Rotuma Day Address by the Chief Justice
I'm a little late in publishing it but the CJ's words are still very pertinent
by the Chief Justice, Mr Justice Anthony Gates
at the Rotuman Day Celebrations
Day 2 - Saturday 12th May 2012
at the Tattersalls Entertainment and Leisure Centre,
Laucala Bay, Suva
Theme: “Sustainability of Rotuman Heritage Through
Sharing and Nurturing
Mr Chairman of the Fiji Rotuman Association Mr Paserio Furivai
Representatives of the Rotuma Island Council
Officers and Members of the Association
Members of the Organising Committee
Members of the Rotuman Community
Family, Friends and Honoured Guests
Noa’ia [no-aiyah] e mauri!
Bula, Namaste, and Greetings to you all this morning!
I was humbled to have been invited along to be your Chief Guest for today. And I feel overwhelmed and inadequate for the task. For this is the 131st Anniversary of the Cession of Rotuma to Great Britain by the paramount Chiefs of the seven districts of Rotuma. That cession occurred in 1881.
Rotuma’s existence was first known of by the Western World in 1791 when Captain Edward Edwards (that sounds a rather Welsh name) arrived in HMS Pandora. The Royal Navy ship was searching for mutineers of the Bounty. The islanders were at first very suspicious, but eventually things worked out and trade took place. A second ship, the Duff, was not so fortunate, and as a result trading ceased altogether for a while.
But I gather trade came to be thought of as a good thing by the islanders. Not surprisingly overseas ships, traders and whalers, regarded Rotuma as a favourite place to replenish their supplies. From those days too began the flow of young Rotumans going out to other parts of the world as sailors, plantation workers, or port workers. Now we know there are Rotumans living all over the world. From time to time, from the Europeans who visited the island and who settled there marrying Rotumans, new blood was added to the stock.
The Rotuman family name Howard may have had its origin in Sussex in England, but Morris and Williams are Welsh names. My paternal grandmother was a Williams from Anglesey in North Wales. One day my Aunt Marguerite, already into her 103rd year, casually said to me: “Did you know that your Grandmother Williams’ brother was the Captain of the SS Olympia?” No I did not. This was the sister ship to the Titanic whose 100th anniversary of her sinking in the Atlantic after hitting an iceberg falls this year. I wonder whether our family Williams were related in some way to the Williamses of Rotuma. Indeed, did any Rotumans serve in the SS Olympia with my great uncle? Interesting thought.
As you know the Christian churches were established in Rotuma soon after the 1850s. The determination of the missionaries to secure souls led to an excess of zeal and rivalry between the French Catholic priests and the English Wesleyan ministers. It seems astounding to think that religious fervour descended into fierce antagonism and eventually led to war between the two groups. Politics and land disputes became mixed with religion. But thankfully that is all behind you now.
Those bad experiences will serve as a reminder of how we must be tolerant of our neighbour’s religious differences. Since most Rotumans live away from the island today, you have had to learn to live in new places and to fit in. Indeed Rotumans hold a reputation for fitting in easily and for assimilating without adopting abrasive attitudes.
It was that religious war and its aftermath of unrest that propelled the chiefs to seek annexation by Britain. Rotuma became part of the colony of Fiji, though having its own Resident Commissioner ruling with an advisory body consisting of the 7 paramount chiefs.
The question remains how will the Rotumans maintain enough of themselves to make them feel – wherever they are – sufficiently special and different – and place value on the characteristic of being Rotuman. It is very easy to lose parts of one’s culture and heritage, the songs and dances, skills and artifacts, farming methods, even specialist food and cooking. The Rev. Thomas Williams in Volume I of “Fiji and the Fijians” mentions that in the 1850s there were some 120 different types of Fijian pudding. How many are left, still prepared, and experienced today? What is that phrase: “Use it or lose it”.
We need to care about our history and its lessons. We need to ask – who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going now? The life which faces our children and grandchildren today has many uncertainties. How can they avoid diabetes, aids, obesity, heart problems, and cancer?
Will there be enough clean drinking water or indeed water? What type of food should we eat? Will we have jobs? Will we be able to afford pensions? What will happen to this planet, never mind the island of Rotuma? How should we care for the elderly? These are just a sprinkling of modern concerns. From watching our televisions we can see that there are so many more that we will have to consider.
We must not expunge our history. We should remember it. There is much to be proud of.
On your behalf I would like to thank all those who have helped in the organisation and preparation of these days events, the singers and the dancers, with the farmers and the makers of artifacts, and those who have contributed in so many other ways. It is right that you should support your community in this way. Thank you for the fitting devotions and elegant garland.
I wish you all a very happy day, today and tomorrow.
I now declare the Rotuman Day Celebrations – DAY 2 – officially open.
Vinaka and Dhanyabad.
11 May 2012 A.H.C.T. Gates