Henry Gibson

Henry Gibson

Sovereign Head at Rotuma Hospital

General Information


Director - Fiji Museum


Founder - Jyoishin Mon Tai Kiok Kuen Kung Fu Society

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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. Following his 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. On his 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 that he 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. He sat on a white mat attended by two New Zealand pakeha (Caucasian) women, and two of his Rotuman followers. Everywhere he went 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. His 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. He instructed his 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 and his followers.

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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). He 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. [1] 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. [2] 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. [3] 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. FIGURE 1. The Mölmahao flag and stone kava bowl. Flags are not the only type of political symbolism used by Gibson. He 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 in his attempt to assume a leadership role vis-a-vis Rotuma's independence from Fiji. The Mölmahao Movement Henry Gibson 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, he emigrated to Fiji as a teenager. He 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. Gibson was invited by the Council of Rotuma to give a martial arts demonstration, and he obliged. 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 offered. It is clear from this text that Gibson is fascinated by Rotuman words and is engaged in a quest for meaning through their interpretation. What he 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. [16] Kausakmua purportedly traced Gibson's genealogy back to the original Lagfatmaro. [17] 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. Gibson returned to Rotuma and was formally given the title of Gagaj Sau Lagfatmaro on Christmas Eve 1982 by members of his kin group. 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. [18] 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 by Gibson and his followers. 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. Professor Gibson said people had dug up ancient items in Rotuma despite the disapproval of the islanders. Professor Gibson said bones taken from Rotuma should be returned to the island as everyone would like their ancestors to be buried in one place. He 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. Professor Gibson said he would send the letter from the Council with a covering note to other museums in the world which have Rotuman artefacts. He said he hoped the artefacts were returned soon and that the Rotuman people would co-operate in helping them restore their culture and dignity. He 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 legitimacy, Gibson 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 repeated his 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. Gibson objected on the grounds that the newly installed chief was from another district, [22] 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

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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.

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