, the showing of white mats, first by the kau fa, then the kau hani. The first apei, the best one, is held toward the 'a su of one's own side (iat'ak se 'a su ta), and the woman (one of the two who are performing the fit'ak te of the kau fa) says "turo'" to the kau fa's 'a su, thus showing her the white mat that is to be the mamasa for her.

Then the two women start spreading the apei from the groom's side in front of the 'a su, the newlywed couple, and the chiefs for all to see. Everybody is counting to see how many apei are presented from each side, especially from the bride's side, because they did not have a procession. As soon as they finish spreading the apei from the kau fa, the women fold them back up, without much care, hastening to take them away. Once inside the house, they can fold them properly. Then the bride's side displays their apei in the same manner as that of the kau fa's fit'ak te. The 'a su watch carefully to see that the apei shown to them (iat'aki) are the ones they are given later as their mamasa.

'Ofiag sope: Hair-cutting ritual

For the 'ofiag sope, a new päega is prepared in front of the one the couple have been sitting on, made of mats from the sigoa of the groom and the sigoa of the bride, one after the other. First, two women spread a big mat (either agrua fiti or agrua ma); it is the pupui (base mat) taken from the lot prepared for the päega. Then women bring in apei, followed by other mats: 'eap hapa (with the same decoration as the apei); 'eap agrua fiti (if they have more); 'eap ma 'on faua; and an agrua ma. They fold the agrua ma and place it on top of the pupui, followed by the other mats in reverse order of that in which they were carried in, with the apei on top, and a cloth on top to protect it. Then the bride comes and sits on the päega of the sigoa of the kau fa.

The groom's sigoa (or a woman relative if the sigoa is a man) comes toward the bride carrying a pair of scissors decorated with ribbons, which are lengthened by a long cloth (or sometimes apei) carried by a line of women holding it and dancing. When the sigoa cuts a lock of hair, an apei should be used to catch the hair. The sigoa says "turo'" as she cuts the bit of hair (or just passes the scissors over the head). The bride stands and returns to her original seat while the women who brought in the special ofiag sope päega take it away. Then the bride's sigoa and her group come with their päega, and the process is repeated for the groom.

At the end, the päega are exchanged and the sigoa can take the mats if they wish, or leave them for their namesakes. Sigoa who take back the päega share the mats with those who came with them and helped make the koua for the 'ofiag sope.

Fau ta: Wrapping in mats

The fau ta follows. The significance of this ceremony is to show that the bride is a virgin. The bride's mother and her relatives provide the apei. They spread a mat and an apei in front of her gagaj häl ta (group of chiefs). Then the couple come and stand on it. The women bring apei and separately wrap the bride and the groom in them. Usually four women, two for each person, do the wrapping. As a rule they wrap more mats around the bride, perhaps three for her and two for the man. The apei made by the bride's mother is called 'airoto (to cherish; to hope—that the bride really is a virgin). The mother gives her daughter to her new husband—the culmination of all her years of care since the girl's birth. Her white mat is the first to touch the bride's skin and is tied on with a cloth. Another designation for this apei is is käkä'e (fingertips), but this term can be applied to an apei from any close female relative. The other apei (any amount) used to wrap the bride are the is käkä'e of her other relatives—sisters, aunts, and so on. Finally the women of the kau hani tie the mats with another cloth. In contrast, they wrap the groom in any number of mats, tying just once. (They do not wrap him if he has been married before.) Men from the kau fa come and carry the couple to a place in front of the groom's gagaj häl ta, where the groom's side has already spread another mat and apei. The bride's 'a su leads them, carrying the 'at fara. [8]

Then the four women from the groom's side remove the mats from the newlywed couple and give them their change of clothes (osi). Some of the osi given during the day are distributed as presents to their friends after the wedding. [9] Soon after the fau ceremony, the women of the groom's side take the fau mats to the groom's home for the u'u, his closest relatives—mother, father, uncles, and aunts.

'Ate ta: The feast

Now comes the feast ('ate ta). The men from the bride's side bring their koua to the front in the same order as the groom's was: kava, food, 'i'ini—roasted whole pigs, cut-up beef on hata, chicken in baskets called fekei moa (because they are decorated like the fekei kopu, with feathers stuck on top), and cartons of corned beef—fekei, and te mafa. Meanwhile, the groom's koua has been sitting out since morning. The portion for the bride's chief (te'eita) is taken with mats to his home. The men of the bride's side bring the 'umefe and place them in front of the 'a su, the couple, and the chiefs. The women who brought apei are sitting in a line in the bridal ri hapa; they are given fono and served on banana leaves spread on the mat they are sitting on (they are not served on 'umefe). The serving girls with their banana leaves, knives, and fans stand behind the kava servers waiting for the call of the mafua, after which they go to sit in front of the 'umefe, the apei carriers, and other important visitors.

The haian ne kava bring bowls (tano'a), apei (sor ne kav ta any apei will do), and an ordinary mat for them to sit on with the kava bowls. Each 'a su has her own kava servers, as does the bride's chief and the groom's chief. (If there are two 'a su and two district chiefs, then there are four kava bowls and kava plants at the wedding, one for each chief and each 'a su.)

The fumarä'e is in charge of the food. He directs the division of the food for the entire ceremony. If the food is plentiful, he may divide it into four parts: one for each sigoa, one for the kau fa and one for the kau hani. If he thinks not enough food is left, the fumarä'e can divide it into three parts: two small portions for the two sigoa and a large one for everybody else.

When the kava girls and the serving women are seated facing the 'umefe, the four mafua (one for each of the 'a su and one each for the chiefs representing the two sides) call for the fono to be brought to the 'umefe. This is a noisy part of the ceremony because all four mafua are calling out at the same time. Each fono contains three tela'a (root-crops) and a chicken. Every serving woman has a fono by her side to serve the person in front of her.

At this point the village mafua, who is sitting with the koua, calls out, "Kalog, te'eiate' täla usia'afua sokoag taki te'" (Sirs, I am announcing the chiefly food for the union of the two parties), followed by how much of each item is in the koua: how many pigs (hata), cows, chickens (raf moa/fekei moa), cartons of corned beef; how many baskets of tela'a; te mafa (baskets of fruit); and kava roots. He calls out the amount of 'i'ini accurately, but calls out the tela'a in hundreds without regard for accuracy. After the mafua has announced the amount of food prepared for the wedding feast by both parties (bride's and groom's), it is time for manu'uag ne kao ta (symbolic stabbing of the kava roots) and fakpej (ceremonial speech). All four kava groups perform this part of the ceremony simultaneously.

Then the men cut up the cooked pigs. They quickly cut the head off first, and call out, "Te'eiate' vah'ia" (It is finished). This sentence is called out for every pig whose head is severed, and the mafua responds each time, "Marie', marie', marie'!" Afterward they cut the pigs into pieces and take them to the various fono. [10] Two men work on each pig, one cutting, one carrying. Others cut up the beef, open tins of corned beef, slice the fruit, and handle other food preparations. Meanwhile the women servers turn the 'umefe upright and lay out the food on the tables, and the kava mixers prepare the kava.

When everything is ready, the village mafua calls out "Marie', marie', marie'!" Then the han ho kav ta claps her hands and calls out: "Kavaitet te'" (The kava is ready). The han agai responds: "Ko sü'" (If it is too strong, dilute it). Then the first server takes the bowl, kneels, and says "Kava tauvia'" (to present) and the mafua names the person who will receive the first bowl (the 'a su): "Kalog! Rer ne kava fakaitet se [name of the 'a su]." Just before the 'a su takes the ipu is the time to say grace. Then, in announcing to whom the kava is to be served, the mafua says kava fakaitet to all district chiefs, kavaitet to subchiefs, and tau kava to the rest, ending the presentation of kava bowls by saying, "Tau se feu te', turo' kalog, ia' marie', marie', marie'!"meaning that the mafua himself is to drink the last bowl of kava.

People must wait for the kava to be served to all before they eat. When the 'a su start to eat, the rest can begin. The 'a su should eat slowly, because when they finish, everyone else must stop eating. A thoughtful 'a su gives the others enough time. The mafua watches. When the 'a su finish, the mafua announces "'Ou sorot" or "Re sor" (Wipe the hands). Then it is time for the women servers to give the chiefs soro (coconut fibres) or cloths to wipe their hands, and the kava servers take apei (sor ne kav ta) first to the 'a su, then to the couple. The kava servers might also bring two metres of cloth atop the apei to dry the hands, along with perfume to spray the hands. They place soro for the chiefs and other important visitors on top of the drinking nuts under the 'umefe until needed. While they are drinking and washing their hands, the women servers put the food back in the baskets.

After the serving women clear and turn over the 'umefe of the 'a su, then the other servers can turn over the rest of the tables, one by one in order. The four mafua announce that the feast is finished (tukuag ne kav ta):

Kalog; vah ne kava fakaitet se . . . ('a su, the couple, all district chiefs)

Vah ne kavaitet se . . . (gagaj häle)

Vah ne kavat se gagaj 'atakoa 'og (all the rest)

Keu se fa' la maür, kalog,

ia' marie', marie', marie'!

The kava servers move out, followed by the serving women carrying the remnants of the fono. The 'a su and the chiefs take their leave after saying good-bye to the couple, while the close relatives and the workers come to have their meal.

Then the kau fa bring, announce, and serve the a'vahiag su (final meal; literally, 'finishing the wedding' for the workers) and the koua ne asi. They do not serve these koua formally like the previous one; they do not announce baskets designated for specific people.

After eating, the women who served the chiefs take the remains of the fono to their homes. Ordinary people sit outside on the ground and eat off banana leaves loaded with food; their hosts tell them to take the leftovers home. They wrap the leftovers in leaves (fan-palm [fakmaru] is best) or plastic bags, because there are generally not enough baskets for everybody.

Mosega: The marital bed

While the workers and those who have not partaken of the wedding feast are eating the two koua (a'vahiag su and asi), the women from the groom's side make the bed for the couple from the groom's mats, put up the mosquito net, tie up the taga and put it by the bed, and fold a small mat and a te hapa apei (half-sized white mat) for a seat beside the back door for the groom to sit on. [11] When the couple go to the groom's side after a few days (na 'inoso), the bride's parents take the mats from this mosega and distribute them to thank the people who helped.

Before the wedding feast is served, the bride's relatives take the te fakhanisi (the bride's mosega) to the groom's home and make it into a bed. [12] A subchief and close relatives of the groom await the women who bring in the mats and prepare the bridal bed. Their main task is to thank the mat carriers and to offer them soft drinks. This mosega consists of several agrua, called farao, topped by apei and one mosquito net. The other mats come next, topped by the rest of the apei, a bedspread, two pillows, and a mosquito net that is hung. An 'at fara is tied to the mosquito net at the foot of the bed. [13] The bride's moseag hoa'hoa' heta (a sala'a,[14] 'eap ma 'on faua, agrua ma, and mosquito net), which the bride takes with her wherever she goes to sleep, can top the bridal bed here when the couple are about to sleep, as well as when the new couple come to the groom's home in na 'inoso. The bride's attendants see to it.

Na 'inoso: Visiting the groom's home

When it is time for the na 'inoso, two koua are prepared to accompany them. One is the haiho'aga (a'aragi) and the other is the koua ne asi (a'au). Young people who have been entertaining the bride and groom for the last few days accompany them. A koua is also made at the home that receives them and a feast is served before the entertainers return home.

A few elderly women stay with the bride as her attendants. They look after her moseag hoa'ho'a, spreading the mats over the prepared bridal bed at night, and hanging the mosquito net in place of the former one, which they take down. They act as companions as well as advisers to the bride during her first visit to the groom's home. When it is time for the couple to return to the bride's home to stay, these attendants see to it that the moseag hoa'ho'a is ready to accompany them back, and that the new mosquito net is hung in place of the old one. The couple can spend a few days at the groom's place before the final na 'inoso, when they go back to the bride's home to stay. The groom takes his suitcase of clothes and his working tools with him to his wife's home.

Informal Weddings

Sometimes marriages result from the boy's just going to stay at the girl's home (fu'u) or the girl's eloping with the boy, going to stay at his home (taupiri). In such cases, a wedding ceremony is very small (kat re faksu ra); they have no 'a su because they do not saio' su and generally they do not have a päega. For any wedding that is not a large-scale affair, the chief may attend but does not have to bring apei, mats, pig, or kava. Other than the church ceremony, and sometimes 'öf sope, they perform no marriage rituals. To show their respect, most parents give the chief te'eita (food) with apei (a good one) and mats, possibly on the fao te instead of on the wedding day; the bride’s side may give chief uncooked food with a live pig or arag ne kau (one leg of beef) on such occasions.

Notes to Modern Marriage Customs

[1] The bride's side no longer takes down, and the groom's side no longer puts up, the walls of the bride's house. Instead, women decorate the wedding ri hapa by draping it with long loops of colourful cloth. back to text

[2] Here taga refers to all the apei plaited by the groom's close relatives for the wedding-night mosega, including those that the women fold and put inside the actual taga (the apei that envelopes the rest of the white mats). In the centre of the taga is the best apei: the tö'rere for the 'a su. back to text

[3] Today people have started to economize by eliminating unnecessary expenses. The bride's female companions may be given lengths of cloth but do not change clothes because now the osi is only given to the bride-to-be; it is too expensive to clothe the others as well. People even consider the koua to take home (a'aragi) as an unnecessary expense because the girl's party have already eaten, and because transport today is fast, they do not need a picnic lunch on their way back. back to text

[4] Whenever an apei is taken somewhere, it must be accompanied by one or more ordinary mats. An apei alone is called "apei la' mama" (naked apei). back to text

[5] "Ji ofi ta'a" is a teasing remark made to young men, especially those who are too shy to woo, on such occasions. It means that the horses on which the young men rode into the village will eat the ji (dracaena)leaves; it suggests that the young men are not likely to be successful in their amorous quests, that the only result will be that the ji leaves (near the house) will all disappear! back to text

[6] In place of the utu, the groom's side may provide tins of biscuits instead of taro if his garden is not ready or too small, and a carton of corned beef in place of a pig. They put the brown mat and apei on top of these. back to text

[7] Saho'a is a place in Noa'tau; any fa 'es itu'u is referred to as coming from there, especially if he is a known descendant of Fonman, a famous sau. Subchiefs wearing red alludes to the red mala (waistbands) formerly worn by sau. back to text

[8] This represents a change in custom. Formerly it was not considered appropriate, because the 'at fara is symbolic of the soiled cloth and proof of virginity. In the past they performed the fau ceremony after the marriage was consummated, on the fourth day, when the couple went to the groom's side. The bride's close relatives carried her 'at fara, the kuruga, and the moseag hoa'ho'a; the 'a su just walked in front, not carrying anything. back to text

[9] In the past when weddings took place over several days, the changes of clothes were for subsequent days, each morning and evening, rather than all for one day. So these days the changes of clothes represent the passage of time collapsed into one day. back to text

[10] The arag ne puaka (sections of the pig) are: the filo' (head), the two arag riam (forelegs), the two arag 'iok (hind legs), the two tua' hapa (ribs), the mür (backside), and the sui tue' ta (backbone). back to text

[11] In the past, the groom was supposed to sit on the seat prepared for him by his relatives. He did not go walking around the house or do any work; he waited for meals to be served, talked with and got to know his wife (whom he may not have known, because marriages were arranged). Nowadays he doesn't really have to sit there; the bride's people tell him, "This is your home, you can go anywhere you like." It is customary, however, for him to just sit there by the back door. (Ordinary people enter each other's homes by the back door; only chiefs and other important guests come in the front.) Because the groom is a new member of the family, he behaves himself like a true Rotuman and sits in the back to show respect. back to text

[12] Previously, before transport was so readily available, the mats were taken with the couple when they went to the groom's side (na 'inoso) together with the mats for the fau. back to text

[13] Today they put money inside the 'at fara instead of the traditional materials. back to text

[14] Sala'a refers to an apei that someone has already slept on or walked on. back to text

To Rotuman Indigenous Spirituality