(6 Total References)
Symbols of Power
Shortly after the second military coup in Fiji, in September 1987, a part-Rotuman man in New Zealand by the name of Henry Gibson announced to the newspapers that he had declared the island of Rotuma independent of Fiji.
According to media accounts, Gibson said he was "king" of Rotuma and claimed a popular following on the island.
His argument was that Rotuma had been ceded to Great Britain separately from Fiji, and that when Fiji became a republic and left the Commonwealth, it had lost the right to govern Rotuma.
He petitioned the queen of England for recognition of Rotuma's status as an independent state that would remain within the Commonwealth.
His plea went unheeded, but his followers on Rotuma created a new islandwide council intended to replace the Council of Rotuma (composed of chiefs and district representatives).
As a result, they were arrested and charged with sedition.
Gibson claims to have had a dream visitation from the first three sau (kings) of Rotuma
and a sauhani (queen).
says they urged him to return to Rotuma
to clean up the Mölmahao "foundation" in the district of Noatau, which was presumably the place from which their titles came.
The Mölmahao foundation is one of many named housesites ( fuag ri) on Rotuma
that have been unoccupied for many years.  The visitants also told him to take the title "Lagfatmaro" (unconquerable victor).
This was the title of the first sau, Gibson
alleges, and entitled him to be sau. 
Three flags now fly atop poles in front of the Mölmahao foundation.
One is the Union Jack.
It symbolizes the commitment of Gibson's followers to the Deed of Cession, by which Rotuma's chiefs ceded the island to Great Britain in 1881.
It also embodies the hope that the queen will recognize the plight of Rotuma
and will support the move toward independence from Fiji.
The second flag was designed by Henry Gibson
It is the Mölmahao flag.
It consists of a gold circle on a purple background; radiating out of the circle are gold stars and gold stripes (Figure 1).
In a letter responding to my inquiry, Gibson
responded that, "The meaning of the flag which flies at 'MOLMAHAO' is the sacred 'FA'APUI' of KING GAGAJ SAU LAGFATMARO also performed in the KAVA CEREMONY" (pers. com., 26 Sept. 1988).
It is thus his
personal symbol.  The third flag is Old Glory, mistakenly perceived by the Mölmahao group for a symbol of the United Nations.
To them it signifies the hope that the United Nations will support their leader's declaration of independence (Gibson sent a letter to the general secretary of the United Nations presenting his case for Rotuma's autonomy).
To me it signifies the fact that most of the symbols that Gibson
has imposed upon his
followers are empty of cognitive significance for Rotumans
They are therefore weak symbols for mobilizing sentiment.
The Mölmahao flag and stone kava bowl.
Flags are not the only type of political symbolism used by Gibson
has continually stressed the need to revive Rotuman culture in the form of artifactual and performative restorations.
For him, it appears, traditional forms of art and craft hold the key to tapping the spiritual powers of the ancestors, and thus to enhancing Rotuma's political potency.
Most modern Rotumans do not share this view.
As a result, Gibson
can be seen as overestimating the effectiveness of traditional arts and crafts as political symbols.
In addition, he
has imposed new forms that signify potency to him but that have no roots in Rotuman culture whatsoever.
Since Henry Gibson
introduced into Rotuma
a new kind of performance, karate exhibitions, and has proposed a new form for the kava ceremony, it is of some relevance to our analysis to consider briefly the nature of these traditional performances.
Against this background I now turn to examine the actions of Henry Gibson
attempt to assume a leadership role vis-a-vis Rotuma's independence from Fiji.
The Mölmahao Movement
is the great-grandson of a Scotsman who resided on Rotuma
during the mid-nineteenth century and a Rotuman woman of high rank from the chiefly district of Noatau.
Raised on Rotuma
emigrated to Fiji as a teenager.
took up martial arts, trained in Japan, and attained the status of grand master.
He founded the Jyoishin Mon Tai Kiok Kuen Kung Fu Society, which has numerous branches in the Pacific region, including Australia and New Zealand, where he now resides.
In 1981 Gibson
returned to Rotuma
for the centennial celebration of the island's cession to Great Britain.
The centennial was a grand affair, marked by the opening of the airstrip, feasting, and numerous cultural performances.
was invited by the Council of Rotuma
to give a martial arts demonstration, and he
It must have been a memorable event, for people can still describe in detail how he
broke cement blocks and timber with his
hands, and how he
threw mock attackers into the sea.
The demonstration earned him a good deal of admiration among the Rotuman people, and many joined the classes that he
It is clear from this text that Gibson
is fascinated by Rotuman words and is engaged in a quest for meaning through their interpretation.
writes as " HANUA-MA FU'ETA" would ordinarily be written as hanua mafue ta (the ancient land, or possibly, land of the ancestors).
There are few people alive, therefore, who are prepared to dispute Gibson
's claims, which were given support by an elder kinsman who had taken the title Kausakmua
.  Kausakmua purportedly traced Gibson's genealogy back to the original Lagfatmaro.  Gibson has rightfully pointed out that most Rotumans
can only trace their ancestry back three or four generations ( Fiji Times
, 7 Jan. 1983:24), so Kausakmua's
genealogy has gone essentially unchallenged.
returned to Rotuma
and was formally given the title of Gagaj Sau Lagfatmaro on Christmas Eve 1982 by members of his
According to the Fiji Times account, Gibson's "clan" honoured him with an "ageless" lei made of rare cowrie shells, which they placed on his shoulders.  The newspaper also reported that Gibson would be returning to New Zealand and then traveling to visit his studio in Sydney, leaving Kausakmua to run things for him on Rotuma and keep him informed.
The following day, another article appeared, stating that "Martial Arts grandmaster Professor Henry Gibson has rebuilt the Mulmahao in Rotuma intending to turn it into a museum" ( Fiji Times, 8 Jan. 1983:30).
In fact, structures were built on two sites on Rotuma
The Rotuma Island Council, presided by Mr. T.M. Varea, has authorized Gagaj Sau Lagfatmaro, commonly known as Professor Henry Gibson, to ask for the return of the artefacts.
said people had dug up ancient items in Rotuma
despite the disapproval of the islanders.
said bones taken from Rotuma
should be returned to the island as everyone would like their ancestors to be buried in one place.
said that with the artefacts, "Maybe Rotuma could have a museum one day."
All Rotuman artefacts in the museum were recorded, he
said, except the yaqona bowl.
would send the letter from the Council with a covering note to other museums in the world which have Rotuman artefacts.
hoped the artefacts were returned soon and that the Rotuman people would co-operate in helping them restore their culture and dignity.
said other people would not know the value of the items except if they treasured it.
Professor Gibson is a high chief of Rotuma (Fiji Times, 30 May:10).
This article signaled a dispute that arose between Gibson
and the then Director of the Fiji Museum
, Fergus Clunie, over the disposition of Rotuman artifacts.
In response to a November article in the Times questioning his
replied that the revival of his
title has brought a renewed interest in family links and Rotuman cultural awareness.
In a letter to the editor he
request that the stone kava bowl taken from Rotuma
by Aubry Parke be returned ( Fiji Times
, 12 Dec. 1983:6).
The bowl, he
stated, is of religious and ceremonial significance to the "Clan Molmahao.
objected on the grounds that the newly installed chief was from another district,  and he
demanded that the Lagfatmaro title be recognized as "parallel" to that of Maraf and that he
be installed as chief (Fiji Times 10 Jan. 1985:3).
An interesting debate followed, in which detractors asserted that the title of Lagfatmaro was not recognized in Rotuma
, and the Mölmahao group argued that Maraf was not a Rotuman title, that it was a variant of the Tongan nam
And at the same time, those ...
And at the same time, those pushing for secession of Rotuma from Fiji and to be an independent state (led by Henry Gibson, who is a resident of New Zealand and has wanted for years to turn Rotuma back into a dictatorship and kingdom with him as sau (king) and Taraivina Rae Costello who is a Fiji resident and refers to herself as the "Ambassador for the Dominion of Melchizedek") have gone so far as:
2. Naming of a cabinet with Henry Gibson
as priestly king (sau) and sovereign head of Rotuma
even though they are reporting less than 80 supporters of the 2,500 or more residents and declaring themselves the government without giving the other 2,450 plus residents a chance to have a say.
Resurgence of Rivalry
The challenge was initiated by a part-Rotuman by the name of Henry Gibson.
He was born and raised in Rotuma, but emigrated to Fiji and eventually to New Zealand, where he became a successful karate entrepreneur.
He owns a number of karate studios throughout the Pacific.
Some years ago, Gibson had a vision in which the ghosts of four former sau visited him and urged him to restore the Molmahau foundation -- the alleged housesite of Lagfatmaro, one of the sau who visited him.
According to Gibson (but not any documentary source), Lagfatmaro, a genealogical ancestor, was the first sau of Rotuma.
first return visit to Rotuma
, people who attended his
mamasa "welcoming ceremony," reported his
being able to make (his necklace of) cowry shells, and skulls, move.
On this visit, he
purportedly taught some of his
relatives to perform the kava ceremony "in the proper Rotuman fashion.
second visit, his
followers performed a ki ceremony for him when he
got off the plane.
A ki traditionally occurred when high ranking chiefs arrived by sea; they were carried from boat to land and placed upon a pile of white mats, accompanied by chants; it also took place when a high chief was taken to be buried.
They then performed a mamasa ceremony and anointed him with oil.
When the chief of Malhaha
, where the airport is located, heard about the ki he
announced at the Rotuma council
would forbid it in the future.
But the manager of the airport, a follower of Gibson's
, claimed he
had jurisdiction over the airport, so on Gibson's next visit the ceremony was again performed.
When the first tourist boat (the Fairstar) came to Rotuma, in November 1986, Henry Gibson came to the beach at Oinafa, where the tourists disembarked, all dressed in white.
sat on a white mat attended by two New Zealand pakeha (Caucasian) women, and two of his
followers brought a white mat for him to sit on.
The chiefs, as might be expected, became increasingly annoyed by these actions.
The climax of Gibson's defiance came after the second coup in Fiji
on September 25, 1987.
The leader of the coup, Colonel Rabuka, declared Fiji a republic, no longer tied to the British Commonwealth.
In response, Henry Gibson
, then in New Zealand, publicly declared Rotuma independent and appealed (futilely) to Queen Elizabeth for support.
argument was that Rotuma
had ceded itself to Great Britain, not to Fiji
, and that only the queen could abrogate the agreement.
The chiefs of Rotuma, however, voted to remain with Fiji
, whereupon Gibson
declared their authority void.
followers to form a new council and they did, selecting seven new "chiefs.
Others see the chiefs as vital to the maintenance of Rotuman custom and are harshly critical of Gibson
Archived News: January 2001
Gibson to arrange for Rotuma's independence
MEMBERS of the controversial Malmahau clan in Rotuma were counting on self-styled chief Henry Gibson and Australian Rotuman Rafeok Riogi to make arrangement for Rotuma's independence, the Suva Magistrates Court heard yesterday.
Jao Antrea, who operates a bakery in Rotuma
, told Chief Magistrate Sekve Naqiolevu during the sedition trial of Riogi, that Gibson
and Riogi were making all the arrangements to make Rotuma
an independent state.
said that Gibson
had installed him Gagaj Kausakmoa.
"That's why I stepped down.
and the accused father, who was also questioned, have been major players.
Archived News: December 2000
Police believe Riobi is also linked to Henry Gibson who is in New Zealand.
Mr Gibson, who is the chief of the Malmahau clan, has been behind moves to severe ties with Fiji since the 1970s and after the 1987 coup.
Rotumans have been politically part of Fiji since 1881.
It is located 465 kilometres North of Fiji.
But after only two weeks one of Henry Gibson's
followers named Sakimi [Gagaj Rafeok Riogi] arrived from Australia and started the business all over again, though only a few people turned around.
Mr Gibson who is the chief of the Malmahau clan has been mooting the proposal to sever ties with Fiji since the 1970s and after the 1987 coup.