The photo essay below is the second installment of a personal account of my two years in Fiji and Rotuma from October 1959 through August 1961. The main purpose of this project is to provide photographic images that might be of interest to contemporary Rotumans.
I have forgotten the names of some of the people who appear in the photos and would welcome your help in identifying them. Information identifying people should be sent to <firstname.lastname@example.org> Please identify the photos by the numbers (#) in the captions.
Episode 2: Getting to Rotuma
December 1959 was an interesting time to be in Suva. Just about the time the boat (Yanawai) was to leave for Rotuma, the workers union, led by James Anthony, went on strike. The strike got ugly and there was a lot of rampaging through downtown Suva. On 10 December, the day the Yanawai was supposed to leave, I went downtown and found the area in a shambles. The windows in the larger stores -- Burns Philp, Morris Hedstrom, and Carpenters -- had been broken. Stinson's Camera Store had been badly hit by hooligans who had broken the windows and stolen cameras, radios, and motorbikes. The atmosphere was extremely tense and the crowd that had gathered across the street from the market was agitated. To make matters worse for me, the crowd began throwing stones at passing cars and were directing their anger toward Europeans. A police bus came by and was stoned; several of its windows were broken. That evening the Fiji Military Forces were called out and volunteers were requested to help maintain order by the government. As I wrote in my journal:
The following day the Yanawai finally left Suva. Although it didn't depart until 10 p.m., I took advantage of a workers' rally at Albert Park, which took place in the early afternoon and left the downtown area pretty empty of people, to get to the dock. I said goodbye to the friends I had met in Suva over the past couple of months, and began meeting some of my fellow passengers. In addition, I met Josefa Rigamoto on the dock before boarding the ship. He was to become a very dear friend until his death in February 2000.
The Yanawai took five days to get to Rotuma. On the way we stopped at Levuka, Savu Savu, Taveuni, the east side of Vanua Levu, and Rabi, finally arriving at Rotuma on 17 December. During the trip I got to know a number of people on board, including several Rotuman school teachers returning home for the Christmas holidays, and Mamao (Pat) Managreve, a Catholic Brother who was the first Rotuman to earn a master's degree. On Taveuni I went with Brother Managreve to Wairiki Mission where several Rotuman nuns were based. We had lunch there and enjoyed walking through the lovely gardens and seeing the nearby waterfall.
We disembarked from the Yanawai by launch at Motusa where I was met by Jione Pagkale (who later took the title of Tiu); he arranged a truck to take me to the home of Sakimi Farpapau, where I had been invited to stay by Lisi, one of Sakimi's relatives in Suva. Sakimi's daughter, Akeneta, met me where I had landed and escorted me to their home at Salosa, in Itu'muta. Being able to stay with Sakimi, his wife Seferosa, Akeneta, and her adopted ma'piga Sakimi mea'mea (then three years old) was a truly wonderful experience. The elder Sakimi was one of the most respected men on the island, and Akeneta became like a true sister to me. My debt to this family could never be repaid.
Shortly after arriving I met Amai Sakimi, the son of Sakimi Kautane from Maftoa, and Amai's sisters, Marsefo and Akanisi. Amai was about my own age and became a close friend who taught me a great deal about Rotuman culture. Although I was on a limited budget (a graduate student research grant), I was able to hire Amai and Rejieli Mejieli to act as my research assistants. I remember paying them £3 per week, which was pretty good wages in those days.
Our next door neighbor was Faga Vilsoni, who also became one of my main consultants, as did Aisea Nakaora, whom I knew as "Billy"; he told me lots of stories about his travels abroad and shared his insights into Rotuman culture with me. All in all these folks made me feel very much at home, and any anxiety I had initially about being on a small island far away from my own home. soon dissipated. They made me feel very glad that I had chosen Rotuma as a place to do my research!