Rotuma is a small island group forming part of the Republic of Fiji. The island itself is a cultural melting pot at the crossroads of the Micronesian, Melanesian and Polynesian divisions of the Pacific Ocean, and thus it’s quite unsurprising, considering the seafaring nature of traditional Pacific cultures, that the indigenous Rotuman have adopted or share many aspects of its multifaceted culture with its Melanesian, Micronesian and Polynesian neighbours.
Rotuman mythology typically points to Samoans as the first people to inhabit the island of Rotuma. The most prominent creation myth speaks of Raho, a Samoan prince who, shamed by his family, sought a new home with his daughters. He travelled across the Pacific in his canoe, and when he came to a spot with two protruding rocks, poured baskets of sand from Samoa over the rocks, forming the islands of Rotuma.
The appearance of some individuals more clearly indicates Micronesian (particularly Gilbertese or Futunan) heritage evidenced by darker skin and curlier hair, and some people show decidedly Asian facial characteristics, such as long, oval-shaped eyes and straighter hair. These can be interpreted as throw-back from immigrant ancestors.
Rotuman appearance is further difficult to categorise as many Rotuman people can point to at least one white ancestor (usually from England or the United States) since the discovery of the island by Europeans. This can be attributed to the high ratio of Caucasians to Rotumans in the early days of exposure to white people, when Rotuma became a haven to mutineers and stow-aways who appreciated the beauty of the island and found prosperity as the trading advisers to local chiefs when dealing with Occidental ships.
Rotuman society is divided, in the broadest sense into seven itu’u, or districts, each of which is headed up by a male chief, referred to as “gagaj ‘es itu’u”. It is his role to guide the community's communal works, and represent his constituents as a member of the Rotuma Island Council (RIC).
Rotumans, by most accounts, physically most resemble the Polynesian people of Samoa and Tonga, the two races commonly attributed in Rotuman mythology as the true parent civilisations. But Rotuman musical tradition prior to European and Central Polynesian influence consisted primarily of chanting similar to traditional Tahitian or Maori styles (see Tautoga and Himene), both very distant cultures. In addition, many of characteristics of the Rotuman language distance it from Polynesian neighbours and align it more closely with Melanesian (particularly Western Fijian) languages.