Rotuman communities in Aotearoa

A starting point for building your understanding of Rotuman culture. This article includes some common concepts, terms and phrases that families in Aotearoa might use and value. Read it alongside the related page Pacific peoples and cultures in Aotearoa.

Land and people

Rotuma is a volcanic island surrounded by 8 islets. Despite being a Fijian dependency island situated 500 kilometres north of Fiji, Rotuma boasts its own culture and language. 

Rotuma is divided into 7 autonomous districts. Each of these districts has its own chief, the Gagaj 'es Itu'u.

According to statistics published in 2018, more Rotuman people live in Aotearoa, Fiji, and other countries than those that live on Rotuma Island.

The Rotuman language is recognised as endangered with only 15,000 people in the world speaking it. The Rotuman community in Aotearoa is determined to safeguard their unique language from extinction in future generations. Rotuman people in Aotearoa play a big role in keeping the language alive by sharing knowledge and actively practising it.

Aotearoa supports the Rotuman community through the Pacific Language Week series, which showcases the diverse cultures and languages of Pacific peoples. Gasav Ne Fäeag Rotuạm Ta – Rotuman Language Week promotes Rotuman cultural pride and linguistic heritage.


Rotuman people have 3 levels: the district level, the ho’aga level, and the family level.

Rotuman family structure
Rotuman family structure

Gagaj or fa’es itu’u

Rotuma has 7 itu’u (districts). The gagaj or fa’es itu’u (chief of a district) is appointed by a kainaga (clan) which lays claim to mosega, the chiefly title. Once the gagaj (chief) assumes the role of leader, his residence becomes the fuag ri and he rules over all the lands associated with it.

The passing of chiefhood is done through a ritual called huliạg ne ‘umefe, which means “to turn over the eating platform.” During this ritual, the next chief is given a chiefly name.

Since the title of chief can not be inherited, no Rotuman is born a chief. All chiefs are made.

Gagaj ‘es hoaga

The districts of Rotuma are divided into sub groupings of households called ho’aga. Like the districts themselves, each ho’aga is led by a sub chief called the gagaj ‘es hoaga. The gagaj ‘es hoaga is appointed the same way the gagaj or fa’es itu’u is.


All district headmen and ho’aga headmen have titles that they hold for life. These titles belong to clans associated with the fuag ri, or specific house sites or foundations.

During formal occasions and ceremonies, these titled men, along with dignitaries like ministers, priests, government officials, and distinguished visitors receive special treatment. They occupy a place of honour and are served food from special baskets and kava.

Family roles

In Rotuman culture, parents, grandparents, and older siblings are all responsible for taking care of children. It is common for households to be extended with wider family relatives.

The autonomy of children is valued and respected, seen in the way that children often freely move between households in the vicinity of their family household.

Children are also never excluded from adult-centred events. The use of physical punishment is very rare in Rotuman culture.

Family terms

Rotuman English

Common greetings and phrases

Rotuman English
Greetings or Hello
Greetings everyone
Goodbye and God bless (to those who are leaving)
Goodbye and God bless (to those who are staying)
Thank you
Excuse me
How are you?