Malo e lelei! We returned to Tonga for a reunion with my mother, her husband Dick, and my aunt Wendy, who used to live in Tonga, but Wendy couldn't make her connection in Fiji as this was exactly during Cyclone Evan that nailed Fiji, so we stayed in Wendy's old house in Vava'u without Wendy, which was a bit weird but we made the best of it. Our friendly neighbors gave us Christmas feast roast pig with all the fixings. We also spent a few nights on beautiful Mounu Island with beach-front fales and amazing snorkling. Ah....
The King is dead. God save the King! The Old King (George Tupou V) died and left his dog Otto to the caretaker of Mounu Island, a Kiwi named Alan. So we got to play with the King's dog. Note that Alan and his wife Lyn cannot buy Mounu Island because God owns all the land in Tonga (and the King administers it on God's behalf). The New King (George Tupou VI), is the Old King's younger brother, as the Old King did not have any legitimate children. We don't know if the New King has a dog. But anyway, it was sure great to meet my Mom and Dick in Tonga!
Here's a travel tip: Don't rely on lazy South Pacific airplane companies to guarantee your reservation. Re-confirm the day before and arrive early. We checked in 45 minutes early, but they already closed our flight, and we weren't on it. Faka-tonga! But don't get angry... be patient... You are on island time...
Malo e lelei! Tonga is the last Polynesian kingdom (the only one that avoided colonisation). Tonga was also the first Polynesian kingdom, 3000 years ago. Tonga is so remote that few tourists visit, but it's great for backpackers and yachties because few tourists visit. We travelled with my aunt Wendy who used to live there teaching scuba and practising veterinary medicine. With Wendy's friends we ate, tramped, snorkelled, and sailed. We even swam with whales. We went to church on Sunday followed by a bar-b-que. Then we drank hand-crafted rum. Wendy's sister, my mother, met us later, her third visit to the Friendly Islands.
Wendy met the King (George Tupou V) back when he was merely the Crown Prince, in a bar. He used to be quite the playboy, and we hear that he still fancies his wine, women, and wealth. After pro-democracy riots destroyed most of Nukuʻalofa, he conceded reforms that recently led to the election of Tonga's first prime minister.
Sunday in Tonga is a day of rest, not just metaphorically, but enforced by the police. With few exceptions such as hotels but not restaurants, everything is closed and commercial boats do not sail. This goes to show how good a job the missionaries did. It's too bad the Polynesians lost so much of their original culture, but the singing in church was amazing. Wendy says she loves this aspect of Tongan life. She says that everybody deserves a day of rest, even scuba instructors. By the way, here are some of her GREAT underwater photos.
We saw the fakaleiti show at Tonga Bob's bar. Fakaleiti are common throughout Polynesia; one boy is raised as a girl. Some adult fakaleiti enjoy dressing up and performing dance numbers. As men, they get away with more risqué attire than any Tongan woman could wear, and the results are entertaining.
One reason to study the full variety of global cultures is to identify that which is common, and therefore human nature. One generalisation is that people can be cash poor but life rich. I think of the Hawaiian word aloha, love, the warmth of sincere smiles and genuine hospitality. People also take the path of least effort, and in Tonga this manifests as a poor diet. Tongans have a huge problem with obesity. But they do not seem to worry, as everything is God's will. Can God not will Tongans to study nutrition and medicine?
We met Haniteli, the former Minister of Agriculture, and the creator of the 'Ene'io Botanical Garden. He took us on a tour which he conducted with enthusiasm and aloha. We travelled back to Wellington with his wife, Lucy, via Auckland, where we waited all night for our next flight with local Tongans instead of at the airport. They made coffee and snacks and told funny stories for hours. More aloha :-)
Tonga lacks fancy resorts. Go elsewhere for that. Come to Tonga for the best of slow island living and water sports. We are rooting for Tonga in the upcoming Rugby World Cup (to finish second after New Zealand's All Blacks, of course). Update 2012: The All Blacks won :-)
'Ofa atu, David and Lili