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
was "king" of Rotuma
and claimed a popular following on the island.
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
petitioned the queen of England for recognition of Rotuma's status as an independent state that would remain within the Commonwealth.
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