The photo essay below is the ninth 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 9: Sports and Cession Day Competitions
One of the great pleasures I enjoyed in the year I spent on Rotuma was the sports competitions. Not long after I arrived, a ping-pong table was set up at Ahau, where I started playing with a few government workers, including Hare Mani, who was stationed there as a police officer at the time. Hare was a really strong player; he later became the national champion of Fiji. Paul Manueli, who replaced Fred Ieli as D.O. when Fred went on leave, was also a strong player. I had played some in college and could play with them, although both of them were more skilled than I. Before long, interest in playing table tennis increased to the point where a regular group formed for the purpose of holding informal competitions. The idea caught on and tables were set up in other places -- at RCA headquarters in Noa'tau, at the Catholic mission station in Sumi, and in the community hall in Motusa. Sports clubs were formed in each of these places and from time to time one of the clubs would issue a challenge to another club and competitions were held. I joined the club at Ahau, which was a smart thing to do because Hare and Paul became my teammates, and I must say, we did pretty well.
The table tennis craze lasted for a few months, and the competitions became more and more elaborate, with the host club providing larger and larger feasts, until we all got tired of it and began playing soccer (football). I had never played soccer before, but I was game to try and thanks to Paul, who was our captain, I was allowed to play some although I don't think I helped our team much.
I didn't participate in the games that were held on 12-13 May, however, but went as a spectator. These were mostly track and field events, with races of varying distances, high jumping, etc. The 13th of May is officially recognized as Cession Day in Rotuma and is a public holiday. Actually the festivities extended over a two-day period, the 12th and 13th.
On 12 May, the men from all the districts brought the largest foodstuffs that they had in their gardens for the agricultural show and competition at Ahau. The food was classified into a number of categories (yams were given prizes for length and weight; several varieties of taros were given prizes for weight; prizes were given for different varieties of bananas, tapioca, etc.) On the morning of the twelfth, the men in each district gathered their entries and hired a truck to carry the foodstuffs to Ahau. At Ahau the food was weighed and measured and the winners (1st, 2nd, and 3rd place) were declared. This activity went on all day, with some of the government employees doing the weighing and measuring. A couple of the schoolteachers acted as official recorders.
Also on 12 May, there was a handicraft competition for the women. The women brought baskets, tofua, pillowcases, tablecloths, fans, etc. The District Officer's wife acted as judge and declared the winners (also 1st, 2nd and 3rd place).
There was also a track and field competition among the schoolchildren from the six schools on the 12th. Both boys and girls participated in events such as the shot put, broad jump, high jump, and various running events (75, 100, 220, and 440 yards.) When all the events of the day were completed, the non-winning foodstuffs were loaded onto trucks and sent back to their districts, while the winning entries were left to be displayed during the festivities of the following day.
On 13 May the two big events were (1) the adult’s track and field meet, and (2) the awarding of prizes for all of the activities of the past two days, plus the awards for the baby show, which had been held the previous week. At the end of the day the foodstuffs that were on display were divided up and portions were given to the district chiefs , to the D.O., to the managers of the firms, to the Indian tailors, and to distinguished guests.
In the adult track and field events, individuals competed for their districts. Both men and women competed. Most of them had trained seriously and had mastered such techniques as the western roll in the high jump. The coaches were the schoolteachers and others who had been to European schools where they had learned track and field techniques. Competition was keen, with people rooting for their friends and relatives, as well as for their home districts.
The prizes were awarded by the District Officer and the total prize-giving ceremony took about two hours. Most of the prizes were in cash (400 pounds in all was alloted from the Rotuman Development Fund for this purpose). Cash prizes were given to the winners of the adult athletic events, but the winners of the children’s events only received candies, etc. Prizes from the adult games were from £1/5/0 for first pace, to 10 shillings for third place. Prizes were also given to the first three districts in the (1) baby show, (2) food competition, and (3) adult athletic games. These prizes consisted of cups and plaques. A prize was also given to the district with the most points in handicraft, and a cup went to the school that got the most points in the schoolchildren's competition.
There was no formal luncheon on the 12th. Booths were set up selling food and soft drinks. Most people brought some lunch with them. On the 13th, a luncheon was prepared by the people from Noa'tau, whose turn it was to host the event. Gagaj Fakraufon, the chief from Noa'tau, invited all the chiefs and distinguished guests to have lunch in the council house at Ahau. The other people either brought their own food or bought food from one of the stands.
On 14 May each district had a show of its own. In Itu'muta, my home district, all the foodstuffs from the district that had been taken to Ahau, but which were not winners and kept on display, were brought to the home of the man who had gotten the most points in Ahau for the previous year. A collection was made from each ho'aga (about 15 shillings per man) and prizes were awarded for the best foodstuffs in the district on a basis comparable to the way they were given at Ahau. It was a district playday, and the people from the winning ho'aga from last year were fed by the rest of the district. After the day's activities the food was divided up among the district subchiefs to distribute to the households in their ho'aga.
The main sports for young women during the year were field hockey and netball. I enjoyed watching the games because the participants were so talented and enthusiastic.