The island of Rotuma lies 12 degrees south of the equator, approximately 650 kilometres north of the main Fiji archipelago and is 13 kilometres long and 4 kilometres wide. Rotuma was ceded to Britain in 1881 and has been a part of Fiji ever since, gaining independence from Britain along with Fiji in 1970. While having historical links with Fiji, Rotuman culture is unique and more closely linked to Polynesian islands to the east. Around 1500 Rotumans live on the island, with a further 10,000 living elsewhere in Fiji.
Rotumans were well known for their seafaring skills and maintained links across the Pacific. This stood them in good stead during the blackbirding era, as men were taken on board ships as sailors, rather than as cargo destined for other colonies. Rotumans were also sought after as crew on whaling ships.