Stamps of Fiji

Topical Stamp Collecting: Ships, Explorers, Oceania

The Discovery of Rotuma


Rotuma, a Fijian Dependency, is a group of volcanic islands, consisting of one main island and eight small rocky islets surrounding it. Even the main island is small, about eight miles long by two and half miles wide. Rotuman's oral history traces the original settlers to Samoa. Legend says the chieftan Raho brought two baskets of soil on his voyage in search of a new home and that Rotuma was formed when he emptied one of baskets between two rocks.

The first Rotumans were probably from Micronesia, followed later by Polynesians, and very much later still by some Melanesians either from the New Hebrides or Fiji, the two nearest Melanesian islands.

The first known European sighting of Rotuma was in 1791, when Captain Edward Edwards and the crew of HMS Pandora landed in search of sailors who had disappeared following the Mutiny on the Bounty. The Rotumans reacted with understandable suspicion to the appearance of the ship, but eventually contact was established and Edwards was even able to negotiate a trade for supplies. After 1791, European ships made frequent visits. The Island became a favorite of whaling ships and traders in need of reprovisioning, as well as deserters and escaped convicts. On May 13, 1881, an anniversary now celebrated as Rotuma Day, Rotuma was officially ceded to the United Kingdom. The island achieved Independence from Great Britain and became a Dependency of Fiji on October 10, 1970.

This three stamp series issued in 1966 celebrates the 175th Anniversary of the discovery of Rotuma. The existence of the stamp issue is attributed to a Rotuman man named John Antonio who is also known to the Rotuman community as stamp-man. Antonio lobbied extensively for Fiji to issue a commemorative stamp of Rotuman design. The release was apparently a tremendous success. Thousands of international mail orders for the first day covers were received - the covers were parachute dropped by aircraft on Rotuma for postmarking.

The 3d value pictures Split Island (Hafliua) one of the Rotuman islets so named because it is bisected by a fissure so large that it can be navigated by a small boat. The 10d value pictures Rotuman chiefs, a map of the island, and a sail boat. The 1'6 value pictures islanders signaling a ship - a scene likely more fanciful than factual.



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