Rotuman topics - video part 1

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For my study of Cultural Anthropology I had to do a three-month research. My interest was particularly directed towards the area of Oceania and the theme of dance. I was eager to know what role dance and music played nowadays in Oceania.

On the 6th of November 2003 I left to the Pacific island of Rotuma to research the annual returning phenomenon of 'going fara', at which groups of youngsters go around at houses and sing, dance and make music. The period in which people go fara starts early December and continues until the end of January. This period is called the ‘av mane'a' .

This dvd serves as a supplement to the thesis about this research. The images are meant to complete and illustrate what is covered in the thesis. All that is shown on this dvd took place during the av mane'a 2003-2004.

The small island Rotuma (15 by 5kms) is situated 465 kilometers north of the most northern island of the Fiji-islands and only slightly closer to Fotuna, the nearest neighboring inhabited island. Rotuma is politically a part of the Fiji islands for over a century. The people however have on a historical, cultural and linguistic note a stronger relationship with Tonga, Samoa and other Polynesian islands in the east. The first inhabitants arrived early 17th century from Melanesia and Micronesia, followed by the inhabitants of Samoa and later Tonga.

In the wake of the contact with Europe, Christianity was introduced in 1839. Missionaries of the English Methodist church and the French Roman-catholic church settled themselves on Rotuma. The French priests and the English referents unfortunately were not very tolerant towards each other and a religious desire for partiality, based on the existing political rivalry ignited. Each missionary marked it's own territorial domain and protected it with envious diligence. This led up to the decision in 1881, by the chiefs of the seven districts to present a petition to England for admission into the British Kingdom. The British then decided to group Rotuma in Fiji, the nearest British colony. Since, the contact with Fiji has been very intensive.

Approximately 2500 people live on Rotuma, this is about one-third of the total Rotuman population. The majority of the Rotumans live outside of Rotuma, mostly in Fiji, in the main city Suva. Nowadays, a considerable number also live in New Zealand, Australia, North America and Europe.

Research period: av mane'a
The fara takes place during the av mane'a period. Av mane'a literally means ' time to play'. This period starts early December and ends halfway January. During this period most Rotumans don't work so hard. The time of av mane'a is spend on picnics, harvest festivals, drinking grog (a drink made of a root of a plant that works as a drug), playing cards and going fara.


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1. Boatday - arrival

The accessibility of Rotuma has increased considerably in the course of time. In the 1970s a harbor was built in Oinafa. Boatday is the day on which the boat arrives and departs from Fiji. This occurs on average about once a month. Around Christmas, the boat is overcrowded and there are many people who can't get to the island because there's no place left. This time there were about a 100 up to a 150 people aboard.

The time at which the boat arrives is never known precisely. People therefore go to the harbor early and wait in the burning sun. They have come to the harbor to pick up family or friends, or because the boat transports goods, such as construction material, food, electronics, cars or cattle. Sometimes people go there simply to see who's coming to their island.

With help of speedboats, the boat is piloted to the dock. Once moored, the cars and cattle are brought to shore. The cattle that is brought along is usually destined for slaughter for the occasion of a big feast. After bringing ashore the cattle, the boat is filled up with people who fetch the other luggage from the boat.

2. Closing of the school year at the Rotuman High School
Each year, the high school closes off with a show. At this assembly, prizes are handed out to the best students and dance performances are given. Per district, students can work on a dance. They make their own choreography.

The dancers receive powder and perfume as a token of appreciation for their performance. Sometimes an audience member starts to dance too, just for laughs. The first and second grade dance the tautoga. This is a traditional Rotuman dance form. The songs and dances are often composed for the occasion and are performed in a traditional manner. The movements portray the lyrics.

The boys and girls dance in two separate groups. This is called a hafa. The boys wear shorter skirts than the girls and wear a tefui, a necklace, with seven flowers. The girls wear a tefui with one flower. During dancing, the first row shoves backwards through the group or a group comes forwards from the back.

3. Ordinary fara
Fara literally means ' to ask for'. In this context it means indirectly asking for gifts. The gifts are usually, talcum powder, perfume, lemonade and fruit. When people are talking about ' going fara' it means that they, mostly during the evening and the night they go from one house to the other and for a time-lapse of 30 minutes they make music, sing, dance and have fun. The people who live at these houses sprinkle talcum powder and perfume on the heads and shoulders of the people from this group, as a thank you for coming to their houses. In some cases, refreshments are given, such as watermelons, pineapples, lemonade, bananas, crackers and even money.

There are two kinds of fara: the 'ordinary' fara and the 'roundtrip fara'. The fara in this film is a an ordinary fara. The ordinary fara takes place within a certain district and sometimes neighboring districts. The faragoers usually consist of children and youngsters. They move around by foot, visiting the houses.

4. Roundtrip fara
In this film you can see a 'roundtrip fara', which is called 'far kalaki in Rotuman. During this fara, the faragoers go around the whole island with a bus and small trucks.