Rotuma - Orientation

Identification. Rotuma lies approximately 480 kilometers north of Fiji, on the western fringe of Polynesia. The island is very near the intersection of the conventional boundaries of Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia, and traces of influence from each of these areas can be found in the physical composition, language, and culture of the island's inhabitants. Although Rotuma has been politically associated with Fiji since 1881, when the chiefs ceded the island to Great Britain, the Rotuman people are unique, forming a distinctive enclave within the Republic.

Location. Rotuma is located at 12°30′ S and 177°40′ E. The island is of volcanic origin, with the highest craters rising to heights of 260 meters. It is divided into two main parts joined by an isthmus of sand, forming a total configuration about 13 kilometers long and, at its widest, nearly 5 kilometers wide. The land area is approximately 44 square kilometers. April through November the prevailing winds are from east to south, December through March from north to west. Rainfall averages about 350 centimeters per year.

Demography. The first census of Rotuma was taken in 1881, the year of its cession to Great Britain. The population was reported as 2,452. Following a devastating measles epidemic in 1911, it declined to under 2,000, then began to increase gradually. As the total approached 3,000 in the late 1930s, out-migration to Fiji became an important means of alleviating population pressure. According to Fiji census records, in 1936 91.3 percent of Rotumans were living on their home island. By 1956 the percentage had decreased to 67.7 percent, and by 1976 it had declined to 37.1 percent. In Recent years out-migration has accelerated, not only to Fiji but to New Zealand, Australia, and the United States. As a result, the population of the island has declined to around 2,500, representing less than 25 percent of the total number of Rotumans.

Linguistic Affiliation. Linguistic evidence suggests that Rotuman belongs in a subgrouping (Central Pacific) that includes Fijian and the Polynesian languages; within this group there appears to be a special relationship between Rotuman and the languages of western Fiji. The vocabulary shows a considerable degree of borrowing from Tongan and Samoan.

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