Volume 110 2001 > Volume 110, No. 3 > Retoka revisited and Roimata revised, by David Luders, p 247-288
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In the 1960s, José Garanger excavated a number of sites in central New Hebrides (now Vanuatu), when the idea of archaeology verifying oral history was new and alluring. Garanger (1972, 1982) trod an almost virgin field. Among his wide-ranging discoveries was the excavation on Retoka, a small and dry island off the west coast of Efate (Figs 1 and 2). This was a multiple burial said by informants to be that of Roimata, 1 a legendary chief of the region.

Figure 1. Map of Efate and the Shepherd Islands including the approximate outline of the former island of Kuwae and showing the location in Vanuatu.
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Figure 2. Map of Efate showing place names cited in the text.

In interpreting this burial as a verification of oral history Garanger relied to a considerable extent on the oral traditions collected by Guiart (1966, 1973a), 2 but also collected information himself. From these data he presented Roimata as a rather heroic figure who arrived in “canoes from the south” and established paramountcy over Efate and other islands to the north, in something approaching a petty kingdom. The extravagance of the multiple burial was taken as verification of Roimata's exalted status.

This somewhat romantic cast of history has remained unquestioned in the literature, yet locally Roimata is a rather controversial figure. Many aspects of the legend are contested. Moreover, there are inconsistencies in Garanger's oral history data which raise questions about his presentation. The purpose of this essay is to examine, in the light of additional data, that part of Garanger's work dealing with the complex of oral history and archaeology centred on the legend of Roimata.

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A Clouded Legend

Guiart's collection of oral traditions in the Efate-Shepherds Islands 3 region (see Fig. 1) included details of chiefly structures and histories as well as various myths and legends. Among the legends were accounts of Roimata, mostly collected on Efate. These accounts alerted him to an unsuspected history in which Roimata seemed to be a towering figure. This information he transmitted to Garanger.

The late Ernest Reid, a lifelong resident of Vanuatu, held the colonial land title to Retoka. He reported to Garanger the local assertion that Roimata was buried there. Thus, Garanger was led by Guiart's and Reid's information to excavate a site that might verify oral history. The result was spectacular. It seemed to corroborate legend, and even amplify it. It also excited local interest and prompted gratuitous information, which Garanger took to be accurate but had no genuine means of verifying. The data he presents, both Guiart's and his own, do not include all that is said of Roimata. There are puzzling aspects of this history, which go beyond the data of these authors.

The most common things said of Roimata are that he was a great chief who brought peace to Efate, and that at the feast held to secure the peace he set up the naflak system (see below). Whether he had a paramount authority over Efate is disputed, and whether his authority extended to the Shepherd Islands is more so. It is frequently said that he died of a poisoned arrow shot by his twin brother Roimuri. Less commonly, it is said that he (or his son) went to Emae Island and there, incognito, became a kitchen servant until his identity was discovered. Guiart makes all these assertion, as well as others. There are variations on them, including Roimata or Roimuri dying on Epi Island.

There are various accounts of Roimata's origin which usually have him and Roimuri born on Efate, but some contend that he was Polynesian. Although it is usually accepted that the Retoka burial was of Roimata, some say that it was of another, unspecified, chief. This latter assertion is sometimes linked to a historical confusion in which the claims for his peace initiative are assumed to relate to the hostilities known to have been current at the time of European contact.

In Guiart's data the connection between the Roimata of legend and accounts of more recent memory is indistinct. The Lelepa community (living on Lelepa Island and at Mangaliliu, nearby on the mainland), who hold the land that was Roimata's seat and also Retoka, have a number of anecdotal stories of him. They gave some of these to Guiart, together with the information that the last “candidate” to the title, Billy Kaluotnawota (or, Kaluot Nawota ‘Chief Kaluot’), worked in Queensland and died soon after returning from there. Kalkot Murmur, chief of Mangaliliu (see Fig. 2 for - 250 Efate place names), confirms this information. 4 They also gave the names of chiefs owing allegiance to the title (Guiart 1973a:287-98).

Guiart wrote that Roimata received tribute from a limited area of Efate (Guiart 1973a:287). However he also wrote, as quoted by Garanger:

The last holder of the title, to which there was no claimant, was buried on Retoka. This breach of today's practice of maintaining the old hierarchies accords with the halo of supremacy which even now surrounds the name Roy Mata, given as the chief paramount over all others on Vate [Efate]. Also no one dared be ambitious enough to lay claim to such a title…. The last holder of this title saw the first whites, but not the arrival of Christianity (Garanger 1972:59, 1982:56; Guiart 1973a:287).

There are slight variations in translation, but Garanger seems to have been puzzled by the inconsistencies evident in Guiart's somewhat florid prose. Who was the “last holder of the title”—the one buried on Retoka or the one seeing “the first whites”? Garanger thus wrote that “finding Roy Mata's grave, that of the first or last bearer of the title, was the object of our work on Retoka” (Garanger 1972:59, 1982:56). His dating of the burial was A.D.1265 ± 145.

There is neither a preserved genealogy nor coherent history of this chief allegedly paramount, yet there are for others in the region. This lack emphasises a hiatus between the Roimata of legend and the comparatively recent accounts.

Despite the various uncertainties, it is clear that a man entitled Roimata exerted unusual influence over Efate and its offshore islands. That man is, in all probability, the central personage of the multiple burial excavated by Garanger. Assuming these things to be so, one may examine afresh the legend and the excavation that Garanger reported.

Appraising the Legend

It is not uncommon for information readily supplied to be misleading and deeper, more reliable, information to be closely guarded. So it has been with this story, for reasons that will become apparent in the course of this essay. Garanger accepted the testimony of a group of four chiefs from Tongoa Island (see Fig. 1), but it transpires that their information was greatly flawed. In the course of collecting oral history, song and related information in the region, I found evidence of that, supported by more authoritative information. Senior chiefs had withheld information from Guiart and Garanger but gave it to me in confidence. This information, only some of which may be disclosed, throws a new light on the legend. One may also find mistakes in - 251 interpreting data in Garanger's portrayal. To this may be added that a re-dating of material from the Retoka burial has the effect of correcting a long-standing misconception and permitting a reconciliation of technical and oral data.

In consequence of this additional knowledge from a variety of sources, a good deal of the mystery (and the improbability) surrounding the legend may be dispelled. Mystery seems to have spawned speculation that became false information, but also (as will become apparent) this process probably suited admirably those for whom the mystery had a purpose.

In this essay, I examine pertinent aspects of Garanger's presentation of Roimata in a broader context of the history of the region, drawing on general and specific information. I also appraise the Retoka burial in the same context. This examination leads to proposing another interpretation of the burials and the legend.


The excavation on Retoka exposed 38 complete human skeletons together with “packet” burials of reburied persons. Parts of other exposed skeletons indicated that burials extended beyond the area excavated (Fig. 3). All told, all or part of over 50 individuals were exposed. The dating of the burial was based on a single sample obtained from bone collagen. The disposition of the skeletons snowed that many, if not all, were of people buried with the central personage, Roimata, as oral accounts claimed to have been the case. The degree of individual ornamentation indicated a wide range in the rank of those buried (Fig. 4). 5 Plainly, this burial was of a person of significance.

Garanger presented the legend of Roimata as outlined below (Garanger 1972:25-26,44,45,48-49,74,91,128; 1982:23-24,40,45,55-56 71,89,124-25).

Roimata arrived on Efate in “canoes from the south”—indeed, Garanger describes him as the “main hero” of this “saga”. He “would… have lived in the Maniura area [of east Efate] before going to settle in the north-west of Efate”. He “overturned the social structure all over Efate, Makura and the Shepherds through the chiefs he sent out into these islands”. “It was he who would have organized the chiefs' installation ceremonies at Maniura and the dispersal of chiefs along the Efate coast and in the little islands in the center of the group [i.e., the archipelago of Vanuatu]. He would also have introduced the matrilineal system into the central New Hebrides [Vanuatu] and introduced the ‘Natamvate’ [sic] feasts.” “He is known to have organized the five-yearly feast known as ‘natamwate’ on Efate, a feast of general peace, bestowing of important titles and allocating personal ‘namatroa’ [sic] symbols.”

His “dwelling was at Mangaasi” (on western Efate). He died in Feles Cave - 252 on Lelepa after having been taken, very ill, around the villages on Efate owing him nasaotonga (tribute in pigs symbolising fealty). His body was carried thence to Mangaasi (Roimata's traditional chiefly seat, or varea) and then to Tukutuku (near the southwestern tip of Efate and possibly the site of the ‘peace feast’). The titled people who owed him nasaotonga gathered there, the seas drew back to make passage for them (to take his body to Retoka). He was buried with members of his court; some representatives of different clans were also buried and the area declared tabu.

Garanger also gives information inconsistent with the account summarised above. He quotes Guiart's data in which the father of Roimata and his twin Roimuri was given as the spirit Utumai in the Lelepa-Mangaasi area (Garanger 1972:24,1982:40). Roimata is deduced to have lived on Kuwae (see below) and left for Efate before that island exploded (A.D.1452 ±1) (1972:91, 1982:89). He is “stated” to have lived long before the Kuwae explosion (1972:26, 1982:24) even though the last holder of the title was said to have seen the arrival of the first whites.

Some of these inconsistencies arise from the testimony of Garanger's informants, in particular the four Tongoan chiefs. Some background will assist in the examination of Garanger's presentation and the data on which it is based.


Except for some minor historical links to north and south, Efate and the Shepherd Islands are culturally distinct from the islands adjoining them. A conflict on Efate ca.A.D.1600 created a division between that island and those of the Shepherds. This conflict is reported by Guiart under the name of the Takurua war (Guiart 1973a: 186) but the name is a partisan one, deriving from an ancestor of one of the main protagonists, and is also a chiefly title in communities which were not party to the war. I prefer to call this conflict the “great Efate war” as it is referred to locally in Bislama “bigfala faet long Efate”. It was so great on Efate in that it engulfed the island, created permanent political and social change, and is preserved in oral history as a major event.

Before this war, the social structure in this region seems to have been fairly uniform and conformed to the essentially feudal pattern extant in the Shepherds. The chiefly structure is hierarchical and land is held by dominant chiefs who once had absolute rights over all on it, including people. Major tributary titles to these chiefs are attached to pieces of this land with rights and obligations. Lesser titles ar attached to lesser components of land and may be connected to specific obligations to the dominant chief. - 253 Dominant titles are hereditary and usually primogenital. Lesser titles are also held to be so but are subject to compliance with obligations of fealty to dominant chiefs. Untitled people—narei (Nakanamanga) or nare (Namakura)—are granted use of land in return for meeting obligations including tribute in produce. 6

The proof of rights to dominant chiefs' authority and land tenure in the Shepherds is, finally, possession of detailed oral history, supported to an extent by authenticating songs. Such histories are not myths. In pure form they are precise records of the taking of possession of land and the setting-up of lesser chiefs to guard and administer boundaries. Today they remain the true basis of landholding in the Shepherds. Being in effect a chiefly mandate, histories were closely guarded with elaborate checks to prevent distortion in favour of pretenders to titles.

Nothing like that formality and intensity is now to be found on Efate. When Guiart and Garanger were gathering data in the 1960s there were chiefly systems on Efate, similar to but less elaborate than those in the Shepherds (Guiart 1973a:273-365). These systems have since been eroded, but even then the effects of European contact were much greater on Efate, where Port Vila stands and where there is extensive land alienation, than on the Shepherds. Nevertheless, the more potent factors in creating a distinction between Efate and the Shepherds were the “great Efate war” and its consequences. There is, however, a greater depth of oral history than the memory of that conflict.

Early Chiefly Arrivals

Shepherd Islands chiefly histories recount migration from Efate and it is generally supposed that there was one such migration as a result of the “great Efate war”. Some older histories show, however, that there were two. In 1995 and 1996, I collected four contemporaneous histories of some 50 generations, data that was deliberately withheld from Guiart. Because they were revealed in confidence, I am free to reveal only limited details. All four give details of arrival on Efate after coming from Erromango and/or Tanna to the south, which were stopping places after voyages from further afield. They give details of encounters between each other and a fifth (Matariliu of Panita, Tongoa, who alone in Guiart's data claimed a lengthy genealogy—36 generations buried at Panita, but most of the detail now lost). A sixth history now has scant detail but may well also have been contemporaneous.

Each of the four arrived at Forari Bay on the east of Efate and later proceeded round the southern coast to locations at modern Erakor, Pango and Port Vila. From there, they continued by stages to the west and the very north of Efate whence they migrated north. All finally lodged on the south- - 254 ern coast of the former island of Kuwae and the descendants of three of these now live on Tongoa, on what remains of the territory they occupied on Kuwae before that island exploded. The fourth is now to be found on Emae.

Fortunately, credence of these older histories does not rest on oral evidence alone, because now not all the personal names of successive holders of the titles are remembered. In three cases, there remain memorial stones for each titleholder at a sacred site on Tongoa. In 1995 I witnessed the counting of these stones. In one case, there were 47 stones, 26 marking holders of the title before the explosion of Kuwae. The 48th holder lay in a concreted grave nearby. The 49th, an octogenarian, sat beside me, insisting on accuracy and that I should also count the stones. He had passed the title to the 50th, a middle-aged man.

This history, with the fixed point of the Kuwae explosion near its middle, is a useful basis for estimating the time of the first chiefly arrivals on Efate and migration from there to Kuwae, the modern Shepherds. In another two cases, a cursory study showed that the memorial stones remain undisturbed and in each case total 50 or more. The arrival may be estimated to have occurred ca.A.D.800. 7

The Explosion of Kuwae

The island of Kuwae was fractured by a colossal volcanic explosion in A.D. 1452 ±1 (Eissen et al. 1994; see also Luders 1996:289-92). Its remnants are the modern Epi, Tongoa, Tongariki and intervening small islands and outcrops. This was one of the eight greatest volcanic events in the past 10,000 years (Monzier et al. 1994:216). It evidently altered global climate drastically for some years, in turn causing major changes in human affairs.

The local legend of the explosion is dramatic. Guiart collected three closely similar versions and Garanger summarised them in relation to his excavation of the burial of Ti Tongoa Liseiriki on Tongoa. I have collected other accounts, including Ti Tongoa Liseiriki's own, which is absent from Guiart's report. There is agreement on essential points, but the older histories provide practical details without the superficialities of more “popular” versions in which the cause is ascribed to magic (see Guiart 1973a: 166-68,226,263-65, also Garanger 1972:84, 1982:82, Luders 1996:293-94).

Earthquakes began six years before the eruption and, on southeast Kuwae at least, chiefs began to evacuate their people to Efate (with its offshore islands), calling on their long-standing associations there. They established food gardens, built houses and ferried people to Efate.

The youth who was to become the first Ti Tongoa, and whose eldest son became the first Ti Tongoa Liseiriki, was heir to an older title, one of the four referred to above. His personal name was Simeti, Simet or Asingmet, - 255 depending on the version. With other young men, who formed the rearguard of the evacuation, he was awaiting the canoes that would take them off, when the eruption occurred. He fled the eruption and survived by taking shelter in a slit-gong that became covered in the falling ash. A woman named Tarivekit or Terevikit also survived by hiding in a cave. These two were rescued by men from Makura Island under a chief named Tarimasu. After some five years on Makura, Simeti commenced recolonisation of Tongoa, the part of Kuwae that had been his home, and went to Efate to tell his father and other chiefs that they could return. A number of histories give the sojourn on Efate as being six years.

In the oral record it is unsaid, but very probable, that many evacuees did not return but remained on Efate. Simeti took a new title, suggesting that his father elected to remain on Efate with the old title and its claims to land based on the migration of some 25-30 generations earlier. In the nature of chiefly histories, Simeti's descendants inherit all the detail of the old title up to the point where Simeti takes the new title and thereafter their history records the new title. The fate of the old title is apparently lost. Simeti's father may have passed it to another son on Efate but it seems to exist no longer.

The “Great Efate War” and its Consequences

The “great Efate war” can be placed at ca.A.D.1600 by using the genealogies of chiefly titles reported by Guiart, which are supported by stone plaques set up to record some of them by the missionary Michelsen on Tongoa (Guiart 1973a:198,211, Hébert 1959-62:90-91). Guiart's data, now 40 years old, reported 15 generations for Maraki Pule Mata of Pele, Tongoa; 12 (“incomplete”) for Ti Nambua Mata of Lumbukuti, Tongoa; 14 for Taripoamata of Kurumambe, Tongoa; and 14 for Tarisaliu of Purau, Tongoa. Hébert also reports a plaque recording 10 generations for “Taripoamau” at Euta, Tongoa, up to 1904.

These chiefly genealogies date from the war, which is described in various ways. Ti Nambua Mata and Maraki Pule Mata each have it as a war between them. The antagonism between these two chiefly lines endured until the missionary Michelsen arranged a settlement (Maraki Pule Mata pers. comm.). The site of this chiefly disagreement is given as the vicinity of Port Vila and various forms of the detail are asserted. There are also other strands of information. One is that chiefly rivalry in the Maniura area set off the war. Another is that the dispute had its origin at Ebau on northeast Efate and this is recorded in a lengthy song.

One effect of the war was that many chiefs of Efate, including those cited above, migrated to the Shepherds with their courts and never returned to - 256 resettle. Shepherd Islands chiefs assert that they left behind lesser chiefs to guard their interests. The general impression from accounts is that dominant chiefs lost control of fighting men and either fled or were sent by their supporters to safety. That is, a dispute between chiefs seems to have degenerated into a general conflict akin to a revolution. The chiefly structure of central authority and courts was maintained in the Shepherds, both in the arriving chiefdoms and those long settled there, whereas Efate underwent change.

On Efate and its offshore islands there is the naflak system, which consists of matrilineal clans. 8 Naflaks are descent groups named for food items—e.g., naniu (coconut), ngmal (a wild yam), wita (octopus or squid), kram (lit. ‘shellfish from which adzes were made’, colloq. ‘axe’). A person belongs to his or her mother's naflak. This matrilineal system co-exists with the patrilineal ones of chiefly authority and of the namatrao system to which Garanger refers. The naflak and namatrao systems have been applied to landholding. In the naflak system, land is communally held by the women of the naflak but its use is apportioned by senior males, whereas in the namatrao system land is inherited patrilineally and individually. Land is said to be transferable between the two systems. This duality seems to have arisen following the “great Efate war” (see below).

The foregoing outline of events and influences in the history of the Efate-Shepherd Islands region is but a general coverage of data now disclosed. It is sufficient to form a basis for examining the legend of Roimata and the evidence of the burials on Retoka presented by Garanger. There were three major events in the period covered by oral history up to European contact. The first was the arrival of chiefs some 50 generations ago and onward migration of at least some of them from Efate to what is now the Shepherd Islands. The second was the explosion of the island of Kuwae in A.D.1452. The third was the “great Efate war” and its consequences, ca.A.D.1600.


Until recently, the dating of the Retoka burial to A.D.1265±145 presented difficulties in assessing Garanger's depiction of the legend of Roimata. The Roimata of legend, who brought peace to Efate and set up the naflak system, should, if his peace followed the “great Efate war”, have lived ca.A.D.1600. For some time the dating of the burial has been in doubt because bone collagen is now known to be an unreliable basis of dating. Now, however, new dates on shell ornaments from the burial put it later (Bedford et al. 1998:174-75,187-88, Spriggs 1997:207). Two of these dates agree, giving a median date early in the 1600s. A third gives a median date of A.D.1400. This disagreement with the other two dates might be, for example, because an old ornament was analysed. One might say that these new data are not enough to - 257 be certain of a dating but they indicate a date of c.A.D.1600. Such a date permits agreement between oral histories and archaeological evidence, though not on the basis of the legend given by Garanger.

It emerges that Garanger was led to an erroneous rendition of the Roimata story by misinformation, especially from the four Tongoan chiefs and the data of Mwasoe Nua of Ravenga, Tongoa. This information came, to a considerable degree, from a confusion of the information coming from the two chiefly migrations described above, but erosion of the oral records and deliberate falsification may well have played a part. Before evaluating the testimony of the four Tongoan chiefs and presenting the Roimata legend in a different cast, one must consider some of the components of the legend rendered by Garanger.

Canoes from the South

Despite there being several stories of Roimata's local origin including one given to Garanger (see above), one given by the four Tongoan chiefs (see below) and another given by Guiart, Garanger has Roimata as the “main hero” of the saga of “canoes from the south” (Garanger 1972:128, 1982:125). This evidently came from a purported connection between Roimata and Mwasoe Nua of Ravenga, Tongoa, together with deductions concerning a chiefly installation ceremony at Maniura on east Efate.

Of all the histories of arrivals “from the south” available to Garanger, only one refers to Roimata and that reference is equivocal. This was that of Mwasoe Nua, given to Guiart. Garanger's two references to it are “Roy Mata, then named Mwasoe Nua” and “according to the traditions collected by Guiart, the first name of Mwasoe Nua would have been Roy Mata” (Garanger 1972:91, 1982:24,89). Guiart's equivalent text is “ROYMATA aurait été le premier nom de MWASOE NUA” (Guiart 1973a:212). The chronological order of the names is reversed in Garanger's first reference. Guiart used past conditional tense, absent in Bislama in which he collected his data, so that he presumably reports deductions from whatever was said to him.

Mwasoe Nua's history is rendered cursorily in Guiart (1973a), with some confusion of geographic detail, and there is little in it to inspire confidence when compared with other more detailed histories collected by Guiart or myself. This text has the purported Roimata at the former Ravenga on north Efate, distant from either Mangaasi or Maniura. It merely asserts that Roimata “would have been” a prior name and gives no information about this chief for whom so much is claimed. There is no detail of any purported arrival of Roimata and there seems to be a borrowing from the history of Malesu, also of Ravenga. In short, the connection with Roimata appears to be a concoction of the kind that lesser chiefs sometimes produce to enhance their status. - 258 When set against the evidence to the contrary, it cannot be said to support the idea that Roimata arrived in “canoes from the south”. The other basis on which Roimata is said to have arrived in “canoes from the south”, the chiefly ceremony at Maniura, is dealt with below. There is no genuine connection between it and Roimata. The evidence is not that Roimata was the hero of an arrival. On the contrary, it is that he was a home-grown Efate chief.

Roimata at Maniura?

When Garanger writes that “Roy Mata…would have lived in the Maniura area before going to settle in the north east of Efate”, he quotes the Ravenga data but Maniura is not mentioned in this data (Garanger 1972:26, 1982:24, Guiart 1973a:212). He gives no other authority than the assertions of the four Tongoan chiefs that Roimata officiated at the chiefly installation ceremony there. Indeed, he gives other names for those officiating at the ceremony—Tariwere and Tariworo helped by a “nameless” man (Garanger 1972:26, 1982:23). 9

Even were it so that Roimata was officiating at this ceremony, there appears to be no basis for the assertion that he lived there, other than the claims of the four Tongoan chiefs.

Roimata “Sending out” Chiefs to Efate and Other Islands?

Guiart records that Roimata did not receive tribute from the “interior” of Efate but only along the coast from Udaone (modern Tanoliu) to Tukutuku (near the south-western tip of Efate)(Guiart 1973a:287). Lelepa people still assert so. This is a narrow strip hedged in by cliffs on the drier western coast—an unpromising fief for a paramount chief. In Guiart's data, Roimata has a modest number of chiefs owing him fealty, but the information given is not consistent. In his text there are nine titles, but elsewhere he gives the number of “attested dominations” as 21 (cf. the Ti Tongoas 260 dominations, the Ti Matasos 227 and the “Taripwas” [Taripoas] 155 dominations). Elsewhere again he gives yet more “dominations” that almost equal the populations of the tiny villages where they are located. In any case, the titles he records as owing fealty are in the Lelepa community (Guiart 1973a:288,406,442,451-52). Guiart also records one Roimata on Epi, owing fealty to Malesu Mata of Ravenga, Tongoa (Guiart 1973a:215).

Thus Guiart records no fealty owed to Roimata beyond his local fief centred on Mangaasi (the modern Lelepa community). Moreover, no chiefs of any other islands have ever given evidence of fealty owed to Roimata. Had Roimata sent out chiefs there would fealty be owed. The sole source to be found for the contention that Roimata “sent out chiefs” is the information of the four Tongoan chiefs. Their assertion is that this was the result of the installation ceremony at Maniura.

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The “Overturning” of the Social Structure

There is confusion in the “overturning” of the social structure by Roimata as Garanger presents it (Garanger 1972:59,128, 1982:55-56,125). On the one hand it is said to be through the sending out of chiefs, and on the other it is presumed to be through the matrilineal system that is assumed to have extended to Makura and the Shepherd Islands. Attached to these assertions is Roimata instituting five-yearly natamwate feasts at which “personal namatroa [sic] symbols were allocated” (Garanger 1972:26, 1982:24).

Even if Roimata had sent chiefs to islands other than Efate, those chiefs would not have carried the matrilineal system—that of naflaks—which is inimical to the patrilineal chiefly system there. The naflak social structure never extended beyond Efate and its offshore islands (Lelepa, Moso, Nguna, Pele and Emau—where it is known as nakainanga). Some in the Shepherds claim to belong to naflaks but this is through recent marriages to Efate women. Such minor claims are most unlikely to have entered Garanger's data. The “overturning” was, then, a matter for Efate and its offshore islands. It was principally the introduction of the naflak system; the five-yearly natamwate feast was a reinforcement of this system.

The origin of the naflaks is common knowledge on Efate and runs as follows. Roimata called a general feast to secure an end to pan-Efate warfare. Those who brought to this feast, for example, coconuts were thenceforward declared to belong to naflak naniu, from whatever village they came—and so on for various food items. They were enjoined not to make war on others of their naflak. Thus these food totems were the basis of a cross-allegiance to nullify intervillage belligerence. This innovation seems to have been introduced when the feudal form of chiefly authority was in disarray, with the departure of many chiefs to the Shepherds. The process by which it became matrilineal and applied to landholding is a matter for conjecture.

Also obscure is Garanger's reference to distribution of “personal namatrao symbols” at natamwate feasts. Namatrao now has to do with patrilineal inheritance of land. It may have a common origin with the namatarau (Nakanamanga) or na matoro (Namakura) system in the Shepherds in which a woman married into another village is granted a home-village land right sufficient to support her and her children, a right that may by individual decision be passed to her descendants. What Garanger's “personal namatrao symbols” may be I have not been able to determine.

The “overturning” of the social system by Roimata is thus rather less than depicted by Garanger. It was restricted to Efate and its offshore islands. It was not done through “sending out chiefs” and was not in its origin a means of chiefly dominance by Roimata. It was added to whatever structure - 260 existed when it was introduced and apparently later extended to landholding.

Roimata's Death and Burial

Garanger reports that Roimata, very ill, was taken “around Efate” to the villages owing him fealty before he died in Feles Cave on Lelepa (Garanger 1972:74, 1982:71). He gives no references, other than the statement of an “old Lelepa man”, that the death occurred in Feles Cave (Garanger 1972:44, 1982:40). Guiart reports none of this.

These data may be doubted. Normally, a dying chief is not carried about but rests in his varea ‘seat of his spiritual and temporal authority’ to which his subjects may come to pay their respects. For Roimata to be carried to Feles Cave, on an offshore island and with steep and difficult access, would be a remarkable departure. Nobody can now say whether Feles Cave ever had special spiritual significance or if so what it was. Even if the data are accurate, they do not necessarily suggest great reverence for Roimata. It could equally be because he was put to extremes to conduct final affairs, was discredited, or even because he was a fugitive.

The parts of the story following, of Roimata's body being taken to Mangaasi and then to Tukutuku and the waters drawing back to allow him to be carried to Retoka for burial, are not of particular interest. For him to have lain at Mangaasi was normal. Tukutuku might have been on the itinerary because it was the site of his great peace-feast (Guiart 1973a:290). The drawing back of the waters is myth, or allegory: the depth of the sea between Efate and Retoka exceeds 400 metres. The burial itself, on Retoka, requires separate examination.

Roimata on Kuwae?

It is again the evidence of the four Tongoan chiefs and the purported connection between Roimata and Mwasoe Nua of Ravenga, Tongoa, that led Garanger to suppose that Roimata lived on Kuwae before its explosion in A.D.1452 (Garanger 1982:24,89). The recent datings make it highly improbable that the buried Roimata could have lived as early as the 15th century and add to the doubts that may be cast on the information of the four Tongoans.

In the case of Mwasoe Nua, Garanger's data make it clear that he confused the Mwasoe Nua of Ravenga with the Mwasoe Nua of Mangarisu on the opposite side of Tongoa and speaking a different language. The relationship of the former with Roimata is dubious (see above). The latter probably did live on Kuwae and fled to Efate before the explosion (as did other chiefs of the area), but there is no evidence connecting him to Roimata.

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The Information of the Four Tongoan Chiefs

Four Tongoan men (Taripwa Mata, Ti Mataso, Numbwanimanu and Tarisumwaliuliu) confirmed over Vila Radio that it was Roy Mata who had organized the “baptism” and dispersal of the chiefs at Maniura. They sang the chant that accompanied this ceremony, previously collected by Guiart, “na toa rer…toa rere” (Guiart op. cit. Mweriu:6). They also sang the funeral chant for the burial of Roy Mata at Retoka. Several days later they came to give me their expanded version of the myth (Garanger 1972:26, 1982:24).

So far it has not been possible to identify these four men, but the first two can only be nakainang (persons of lower rank, owing fealty) of dominant chiefs from whom I have collected definitive but confidential histories dating from the first migration. Their status makes them party to only part of these histories and their dominant chiefs' histories belie their information. The third of the four is probably of a similar status. The title of the fourth seems to have been wrongly rendered—and may have been Tarisongoliu—and it is next to impossible to identify him.

It is fortunate that a copy of the Vila Radio broadcast has survived. In it, these lesser chiefs assert that Roimata and his twin brother Roimuri were born at Maniura to Masasuri and his wife Leiawa.

Song analysis shows that neither of the songs sung over Vila Radio have anything to do with Roimata. I have recorded 98 songs sung by Simbolo Taripoakoto born in 1911 (see Guiart 1973a:243), the last surviving ‘songmaster’ (aore, Namakura) fully trained in the traditional manner and a remarkable man. Many of these songs record chiefly histories or events. Careful transcriptions of nine such songs and of the two Vila Radio songs made for me by George Mwasoetanika-Usamoli show that all were sung according to a fixed formula. The pattern, once analysed, is easily recognised in many others that have not yet been transcribed

In these historical songs there is a standard set of “key lines” whatever the structure of stanza and verse or the melody may be. These key lines are repeated in a fixed pattern through successive stanzas. At given points in them the place name and the chiefly name to which the song refers are inserted; these are repeated according to the formula. On completion of this formal structure, succeeding stanzas may go on in the same format of repetition to give further detail of the history being recorded in the song.

The first of the Vila Radio songs, said to be that of Roimata “baptising” chiefs, gives the place-name as Evate (the old rendition of Efate). Where the chiefs' name should appear are the words napauna wota—literally ‘chief's head’, usually meaning a chief's council of advisers but also meaning the collective chiefs of a place—chiefly wisdom. The key lines then go on to - 262 refer to Lukutapu (where the ceremony occurred and which Garanger rendered as Lukutau) and “washing” before the tape recording is suddenly cut. In 1994, when I played this recording to the old ‘songmaster’, he insisted (on tape) that it was not Roimata who installed the chiefs, but Marikitapu. Four years later he consented to tape the full song in which the name Marikitapu appeared, but not Roimata.

Besides this, there are three reasons for believing that this song dates from the first migration of chiefs and not from the era of the Roimata buried on Retoka—the arrival from “the south” ca.A.D.800 with which Roimata has nothing to do. First, the full song was sung by the ‘songmaster’ following another of a voyage from Erromango, the two being considered a composite, sung to support the older histories, those of this arrival and subsequent dispersal. Second, the name Tariwere, which Garanger quotes as one of the chiefs officiating at the ceremony, belongs to one of these older histories, that of Taripoamata. Tariwere arrived at Forari Bay and settled briefly at Bangbang (both near Maniura and Lukutapu) and moved on to Kuwae, where he died. His elder son took the title, but it subsequently died out on what is now southern Epi. The younger son was entitled Taripoamata and moved on to what is now southern Tongoa. Fifty generations later this relationship is preserved. Guiart's data, from which Garanger's reference to Tariwere comes, was from Mweriu, where an offshoot from the original Taripoamata line is to be found. Third, in the key lines of the song, the names of place and chief are not set rigidly to the format of other songs, suggesting that the pattern was not then fully formalised. The place name, Evate, is general. “Napauna wota” appears where the chief's name does in others and the chief's name appears later. “Napauna wota” may then have been the greater point of the song—the establishment of collective chiefly wisdom, knowledge, authority and the officiating chief (Marikitapu) recorded incidentally. It is possible that this song, recording the arrival and appointment of chiefs, was in the format from which the name insertion in key lines in other historical songs descended.

The second of the Vila Radio songs was said to be the funeral chant for Roimata. This is not so. The chiefly title, given in the proper place in the key lines and repeated twice, before the recording is abruptly cut, is Manuwio, not Roimata. Manuwio is a title still to be found at Lelepa, near Retoka. The song is neither of Roimata nor a funeral chant. Nobody hearing its lively rendition could associate it with death. On hearing it, the old ‘songmaster’ gravely observed that when chiefs die people do not sing such songs but grieve. He then rendered a lament of a dead chief's wives, a dirge so full of pathos that it silenced any thought that the other song could have had anything to do with the death of a chief or anyone else.

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There can be no doubt that this second song concerns Retoka, given as the place name in the key lines. Like the former one, it probably dates, not from the era of Roimata but from that of the first migration. A variant of it was included in one of the older histories from that time which I have recorded.

Garanger apparently accepted this evidence of song as verification of the oral history offered by these four lesser chiefs. On analysis the songs provide evidence rather that the oral history was distorted. It was solely on the assertions of these four that Roimata was said to have lived at Maniura, was responsible for the chiefly installation ceremony there, and sent out chiefs to the whole of Efate and to other islands as a result of it. These assertions prove to be a confusion of two eras, more than 30 generations apart, by chiefs party to only pieces of the “true” histories. Another of their assertions, that Roimata lived before the explosion of Kuwae, was taken as verification of equally dubious data to that effect.

Although much of the evidence from the four chiefs is false, one may not discard their evidence totally. In the Vila Radio recording they give information echoed throughout Efate, that of Roimata's peace-feast, of Roimata going to Emae and the story of Roimata having been killed by a poisoned arrow shot by his twin brother, Roimuri. These happenings will be discussed below. Because some of their information coincides with other accounts, Garanger was probably led to accept their information as being authoritative.

There is enough evidence to show that Garanger was misled into an exaggerated portrayal of the legend. Roimata did not arrive in “canoes from the south” but was a chief on Efate. He did not live at Maniura and did not have anything to do with the chiefly installation ceremony that occurred there or any dispersal of chiefs that arose from it. His influence did not extend beyond Efate and its offshore islands. He never lived on Kuwae. He probably lived ca.A.D.1600, during and after the “great Efate war”. New dates from the Retoka burial make it likely that the burial occurred at this time and not in the 13th century.

The Roimata of legend held a fief that was probably restricted to the southwestern coast of Efate, but he was the instigator of a mechanism for peace from which the Efate-wide naflak system sprang. The process by which this mechanism extended to a wider social system, including matrilineal landholding, is unclear. There is no direct evidence that Roimata was responsible for that state of affairs, although it is very likely that he was (see - 264 below). Thus, although his influence covered Efate it was apparently as the focus of a new social order rather than a true paramountcy.

As depicted by Garanger, the circumstances of his death and burial run counter to normal practice. The impression is given that Roimata was accorded great reverence, but a quite different interpretation is also possible. Such an interpretation should offer an explanation of the extent of the multiple burial on Retoka.


The Retoka burial is exceptional, in the number of people buried together and in the extent of their grave goods. From the array exposed, there can be no doubt that at least 16 people were buried with the central personage. Probably another 16 or more were also buried with him. These people were buried alive or strangled or poisoned in order to be included in the burial.

Garanger was informed that the men were given a strong drink of kava to anaesthetise them for burial but that women never drank kava, inferring that they were buried alive without the benefit of drugs. However he also gives the information that a poison was added to the kava, as well as a reference to oil being added to kava and given to women to drink “to stun them so that they could be buried alive with an old dead chief” (Garanger 1972:76, 1982:72-73). This latter information is supported by one of the older histories. 10

The excavation cannot be said to be a complete excavation of one collective burial, i.e., a discrete entity. The five incompletely exposed skeletons in the northern corner, burials 28, 31-34 (Fig. 3), show that the geometric excavation exposed either part of a collective burial or part of a series of burials. There is thus some uncertainty about how many people were buried at the same time.

There were three levels of burial. At Level I (about 20cm), three children were buried (burials 6, 24, 25). At Level III, the deep burial, there were five articulated human skeletons, one packet burial and one articulated pig skeleton (burials 13-16). All other burials were at Level II and most of those bodies were laid on compacted soil.

Garanger is of the opinion that his excavation was of a single burial, but there is room for doubt on the point. On a visit to the site in 1996 he expressed this opinion, citing the continuous compaction of the soil on which the Level II skeletons lay. Yet while he asserts, “None of the Level II burials is independent of the collective burial. We have already noted the continuity of compacted soil…” (Garanger 1972:67, 1982:64), he also writes, “…bodies lay on very compressed packed soil (Fig 155). It was the same throughout - 265 the collective burial except in the northern area” (Garanger 1972:61, 1982:58 my emphasis) and “… this soil was more difficult to spot in the northern area…” (Garanger 1972:67, 1982:64). Perhaps the northern area was not as compacted as Garanger remembered. It is unclear how far this less compacted area extended. This is germane to whether part of one collective burial was exposed or one and part of another were.

Garanger makes a puzzling comment about the northern area: “… no independent pit was seen in this area, which excludes the theory that burials 28, 32 and 33 could predate the collective burial and had been disturbed during the setting out of this burial” (Garanger 1972:67, 1982:64). It is difficult to see why any absence of an “independent pit” should exclude the theory. The three burials (and two others, 31 and 34) showed that burials extended beyond the excavated area. By how much and in what configuration we cannot yet tell. It seems unwise to reject any hypothesis about them, of predating or otherwise.

Examination of the Layout of the Collective Burial

The layout of the fully exposed skeletons seems to encompass three groupings (Figs 3 and 4):

  • Group 1: The “deep burial” (Level III, burials 13-16) and those arrayed about it in a distinct pattern (Level II, burials 1-5, 7 and 9);
  • Group 2: On their right, to the north, a mixed and less structured grouping (Level II, burials 8, 10-12, 17-23, 35 and probably 33; Level I);
  • Group 3: To the north, burials laid out suggesting a repetition of part of Group 1 (Level II, burials 26, 27, 29, 30 and presumably 28, 31 and 34).

These groupings, together with some known practices in marking chiefly rank, offer some means of analysis. Armbands decorated with shell beads, together with head-plumes, waist-mats and other perishable adornments, were chiefly insignia. Pig-tusks, while denoting influence, seem to have been of lesser significance than these. Pearl-shell breast pendants are no longer referred to, but photographs and drawings show that, at contact, they were worn by some Efate chiefs. Whale's tooth ornaments are now never mentioned so that their significance cannot be deduced. Shell beads, trochus-shell bracelets, whole-shell armlets and anklets probably only had the significance of jewellery, of decoration displaying wealth, or were part of dance rituals. Standing stones marked burials of chiefly rank but, being added later, were not always accurately placed. With these observations in mind, an attempt at analysis of the collective burial can be made. Another observation should be added. Garanger's identification of the sex of some skeletons is regarded with some reservations.

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Figure 3. After Garanger 1972, Fig. 153., Key: 1. Standing stones. 2. Possible site of presumed standing stone that was lying on the upper part of the burial. 3. Place where the prismatic basalt was lying on the upper level.4. Traces of hearth. 5. Megapode shells. 6. Bivalve shells (Codakia tigerinal Linn.) 7. Pig bones, broken and burned, or connected. 8. Stones, shell and coral tools. 9. Identification of burials by numbers, Level II and “deep” burials. 10. Numbering of Level I burials.
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Figure 4. After Garanger 1972, Fig. 182., Key: 1. Necklaces. 2. Necklaces with pendants. 3. and 4. Armband decorated with disc beads, right and left arms. 5. and 6. Pig tusks, right and left forearm. 7. and 8. Trochus bracelets, right and left forearms. 9. Disc bead waistbands. 10. Disc bead waistbands with bone beads. 11. Disc beads with small shells. 12. Dance ornaments of shell—left or right ankle 13. Dance ornament of shell—left or right arm. 14. Various objects. 15. Female burial. 16. Incomplete burial. 17. Standing stones: slabs. 18. Standing stones: prisms.
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Group 1. The deep burial (Level III) was obviously the focus of the collective burial and burial 13 was the central personage in it. He was central to the layout, had a standing stone, was the only wearer of a pearl-shell chest ornament and wore inter alia two wide armbands, three pig tusks and three “large whale's teeth” (i.e., pieces of whale's teeth). The men buried with him in the deep burial may have been his munwei, munwai or munuwa ‘clairvoyant, link to the spirit world’ (burial 14) and his taka kalakal or manuvasa ‘spokesman, herald and historian’ (burial 16). This is a more likely than Garanger's explanation that burial 16 was an atavi, whose function was to oversee ceremonies with particular attention to guarding against malign, unseen forces. The Bursa lampis shell placed on the right forearm of this burial suggests a symbol of the heraldic function of a taka kalakal rather than the metaphysical one of an atavi; also, the taka kalakal was of greater standing. One of the burial 14 pair wore an unusual pendant of calcite and his left hand rested on a “sort of bag, coloured with red ochre and embroidered with disc beads”. These suggest a distinction of purpose, the “sort of bag” possibly being a vessel for amulets of distinctive spiritual power. Whatever the case, these two males were obviously of special significance to burial 13's status. There was also a young woman (burial 15), taken to be a junior wife of burial 13 and included to see to his well-being in the afterlife.

The Level II burials associated with the deep burial are burials 1 and 9 (on either side of the deep burial) and 2-5 and 7 (five couples arranged in an arc). Most were heavily adorned. Indications of chiefly status of burials 1 and 9 are armbands for each and a standing stone for burial 1. These Garanger asserted to be women and deduced that they were wives of burial 13. Of the five couples of burials 2-5 and 7, two merited standing stones, and three men and one woman wore chiefly armbands. One may assume that burials 2-5 at least were of chiefly rank.

The layout of Group 1 strongly suggests a depiction of a chiefly symbolism still to be found in the Shepherd Islands. A chief holding his hand palm upwards with the fingers slightly splayed and the whole hand slightly cupped represents him holding the marakiana (Nakanamanga) or marakean (Namakura), ‘common weal’ 11 of his people. For him to hold it thus and then overturn it or clench it expresses grave displeasure of failures in social obligations. The symbolism is represented thus, the box being the palm and wrist, the five lines the fingers.

Thus this group, arrayed like a hand with the fingers splayed, appears to be a symbolic representation of burial 13's authority and duties, and the reciprocal obligations of him and his ‘nakainang’. With him in the deep burial were perhaps (on his right) his closest secular and (on his left) spiritual functionaries. Above, at Level II, his burial was flanked by two - 271 individuals and at his feet, as it were, lay the five couples composing the digits of the hand. These men, buried with their principal wives, may have


composed his napauna wota ‘council of advisers’. Four of these (burials 2-5) wore armbands or had standing stones, indicating chiefly rank. Perhaps the fifth (burial 7), lacking formal marks of rank, was a special individual included to complete the pattern. He wore two pig tusks and, unlike others in the burial, a crocodile tooth ornament.

It may be that burials 1 and 9, flanking the deep burial, completed the tally of court functionaries: in the Shepherd Islands, a chief has two administrators of his chiefly edicts, nasanga (Nakanamanga) or nahang (Namakura). Garanger however identifies these burials as women. While women can hold chiefly titles, it is unlikely that two women would have performed this function at one time. If Garanger's identification of sex is correct, the supposition that these burials may have been nasanga (nahang) is tenuous. If not, Group 1 would seem to be burial 13's complete court, arranged in an array symbolic of this completeness.

Group 2. The layout of this group is not so obviously patterned as that of Group 1. It displays a range of adornment: from two unadorned individuals to five wearing chiefly armbands, of which four are marked by standing stones. There are three male-female pairs and another (burial 8) may be of a male with a re-buried female; burials 18 and 19 may constitute another male-female pair. Also there are two single male burials (20, 21) and a single female burial accompanied by a “packet” burial of a child (burial 10). There are two female pairs, each laid out to suggest senior and junior status (burials 23, 35). In four cases, worked stones, which may have symbolised functional responsibilities, are buried with individuals.

There seem to be two possible patterns to this group. One is that those of chiefly rank (burials 8, 12, 17, 19, 21) are in a loose cluster, an informal extension of Group 1. The other, more likely pattern is that the four females of burials 23 and 35 are enclosed by an arc of burials (8, 10, 12, 17, 21, 22). In this arc, four burials have the marks of rank of armbands and standing stones or heavy adornment with pig tusks. In the other two cases, each was buried with a worked stone; the female of burial 10 wore 15 trochus bracelets, and the male of burial 22 apparently wore an armband not decorated with disc beads. This layout suggests an assembly of tributary chiefs and functionaries arrayed about four women who may have been wives of burial 13. It excludes burials 18, 19 and 20, the last of which was an unadorned male.

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Burial 19 is distinctive. Garanger wrote that it “…seems to be that of a young female despite the great size of the limbs” (Garanger 1972:65, 1982:61). This person had a standing stone, wore two armbands and two pig tusks and was laid at right angles to the general layout. The body was either covered with red ochre or wrapped in a red-dyed mat. This burial and burial 18 (a man wearing only two pig tusks) may have been a pair if the former was indeed a woman. If so, the wife was of higher rank and of some kind of separate status denoted by her orientation and somewhat isolated positioning.

Group 3. This group may be part of a repetition of Group 1. That is to say, burials 26, 27, 29 and 30 may be part of a collective burial to the north that was incompletely exposed, that included burials 28 and 31, and that resembled Group 1 in its layout. Of the five complete burials exposed, three males wore two armbands each, three wore pig tusks and two wore whale's tooth ornaments. The only woman wore an extraordinary 34 trochus-shell bracelets. This group is more heavily adorned than the burials of the arc 2-5 and 7 or of Group 2; apart from the pearl-shell pendant of burial 13 they rank in adornment with the deep burial.

The groups in relationship. Although it was said that the burials were made “with Roimata”, it is apparent that burials extend beyond the excavation area. It is quite possible that the excavation extended further than the area understood to be that of Roimata's collective burial and encompassed part of another.

The evidence of the compacted soil seems to suggest that the northern area (by which Garanger may have meant Group 3) was not quite the same as the rest of the area exposed. The heavy adornment of Group 3 individuals (more distant from burial 13 than the less-adorned members of Group 2), the partially exposed skeletons and the absence of hearths also suggest a distinction. Group 3 may well be part of a burial separate from the other groups.

Group 1 is an entity (albeit at two levels) so that those at Level II would have been buried at once, soon after the closure of the deep burial. The Group 2 burial is of mixed ages (only burial 12 showing cranial ossification) so that it could not have been a progressive addition to the burial as individuals aged and died. Save for the child burials at Level I, Group 2 was buried at once. Unless there was a skilful marrying of the compacted layer on which the Level II skeletons of the two groups lay, this layer was continuous. The hearths were distributed across these two groups near chiefly burials. It is thus reasonable to suppose that Garanger was correct in asserting that Groups 1 and 2 were buried at the same time.

This would mean that 32 people submitted to interment with burial 13—live, strangled, drugged or poisoned. The layouts and juxtaposition of the - 273 two groups suggest that they constituted Roimata and his court together with tributary chiefs and possibly his family. This is approximately what Garanger reported and it is not invalidated by the exclusion of Group 3. Indeed, if we suppose that burials 32 and 33 were in fact part of Group 2, those might have been disturbed when group 3 was buried, i.e., that the burial of Group 3 postdated that of the other groups. Only by a re-excavation extending further might such questions be resolved.

Particular Aspects of the Burial

Those buried. Garanger was informed that Roimata was buried “with several members of his court”, “some representatives of different clans” and “some other [sacrificed] individuals” (Garanger 1972:74, 1982:71), but the source of this information is unclear. Group 1 would account for the first of these categories. It is not possible to deduce what is meant by the second—“representatives” of naflaks (of which there are at least 25 today), chiefs of villages or something else. However, at least five individuals in Group 2 bore marks of chiefly rank (armbands or standing stones); if they represented naflaks they were either true chiefs or had been accorded chiefly status. They and perhaps some of Group 3 (whether buried later or not) may comprise this category. The sacrificed individuals may be those of burials 11 and 20.

Three children were buried at Level I. One (burial 6) wore three whale's tooth ornaments and two trochus bracelets, and one (burial 24) wore a whale's tooth ornament. This ornamentation on children suggests that whale's tooth ornaments were not part of chiefly regalia, but it also suggests that these two children were of rank. A fourth child burial was at Level II with burial 10. The bone measurements indicate a child of about three years. Nineteen small shells were found with it. Burial 6, a very young child, was an articulated skeleton and the others were packet burials. Since we do not know how long after the Level II burial was completed the later burials were made, this pattern does not suggest any ready explanation for the inclusion of children. The most that can be said is that they may well have been of Roimata's family, that burial 6 (the most heavily adorned and probably youngest) may have been buried alive and hence, given its ornamentation, it could represent an attempt to extinguish the line of succession to the Roimata title.

Besides the child burials there were three packet burials. Two were of complete skeletons buried with, respectively, burial 13 (Roimata) and burial 8. These may have been the bones of wives who had previously died. The third (burial 11) was a bundle consisting of a radius and ulna (with six trochus bracelets), a scapula, a humerus and 12 femora. Garanger notes that this “could have been an offering” (1972:75, 1982:72).

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Other items buried. At Level II, five worked stones were placed near four individuals (burials 1, 10, 19 and 21). Some polished mother-of-pearl “objects” were found with burials 2a and 5a. Nothing definite may be said about what these may signify: garden stones (to invoke spirits to ensure a good harvest) or amulets are possibilities. It is possible that if they are garden stones they may signify the naflak to which the several burials belonged, but the limited number suggests that they did not represent naflaks per se.

Some clusters of megapode eggshells among the Group 2 burials led Garanger to remark that Layard noted that the megapode was associated with myths of the beyond. This reference in Layard (1942:222-23) refers to Pentecost island. One might equally observe that Harrisson (1937:55) wrote that on north Malekula this bird was a symbol of permanent peace between villages. Neither observation necessarily applies to Efate culture and no informant has offered me an explanation. Nor have I been able to find an explanation for the cluster of shells between burials 8 and 33.

Broken and scorched pig bones in two clusters were taken to indicate that the pigs were eaten at the burial ceremony. Garanger also noted that the ceremony may have included cannibalism: some broken and scattered bones, a jointed leg, were found in the north of the burial (Garanger 1972:75, 1982:70). The latter bones do not appear in the figures. The suggestion of cannibalism and of sacrificing individuals is of interest: one Erakor informant claims that Roimata was opposed to cannibalism and human sacrifice.

The hearths, of fires too small to have been for cooking, are more or less in a circle around the deep burial except for two near burial 17 (as Garanger noted) and one between burials 3 and 4 (which he did not mention). This layout may be significant to any rituals conducted after the deep burial was closed, but it could also be that the circle was of fires guarding the deep burial until the Level II burials were carried out.

Why this site on Retoka? Chiefs are buried on their own land, partly so that their successors can point out the graves of all the successive holders of a title in verification of their genealogy. 12 Where there was danger of graverobbers, subterfuges were adopted including dummy graves or burials in locations that were difficult of access (such as offshore islands). Retoka was part of Roimata's domain but not his varea. The choice of Retoka was evidently a departure because of Roimata's special standing, as Garanger's informants asserted, but it is unclear what that standing was.

The site on the island is such that burials to the south or east of it are unlikely. If there is a sequence of burials it extends to the north, so that the excavation lies at one end of it and is either the first or the last. The burial may have been so sited to more easily secure it against desecration, to emphasise its distinctiveness or to remove its aura from Roimata's varea and - 275 Efate. This may have been in veneration of Roimata, but equally it could have been symbolically to sever him and his adherents from his antecedents.

Some reflections. There are suggestions of unseemly, rather than reverent, actions at the time of the burial. A fire burned almost above Roimata's head. If, as Garanger surmised, the soil compaction was due to dancing the reason is unclear: some informants say that there never were death-dance rituals in Efate-Shepherds culture. Scorched and broken pig bones and oddments of human bodies on the compacted layer do not suggest respectful feasting, or any known form of veneration. If Roimata was indeed opposed to cannibalism, they suggest the opposite. The collection of odd bones including one with decoration, of burial 11—the “sacrifice”, could almost be thought derisory, unless it was the result of hurried collections from graves for reburial. Bones were dug up and reburied, including those of at least one very young child. At Level I, an infant, probably of rank, was buried whole and possibly alive.

What was burial 8's status? Only he and Roimata were buried with legs flexed. His armbands were each 3cms wider than Roimata's. Alone in the burial his sumusumol ‘garment of woven waistband and mats suspended front and rear’ was decked with a dozen rows of disc beads on the waistband and large, overlapping, disc beads on the red-dyed suspended mats. He was of mature age and the 14 shells of his dance bracelet suggest arms of great girth. He merited a standing stone, was buried with a packet burial and the infant buried whole was nearest to him. Could he have been one of Roimata's sons?

Burial 10, like burial 8, was close to Group 1. Her positioning seems irregular. She was buried with the bones of a child of about three years and close to the bundle of bones. Does the juxtaposition of burials 8, 10, 11 and 6 have a meaning? If so, can it be directed at Roimata's family?

Burial 19 lies athwart the general layout. It was accorded chiefly status, and alone, and was buried with a Tridacna adze blade. If this was, indeed, a woman, could she represent the matrilineal naflaks by her positioning somewhat separated from the rest of the burial? Could her orientation indicate some disapprobation?

If groups 1 and 2 were indeed buried together it is highly probable that most, if not all, of Roimata's chiefly structure was terminated at a stroke. It stretches credence that some 14 chiefs could hurriedly pass on their titles and duties in anticipation of his demise for the purpose of being buried with him. Although nakainang of deceased chiefs sometimes elected to be buried with them out of grief and accidie, for so many to do so would amount to collective abrogation of duty. It seems, therefore, that those submitting to interment did so not so much voluntarily as in compliance with an impera- - 276 tive to terminate Roimata's chiefly influence. Just as the oral history delivered to Garanger was not what it seemed to him, so might the burial have been an expression of something other than Roimata's greatness.


Various data provide a means of deducing some of the circumstances surrounding Roimata and his activities.

Roimata and Roimuri

Roimata and Roimuri are frequently said to have been twins. In chiefly parlance, “twins” may be really so, or they may be brothers or chiefly titles so closely allied that they always act in consort. Nowadays, the uninformed are apt to accept the literal meaning and some care is needed in interpretation. It must also be said that mata and muri are frequently paired suffixes to chiefly names, mata always being the greater.

The two common stories concern their naming as boys, and Roimata being killed by a poisoned arrow shot by Roimuri. In the first story, the twin boys were said to be cooking laplap, a coconut and starch pudding. The elder removed his from the oven before it was fully cooked and the younger derided him, calling him Roimata (‘uncooked food’). The elder responded by naming his twin Roimuri (muri being the root of ‘to laugh’). Mata has many meanings deriving from the dual root ones of ‘eye’ and ‘raw’. Muri, like roto, can mean a ‘hole’ in the sense of a source of provisioning, an essential support to the greater of a pair of chiefs. The story is a play on words and one for public consumption.

The origin of the story is contained in one of the older chiefly histories that I recorded in confidence. In it, the two sons of the chief were preparing the aromatic oil used by chiefs to anoint their bodies, a process of infusion in which oil was warmed with four herbs (one of which I have identified as a wild basil, Ocimum sp.) in a vessel of pottery, gourd shell or a segment of bamboo. This occurred at Maltauri near the present-day main wharf at Port Vila. By degrees the chief and his growing sons migrated to the west of Efate until on Retoka the elder son, whose personal (not chiefly) name was Roimata, succeeded to the chiefly title in a ceremony described in some detail in the history. This “new” chief, leaving a representative on mainland Efate opposite Retoka, migrated onwards to Mataso and ultimately Kuwae. This history is preserved on Tongoa.

The second story is that of Roimuri shooting Roimata dead (supposedly from jealousy). This can only be allegory. It was unthinkable that a chief should assault and murder his “twin” in this way. At very most he may have ordered an assassination. A possible explanation is given below.

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The Name Roimata

It is commonly said that roi is not an indigenous word or name in Efate/Shepherds, by which it is implied that Roimata was an outsider or deduced that he was a Polynesian. It is apparent that the name derives from a personal name of a chief installed into a chiefly title now on Tongoa. The name dates from the first migration of chiefs (which may well have been from Polynesia) and the installation was on Retoka. Thus there is a quite ancient association of the name Roimata with Retoka, though not of a chiefly title name. In the nature of chiefly histories, the name would have been preserved there by the chiefly title left to preserve the chief's interests. In Namakura, however, roi means ‘the oil used by chiefs’, referred to above, but this meaning is not widely known. It also has a meaning in some old Polynesian usage as special or sacred food, for example, on Tikopia (Firth 1967:68-73,280-86,393-98).The various meanings of mata have been mentioned. In this case it may have been ‘eye’ in an allegorical sense as well as ‘greater’ in the usage of suffixes to chiefly titles.

From these observations, it is evident that there were sufficient meanings for a newly-prominent chief to use this name for a self-created title to supplant whatever his former title was. That is, a new name may have been created that joined the aura of the ancient name with the symbolism of the peace-feast and the meanings of mata. This man would then have been the first Roimata.

Inferences for the Peace-feast

The surviving naflaks suggest that Roimata's peace-feast was not quite the grand affair of legend. There is no naflak of pig nor of fowl, the normal centre of a feast. The meat sources are from the sea, except for naflak kusue ‘rat’ (Guiart 1973b:367). This suggests food hastily collected from reefs and their waters—fish, squid and shellfish. The starch sources include wild yams and even peelings of taro. One naflak is of breadfruit seeds. Although there are also regular sources of starch (e.g., taro and plantain), the impression is that many could contribute only the poorest of food. Normally, a great feast would take years of preparation but this feast may well have been a hasty and impoverished affair, making the best of what was available after the pillaging of general warfare. The naflaks suggest a subdued occasion on which people in reduced circumstances submitted to an imposed formula for peace before normal agriculture was re-established.

The Dual System of Landholding on Efate

The dual landholding system of naflak and namatrao on Efate strongly - 278 suggests survivals from two socio-political systems. One being of individual landholding and patrilineal inheritance and the other of communal ownership inherited matrilineally, they infer systems of opposed concepts. The latter system may be assumed to be the application of Roimata's naflak system to landholding. Combined with a tabu on intra-naflak marriage and naflak responsibility for the good behaviour of its members, the system becomes an integrated social structure. MacDonald reports the elements of this system on north Efate, where naflaks were known as nakainanga (MacDonald 1904:35). This, if it supplanted a chiefly system, was indeed an “overturning” of the social structure. One cannot be sure that Roimata was responsible for all the changes but it is probable. His natamwate feasts would have had to deal with such matters, especially landholding and the matter of membership of naflaks in succeeding generations, soon after their establishment.

The namatrao system may have had its roots in the chiefly system existing before the “great Efate war”. If that was much the same as the present one in the Shepherd Islands, most of the land would have been held by chiefs, with some held as namatarau (see above). The latter might have been converted to the namatrao system, and land held by chiefs appropriated for naflaks. In such a case, the appropriation of chiefly land would have provoked a political confrontation.

A difficulty is that one cannot assume that the influences were uniform over Efate and its offshore islands. There are only points of observation and the naflak system was not without its opponents. MacDonald (1904:35) records that “cases have been known” of slayings contrary to the convention of peace within a nakainanga [i.e., naflak]. At Erakor on south Efate, there is an account of a man calling himself Lamlamru who vowed to exterminate the adherents of the naflak system (my data). Facey (1981:304) suggests that on Nguna missionaries imposed a patrilineal chiefly system to supplant the naflak ‘matriclan’ system, but it seems likely that she was unknowingly reporting that chiefs manipulated missionaries to reinstate old systems just as much as missionaries manipulated local politics. The influences on an island politically riven over three centuries must have been many. Nevertheless, there is evidence that some aspects of the chiefly system prior to Roimata's influence endured.

Chiefs Left on Efate

In both the first and second migrations, chiefs left representatives with chiefly titles to guard their interests that appear to have included proprietary rights to land in places where they lodged long enough to acquire them. Thus, I have recorded in confidential histories that, among others, Reiman of Pango (the exact location referred to in the history is Epang Tui) and - 279 Taripoamata at Siviri were names left at these places when the chiefs continued their onward movements. Guiart records for the second migration, for example, Ti Evate left by the ancestor of Ti Nambua Mata near Udaone. These titles survive still, along with others—Ti Nambua and Tuepule at Paunangisu, Morongo at Emoa, Malasikoto at Mele, Popovi at Udaone, and Taripoaliu, Malesu and Mariwota on Nguna, among others. Some retained segments of their dominant chiefs' histories and acknowledgement of fealty as late as the 1970s (e.g., Taripoamata of Siviri).

One may therefore assume that following the “great Efate war” there was a body of chiefs loyal to the pre-existing chiefly regime and responsible for its maintenance. These representative chiefs may well have been in frequent contact with their superiors. Canoe traffic between these islands was frequent (until the colonial administration discouraged it on the grounds of danger) and chiefs with nakainang on other islands, including Efate, voyaged regularly as a part of their administration. One song I have recorded tells of a Tongoan chief returning to Efate to assess conditions after the “great Efate war”, landing on north Efate and finding conditions not conducive to a restoration of his authority there.

The representative chiefs, together with any others retaining their positions, had a vested interest in restoring the previous order and can only have viewed Roimata's initiatives as a direct political threat. To them he would have been an upstart, an opportunist and a traitor to his chiefly class. If land, the cornerstone of chiefly power, was to be alienated from chiefs' control, the new order had to be resisted.

The Ruku

Shepherd Islanders do not speak openly of ruku (Nakanamanga; naruk in Namakura). A ruku was an assassination order issued by a chief or chiefs on another (chief or otherwise) or the members of a chiefly family. Ruku were issued in punishment for serious breaches of the political or social code, to avenge gross insult or for the purpose of usurping a title. When a ruku was issued on an entire line of succession, the order remained for as long as it took to complete, a period which could span several generations. The most recent murder of this kind reported to me was a poisoning in the early 1980s.

A digging-stick planted outside a man's door at night was his warning that a ruku had been issued against him. He was thus given time to set his affairs in order. An Erakor informant has described to me the same action preceding a murder on south Efate, probably in the mid-1800s, and the south Efate word for an assassination order is n'fak. The Lelepa expression for conspiracy to murder is sai kruk. We may assume that ruku (by whatever name) were practised on Efate in Roimata's era.

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Ruku were usually issued and executed, by one or more assassins, covertly. Thus, the axing to death of the heir to a Tongoan title in the 1960s was made to look as though the victim was lost at sea. Where the offence was public knowledge, however, the ruku might be carried out by an act of war. One such case on Tongoa was in vengeance for the murder of a chief. An underlying consideration was the saving of chiefly “face”. The practice of ruku explains apparent anomalies in chiefly actions (and, incidentally, evasions in providing information). The chief issuing the ruku usually engaged assassins from another village and paid for their services. 13 The price might be paid in pigs, a transfer of land ownership, a permanent tributary obligation, or rights in ceremonies or of precedence. Also, oddities in dynastic successions and chiefs removing themselves to other islands may have been owing to ruku.

One informant asserts that a ruku was issued against Roimata, to be carried out by a warrior named Maleongot, but no other details are supplied. At Lelepa may be found guarded references to the Retoka burial reflecting an attempt to wipe out Roimata's family.

Roimata's Connection with Emae

There are various stories connecting Roimata with Emae. Guiart gives four (Guiart 1973a: 107-8,291-92). M. Paul Gardissart (pers. comm.) recorded another, told by Charlie Matavura from Emae, for a radio programme. I have recorded Simbolo Taripoakoto giving another. In two of Guiart's versions, Roimata's cousin “Roymalo” drifts in a canoe to Emae. In the other two and in Charlie Matavura's story it is Roimata's son who does so, having been hidden in a canoe by his father. At Emae, he comes ashore at Vaetini alone and hides his identity to avoid being murdered. Burying his chiefly regalia, he masquerades as an ordinary man and becomes a kitchen servant in Ti Vaetini's household. However, he mistakenly uses his chiefly powers to render some food deadly and his identity is discovered. Thereafter the versions vary and the metaphors overlap in a confusing way. In some, birds (scouts) are sent to look for him. In others, Roimata or Roimuri goes to fetch him in “ten canoes” (or Roymalo). In some, a rooster (warrior or war party) goes to Efate and consumes Roimata's men. In two versions, the rooster returns to Cook Reef (five kilometres west of Emae and then an inhabited island, Baleiwa) and a woman castigates him for killing men and says that the land belongs to her, whereupon they have a contest in which the man succeeds in overturning and submerging the island. The last may be an allegorical reference to dispute over naflak land ownership and the consequences.

Simbolo Taripoakoto's story is quite different. It is almost devoid of allegorical metaphors and is the account of a trained manuvasa and aore. It is - 281 supported by song (Charlie Matavura's version includes almost precisely the same song but in a rather different context). In it, Roimata is married to Vasavasa, sister of Ti Vaetini (suggesting a dynastic alliance—allied chiefs frequently married each other's sisters). He and his son were expected on Emae, evidently for the installation of Ti Vaetini's son into the title. However, Roimuri shot Roimata dead. Roimata's son nevertheless told Roimuri that they must still go to Emae. 14 Carried by wind and tide, they fetched up on Epi, where Roimuri died. The youth, now dispossessed of his title and his guardian, went on to Emae, singing his identifying lament as he arrived. He was accorded chiefly status on arrival; hearing his story, Ti Vaetini divided his title between Roimata's son (Ti Vaetini Mata) and his own (Ti Vaetini Roto). The former title is said to have been subsumed in another title and the story peters out in what may be concealment.

Every version has some element of mystery or concealment in it. Some are joined to other stories that can also be found isolated from them. A detailed examination might explain how these inter-weavings came about, but yield not much more than a general assessment of them. Taken together they suggest that Ti Vaetini hid his nephew, Roimata's heir, against the time when conditions on Efate permitted a restoration of the Roimata title. Simbolo Taripoakoto's version suggests that Roimuri may have been party to this sequestration.


His name does not mean that Roimata was a Polynesian. Rather, the title name may have been coined from an older name that may well have had a Polynesian origin. The name is paired with that of Roimuri, his “twin” or closely associated chief. That Roimuri shot Roimata probably means that Roimuri is held responsible for terminating Roimata's line and influence, as a result of a ruku. Roimata may have provoked such a ruku by extending his peace formula to a social system which directly threatened the chiefly structure on Efate. What may have begun as an impromptu and well-intentioned affair seems to have burgeoned into a pervading structure, centred on Roimata, that challenged the concepts on which chiefly authority was based and threatened the basis of landholding. Elements of both systems remain, together with some evidence that there was conflict between them. The stories connecting Roimata to Emae may well refer to his son being hidden there to evade the ruku. This may have been done with Roimuri's connivance.


Roimata was not the personage of Garanger's presentation and the interpretation of the Retoka burial may be considered at least equivocal. An air of mystery still surrounds the succession to the title and information other than - 282 that given by Garanger suggests an interpretation of the legend quite different from his.

One may be confident from various genealogies that the “great Efate war” occurred ca.A.D.1600 and be sure that it was the “great fight” of general memory in the region. Roimata's peacemaking and naflak institution apparently relate to it, although there are no data specifically making the connection. The war and Roimata's activities are both remembered as distinctive and there is no other conflict of such general memory. There are no substantial reasons for doubting that the Retoka burial was of Roimata and its dating now suggests that it occurred in the same era as the war.

Although the evidence is circumstantial, one must assume that the naflaks developed into an integrated social structure under Roimata's name and guidance. The concept was no less than revolutionary. Roimata was apparently an opportunist who seized on the conditions of chiefly disarray to create for himself an aggrandisement from a limited chiefdom to head of an Efate-wide new order. That would have required creation of new chiefly titles for the purpose. This may account for the unexplained namatrao symbols said to be allocated at the five-yearly natamwate feasts.

If Roimata arrogated the right to create chiefs (and possibly renamed himself and Roimuri) and also tampered with landholding in favour of the naflaks, the reaction of chiefs throughout Efate-Shepherds could only have been outrage. Their counterstroke might be renewed warfare, or a ruku. The latter would certainly have been preferred. It was part of the chiefly code and Roimata would have understood very well what it meant.

Such a ruku could not stop at Roimata. Because of the magnitude of the offence, it would have had to include his line of succession and any chiefs he had created. Aimed at expunging Roimata's political innovation and defending the prior order, it would not have included his traditional tributary chiefs unless they were part of the new structure. The chiefly structure at Lelepa suggests that this may have been so: Guiart reported (1973a:287-88,451-52) titles tributary to a vacant dominant title; the modern dominant chiefs in the community take names (e.g., Natamatawea, Natamatsaru) created for each that are not traditional titles.

Burial 13 on Retoka, Roimata, was an old man. There is no means of knowing whether he died of natural causes, was drugged or was poisoned. There are the improbable stories of his death given to Garanger that may have been no more than allegorical artifices concealing his eclipse. The multiple burial may be an expression of chiefly revenge, an attempt at extirpation. It may be that Group 3 in the burial were members of his naflak administration rounded up and buried after the main burial.

But what of Roimuri's role and of the connection with Emae? Roimuri - 283 was probably included in the ruku but also he may well have been the one to apprise Roimata of it. His position was probably one of divided loyalties, to Roimata and to his chiefly class. It may be that he bears the blame for Roimata's death because his last act of service to his “twin” chief was by agreement between them; a forestalment of the ruku by administration of a poisoned draught and an undertaking to conceal Roimata's heir on Emae against a future restoration of the title. Even if Roimuri was not included in the ruku, the latter action would have marked him for assassination and he would have been aware of it. This explanation would account for the one item of metaphor (that of the “shooting” of Roimata) in Simbolo Taripoakoto's version of the connection with Emae, an account otherwise apparently factual and also supported by song. It would also explain Roimuri's death on Epi in the account—and in turn the various stories of a death on Epi.

The putative ruku and hiding of Roimata's heir on Emae would explain the mysteries: the gap between the Roimata of legend and the hinted survival of heirs, the air of concealment, the occasional assertion that Roimata had no children (probably obfuscation), the retention of the vacant title at Lelepa and the disappearance from the scene of Roimuri. Far from Guiart's “halo of supremacy” (1973a:287), the reason for the vacancy of the Roimata title may be that any holder of it would be marked for assassination even today. The title may have remained “underground” to preserve it rather than have Roimata's line finally extinguished as a result of an old ruku.

The extravagance of the Retoka burial may signify an enforced termination of Roimata's line and influence rather than an expression of his greatness. The central figure may have been the first, last and only Roimata. It may well be that memories on Emae hold the answers to the remaining questions still surrounding the contentious figure of Roimata.

The Roimata story illustrates the care that may be required in seeking to have archaeology verify oral tradition. Although the excavation on Retoka verified that Roimata had existed, the interpretation of it was based on faulty data. The interpretation is consequently misleading and the burials are thus inadequately explained. An alternative explanation is advanced, one which better fits the evidence and may serve to forestall erroneous constructions.

In The Island Melanesians, Spriggs (1997:207-12) gives an extensive coverage of Garanger's rendition. Although he notes, “a second date has been obtained for the grave, suggesting an age of about 400 BP”, the general context is of Polynesian arrivals in the last 700 years. He also states in two places, “Garanger interprets Roy Mata as a Polynesian immigrant” (Spriggs - 284 1996:77, 1997:212), thus leaving the impression that Roimata was a Polynesian arriving on Efate about 700 or 400 years ago. Garanger however makes no such interpretation: rather, he cautiously discusses the data on arrivals and, writing later, counsels caution in ascribing an origin to Roimata (Garanger 1972:128-29,135, 1982:124-26,130-31, 1996:72). Data presented in this article indicate that Roimata himself would not have been an immigrant; this does not preclude arrivals at either or both these times but one must look elsewhere for evidence of them.

It does seem certain that the Efate-Shepherds culture was strongly influenced by Polynesian arrival. Such an influence is indicated by the highly structured chiefly system (Guiart 1973a), the feudal type of landholding in the Shepherds, Polynesian cognates of chiefly titles, vocabulary and place names, the presence of such identities as Mautikitiki and Sina in legends, aspects of dress, adornment and manufacture of mats and barkcloth, features of burials and descriptions of old forms of respect for chiefs similar to those reported for Polynesia. Oral history shows that an arrival brought chiefly structures strongly suggestive of Polynesia as early as ca.A.D.800, long before the rise of Roimata. It is quite possible that these were elaborated or altered by influences brought by subsequent arrivals, not necessarily from Polynesia directly, or Polynesia only. Garanger (1996:72) does not exclude Micronesia.

The Ti Nambua chiefly titles in the region, apparently dating from the 1600s, have many cognates in Fiji: with other indications they suggest that influence from there at that time cannot be ruled out. The cause of the “great Efate war” is unclear and it is possible that arriving influence contributed to it. It is to be hoped that further work will put Roimata and his activities into a historical perspective clearer than the one we now have.

Harrisson captioned a reproduced drawing of a man and a woman of Efate, “…This is about the only record that remains of the remarkable Efate culture, which was wiped out by white contact…” (Harrisson 1937: Plate facing p.128). Why Harrisson chose the adjective one cannot tell, but he was right to dub Efate culture remarkable. He was, however, wrong in writing that the culture was wiped out by white contact. Taken with the Shepherd Islands, with which Efate is essentially integral, much survives and it is indeed remarkable. The Retoka burial is so. Fifty-generation histories, with stones to verify them, are probably unique in Melanesia, or even in Polynesia: Efate-Shepherd Islands may yet supply unexpected clues to a broader historical canvas than its local one. It may also be that the events which brought Roimata into prominence and the inspiration for the naflaks had their origins in some other place. However that may be, central Vanuatu holds a rich lode of oral tradition which scholarship should not neglect.

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I dedicate this article to two grand old men of great integrity and astounding powers of memory, Simbolo Taripoakoto and Pakoasongi Parang (formerly Ti Tongoa Roto of Bongabonga, Tongoa). Both are approaching 90 years of age but are still as alert as many half their age.


Without me extensive collaboration of George Mwasoetanika-Usamoli this article would have been very much less than it is. I regret that for sound reasons of confidentiality I cannot name a number of valuable informants to whom I am greatly indebted. It was Jean-Christophe Galipaud who first urged me to write this article several years ago and his encouragement has never slackened. He, Matthew Spriggs and Lissant Bolton supplied valu able comment on drafts of this essay as well as encouragement. Paul Gardissart supplied copies of recordings used on Vila Radio. Paul Gambetta voluntarily prepared the figures and staff of the Vanuatu Cultural Center assisted me in various ways. I thank all these and also others unnamed.

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1   I use the English and local orthography for this title. Garanger and Guiart use the French rendition, “Roy Mata”. Because I quote them unaltered, both forms appear in this article.
2   Garanger makes reference to Guiart's 1966 (mimeographed) publication. I have used the more accessible 1973 publication which includes an edited presentation of the 1966 publication.
3   Technically, the name ‘Shepherd Islands’ was bestowed by James Cook on Tongoa, Tongariki, Buninga and the small islands lying between them. Modern usage extends the term to include Emae, Makura and Mataso.
4   On Efate, naot, a contraction of nawot, is usually the word for ‘chief’. In the Shepherds it is usually wota, a word properly belonging to Namakura language. Marik is also used and although it might correctly belong to Nakanamanga language as a contraction of mariki, its usage is blurred. Chief Murmur's evidence used the form ‘Billy Kaluot Naot’. The nawota form which Guiart used is one in which the definite article na adheres to the noun. In all these forms, the concept of a chief is distinct and ancient and is not a creation of Europeans.
5   This figure has been amended from Garanger 1972, Fig. 182 to conform with his text. Apparent errors in his Fig. 182 were in the adornment of burials 27 (female) and 29.
6   Bonnemaison (1996: 213-14) was in error in asserting that nare rather than chiefs held land and the social interpretations he placed on that assertion are void.
7   By adopting 25 years per generation as a standard, most genealogies fit the data. The genealogy of this history gives 22 generations since the explosion of Kuwae in A.D.1452.
8   On north Efate and its offshore islands the word for naflak is nakainanga, not to be confused with nakainang ‘a person or persons subject and owing fealty to a chief’.
9   In Guiart's data, Tarinua and Tariwere conducted the ceremony while Tariworu remained aloof, “too sacred to take part” (Guiart 1973a:237).
10   The information records that on Retoka the practice was to dispose of chiefly remains at sea (at a “hole” in the reef) until a woman drugged with kava and additives revived and saw a giant eel attacking the chief's body. She struggled to the surface, overcame the general indignation and reported what she had seen—the result of which was the practice of burial on land.
11   Marakiana has interwoven concepts centring on one of duty to sustain the common good of the community. The chief's marakiana is to see to good government in all its aspects—social order, security, succour to unfortunates, land management, maintenance of ceremonies and religious life, external relations and so forth. The marakiana of his nakainang is to play their part in the cohesion of the community. The word may be used in various abstract senses but may also be specific: the contributions of produce for a communal feast are also spoken of a marakiana.
12   When Frederick Kalomoana Timakata, second President of Vanuatu and previously holder of various government portfolios as well as being a high chief of Emae, died, the Government wished him buried at the capital. His family refused. After the state funeral the body was flown to Emae and interred on his ancestral land.
13   In some cases, however, a person close to and trusted by the victim was coerced into carrying out the ruku.
14   This supports the supposition that the shooting of Roimata by Roimuri is allegorical. The boy would hardly have wished to embark on a voyage with his father's assailant.