Rotuma - History and Cultural Relations

Until the archaeology of Rotuma is done, the origins of its population will remain clouded. There is, however, solid Evidence that migrations from Samoa and Tonga occurred after initial settlement, and other data suggest Rotumans were in contact with Tuvalu (Ellice Islands) to the north, Kiribati (Gilbert Islands) to the northwest, Futuna and Uvea to the east, and Fiji to the south. The first recorded European Contact was in 1791 with Captain Edwards in H.M.S. Pandora, while he was searching for the mutineers of the Bounty. The first half of the nineteenth century was a time of increasing contact, as Rotuma became a favorite place for whalers to replenish their provisions. A substantial number of sailors jumped ship there, and the beachcomber population was estimated at times to be more than 100. In addition to whalers were labor recruiters, who found Rotumans quite willing to sign on. By the mid-nineteenth century many Rotuman men had been abroad, and some had visited the centers of European civilization before returning home. In the 1860s European missionaries from the Wesleyan and Roman Catholic churches established themselves on Rotuma, and the island was divided between them. Antagonisms between converts to each faith mounted until 1878, when they culminated in a war won by the numerically superior Wesleyans. The unrest that followed led the chiefs of Rotuma's seven districts to petition Queen Victoria for annexation, and in 1881 the island was officially ceded to Great Britain. Rotuma was governed as part of the Colony of Fiji until 1970, when Fiji gained its independence. Since then it has been an integral part of that Island nation.

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