Photo: Kumu
Tautoga o Rotuma. - Courtesy Photo

Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

Note: This is the last of three stories about the peoples of the Pacific who will be coming to Hawaiʻi for the Festival of Pacific Arts (FestPAC) this June.

Noa ʻia e Mauri! This is the greeting of Rotumans as taught to me by a kupuna from Rotuma. The amazing thing about this elderly woman was that she had grandchildren being educated in Hawaiian language immersion schools – they are part Rotuman and part Hawaiian.

Rotuma is located north of Fiji and south of Tonga. Tūvalu, Wallis and Futuna are its Pacific neighbors. It is about 16 square miles – less than half the size of Kahoʻolawe (45 square miles). Although Rotuma is part of the nation of Fiji, it is considered a Polynesian outlier island.

In their stories, Raho, a chief of Sāmoa, was the one who formed Rotuma with two baskets of sand. However, a chief of Tonga tricked him and the island became his. Raho then left and lived on Hatana, a small atoll to the northwest of Rotuma.

Because of its close affiliations with Sāmoa and Tonga, many words (about 40%) were borrowed by Rotuman ancestors but the truth is that it is an independent language. The closest language to Rotuman is Western Fijian or Wayan. An interesting thing about the Rotuman language is the use of metathesis. In this process of metathesis, vowels at the ends of word shift. For example, the word for “five” is lima and liam. Another is the word for “sleep” which is mose or mös, As a result, vowels increased from five, the usual for Polynesian languages, to 10 or more.

The famous dance of Rotuma is the tautoga. It visually resembles the fatele of Futuna or the lakalaka of Tonga. The dance group is called a hafa (hapa, half) because half of the lines of dancers are men and the other half women – this is the customary arrangement in Western Polynesia. The graceful gestures of the women are like those of Sāmoa and Tonga. The low-stance of the men shifts weight from one foot to the other. The gestures of the men are more vigorous.

Do not forget that if you want to see the tautoga of Rotuma you must seek out the people of Fiji! Laʻ ma alalum (goodbye)! Until we meet again!