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Letters

Tongan culture link us to the Past

Cheshire,UK

Editor,

If the rumour about the oil in Vava…’u is true, then Tonga has the potential to become a rich Kingdom. As they say in this part of the world, …“where the oil is, wealth follows. With wealth comes prosperity and with prosperity follows a high standard of living. Once a Nation reaches this level, good health and education automatically follow. And citizens have the right to say …“we are a civilised Nation…” Amen.

Can you imagine Nuku…’alofa, and all the towns, villages and islands in Tonga having roads with pavements, proper drainage and sewer systems, farms for animals and abattoirs for slaughter. Imagine every person in Tonga benefiting from this wealth and using it for their own advantage. It would undoubtedly lead to better things; healthy diet, clean water, good personal hygiene, good house keeping, well balanced education, good jobs and more. Wouldn…’t it be wonderful to hear the visitors to our Little Kingdom say once again, …“yes …– Captain Cook was right, Tonga is still the Friendly Island…”

Few years ago, I visited Osborne House in the Isle of Wight, England …– the beloved home of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their Royal children. In the far corner of this estate lies a little museum full of diverse collections including a letter written by His Majesty King George Tupou I to Queen Victoria around 1890 or so. The letter is displayed inside a picture frame together with a piece of red cloth, which resembles a silk sash or perhaps a religious garment. The cloth itself is folded and placed below the letter. A reference on the side of this display states that the red piece of cloth was given by Captain Cook to the people of Tonga in 1773. It was sent by King Tupou I to Queen Victoria as a gift.

When I came across the King…’s letter a couple of years ago, I was overwhelmed. I read the letter over and over again. It was like reaching through a hole and touching the essence of our history. Pure magic and a wonderful feeling. However, my excitement was tainted with sadness at the thought that our Great King, The Father of Modern Tonga, did not have anything else to give the Queen of England but a piece of cloth that was given to his people a century or so before.

A couple of months ago, I visited Great Ayton, North Yorkshire, England. This is the little village where Captain Cook…’s family moved to when he was a child. Cook was educated here until he was 16 years old. Cook…’s school house and the church his family attended are still standing today, and his statue stands in the centre of the village. One of the paintings hanging in the school house was done by one of his ship…’s artists in Tonga. There is no reference as to where exactly it was done but I have a strong feeling that this was probably done in Mu…’a. The painting depicts a Tongan chief (possibly the Tu…’i Tonga) and his men meeting Captain Cook. I couldn…’t help but smile whilst studying the painting. There they were, standing tall, strong, muscular, of broad physique, handsome and proud, all in their native costumes, probably wondering who these well dressed, thin white people were. From that moment onward, Tonga was never to be the same again.

The funeral of His Late Majesty was a job well done. Tongan culture was executed at its best. The ceremonies and rituals performed during this sad time may look primitive to some viewers, but to me, the ‘apo, ha’amo, pongipongi and the kava party are interwoven in to the rope which connects modern Tonga to our ancestors. I am not exaggerating here, but if you read what Captain Cook and George Foster recorded about our ancestors, you will be so proud to be a Tongan as I am now. Of course there is always room for improvement, but perhaps it is unwise and disrespectful to use our Late King…’s funeral as a platform to compare our poor Little Kingdom to the richest Nation in Europe.

Well, here we are in 2006 with a New King …– George Tupou V, the beginning of a new era. If only someone out there could fund the research/digging for oil in Vava…’u …– well, let us hope that some oil company comes along and helps. Better still, let us hope that Tonga will strike oil in the near future. Who knows, Switzerland, eat your heart out.

…‘Ofa lahi atu

Senolita Swan

senolita_swan_3 [at] msn [dot] com