12°29.247’ South 177°07.256’ East
Some 465 kilometers North of Fiji rests the beautiful volcanic island and islets of Rotuma. A glance at the map shows Rotuma as an isolated speck (a mere 13km by 4km island) in the vast Pacific Ocean, observed to be at the crossroads of Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia.
Many Rotumans can trace their descent from various islands of the Pacific: Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Wallis and Futuna, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. These physical connections are evident not only in oral tradition and early written accounts but in the linguists and archaeology of the island. Over the years, these connections have influenced social relations, systems of land tenure and customary practices.
There are a few black basaltic cliffs – mostly at the western end of the island while white sandy beaches cover much of the island’s coastline. The island is densely vegetated, except for this narrow coastal belt that extends around the island. It is here, amongst clusters of coconut plantations that you will find most of the villages.
Rotuma’s geographical isolation poses much ecological and anthropological intrigue. Oceanic conditions create a distinct range of habitats and species, with high endemism and uniqueness. The fertile volcanic soil supports a rich flora and fauna as well as numerous species of soft and hardwood trees, endemic ferns and many reptiles and birds that you might see during your visit.
The population of 1901 indigenous peoples is spread between 14 villages. Perhaps one of the most distinct social differences between Rotuma and Fiji is the matriarchal structure, which sees women as recognized heads of the family, and the key decision makers. The main sources of income are derived from the processing and sale of Copra, small entrepreneurial family businesses and salaried jobs for teachers and civil servants that work at the Ahau government station. Dilo nuts are also dried and sold to traders for the medicinal Dilo Oil to be extracted.
Since 1881 it has been politically part of Fiji, however Rotuma is mainly associated with a Polynesian ancestry. As such, there are some cultural differences of which you should be aware: There is no sevusevu or strict protocol to follow, as you would expect when visiting a Fijian village. However, as a visitor, you are expected to make a courtesy visit to the village chief.
If you are being hosted by a local family there is a ceremony accorded by your host family as a first time visitor to the island shores, known as the mamasa. As a guest of the island, you will be awarded a pig style feast and be garlanded with a drop of coconut oil on your head signifying the scents of Rotuma, and the drying of your feet after a long sea voyage, a symbolic act of being safely on land.
Dos & Don’ts
- Sunday is an observed day of rest
- Any visitor is expected to dress respectfully when visiting the village or any formal functions on the island.
- There is no ‘nude beach’ on the island – no matter how enticing the scenery can become!
There is no hotel except for a lodge situated at the western peninsula at Motusa. Home-stay accommodation is a norm, however this would need to be arranged with friends or family on the island ahead arrival.
Telecom Fiji Ltd is the main service provider with mobile network ‘Digicel’ connecting the northwestern end of the island.
There is a Post Shop situated at the Ahau government station, and there are at least two canteens per village. When supply boats are delayed, stocks can run exceptionally low, and so stocking up on goods that can be traded is always a good idea.
Water & Sanitation
There is a piped water supply and a good level of sanitation and hygiene.
There is a weekly 21⁄4 hour flight from Nadi, serviced by Pacific Sun and a monthly boat service usually scheduled for the first part of the month. Island transportation is costly averaging $5 per km but you can walk around the island freely.
Port of Entry
Rotuma is an official port of entry with a dock at Oinafa for clearance. Just off the sandy beach and alongside the wharf you can anchor in 5m sand at 12°29.247’S 177°07.256’E. In the trade winds, this anchorage is great, calm and well protected. However, under wind from the N to SW, the swell invades and puts you on a lee shore to the reef on the opposite side of the bay.
While there does not appear to be an ‘all-weather’ anchorage for the island, there is another anchorage on the southern side of the island. This is exposed to the south and protected to the north at an approximate waypoint to entrance at 12°31’S 177°02.27’E.
The administrative center is some 12 kilometers away from the anchorage at the other end of the island within the government station at Ahau. Within the vicinity you will also find a hospital, post office, small store, market, school and police station. Extension services for agriculture, biosecurity and quarantine are also located here.
*Anchorage information taken from ‘Westward II – Cruising Notes of Rotuma’. This information is from their observations, and reproduced with permission. It should NOT be used for navigational purposes.
Get the Lingo
alalum – Blessings
noa’ia – Hello
faiaksia hanisit – Thank you for your kindness
Se fek – I’m sorry. (Lit. Don’t be angry)
figalelei – Please
la’ ma ne’ne’ ‘äe – Goodbye, go and (you) be well.
‘Igke – No
I (eee) – Yes
If you are a keen linguist and are interested in learning more about the beautiful Rotuman language, the University of the South Pacific (USP) has published ‘A New Rotuman Dictionary 1940: An English-Rotuman Wordlist ’, which is available at the USP Bookshop in Suva.
Author: Elizabeth Kafonika & Makarita Inia
ISBN: 9820201284, 9789820201286
LäjeRotuma Initiative is a community based environmental education and awareness development programme for Rotuma.
Since inception in 2002, the volunteer base of youth, elders, women and children has grown to support a shared vision for a sustainable island that moves beyond subsistence, to Rotuma’s ability to make choices.
Contact: Monifa Fiu