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Can Tongan Culture Survive?

San Mateo, California, USA

Editor,

I have followed the dialogue (more of a debate of who…’s more Tongan) of ‘Culture and Society’ that was initiated by Mele Lynch, and the dialectic steam-roll that has evolved to a loud discussion. While some threads of the discussion can be construed as bantering and personal attacks, which my eyes agree; there seems to be a common theme amongst Tongans, if you state something in a public forum, be ready to be taken to task, even if the intent is humble and respectful from the outset. Haters in da house! The art of side-swiping inference, side-implication, and side-insinuation, can be an ignorant presumption, but it is alive and well, more of a Machiavellian approach than Tongan, but hey if an opinion can make the Matangi Tonga column, its almost as good as being published in person.

As I read Mele Lynch…’s initial article I knew she was going to be taken to task, but maybe that was her intent all along. You know, start the debate and seemingly invite those with claws rather than extensive nails to pounce. Bounce is more like it. Counter arguments have tolled behavior, culture, beliefs, rationalizing, Tongan economy, the Iraq War, even Christianity.

The repeating theme I heard in all the dialogue all pointed Westward. Amidst all the mentioned challenges to Tongan behavior and culture, even the indigenous beauty of her environment, it is the What, How, and Why, Tongans assimilate and adapt western ideals. It…’s not even a question of yes or no. Its a matter of how much can we handle, and we…’d take it all now …– if you just won the lottery.

I truly think those opposing Mele…’s views were rantings of envy and had absolutely nothing ado about who is more Tongan, preserving tradition, or some bull about the extravagance of ceremony and ritual. Yeah, that’s right ENVY!!! Her profile - she lives in America, can afford the disposable income of an extended European vacation to exotic destinations. She is able to articulate her thoughts, arguable opinions, but well stated nonetheless. Mele conveys all the tangible and intangible qualities that is privileged anyone that comes to America, works their tale off, and makes something of themselves. But somehow Tongans who make it in America also make the likeliest of targets. And if you step out of line even in the least controversial manner, the very first person to step on your throat is surely to be another Tongan. Yeah baby, village rivalry mentality is very well alive.

If environmental issues exist in Tonga its because Tongans there, want it there. Big friggin’ deal. It comes at a cost of aspiring to western industrialization and ideals (graffiti as far as I know wasn’t invented in Tonga). It’s been a while since I’ve heard of Tongans surviving strictly by indigenous means. And if Tongans in Nuku’alofa want to drive big-American SUV’s, then go right on ahead and get your groove on - traffic jam and all.

No better way to sit in traffic than comfortably in your very own air-conditioned pimped mobile. American motor corporations will take all they can to boost profit. If capitalism can thrive in Tonga, surely consumerism can surpass any craving. Even subjects of Tonga today aspire to a western form of rule, willingly discarding a monarchy that has survived, served, and established the innate values, culture, and identity of Tonga for centuries. Am I getting too far ahead of myself?, hardly. The ideals of the West are churning and have been widely assimilated, adapted, and accepted by Tongans, and there are no signs of stopping. Monetary remittance by oversea Tongans have played a major role in the economy of Tonga (I’ve heard approximately $80MM dollars last year from Tongan authorities, and I don’t know if that’s Tongan dollars or US, really doesn’t matter); however, is there any question the amount of oversea remittance will dwindle with the passing of each generation, even the next 10 years? Is this another threatened cultural practice?, or is it behavioral - hard to tell as a Tongan overseas. It makes you wonder what kind of economy will survive Tonga in 10, 20 years. The boys down there better get their swerve on, and get that economy hummin’ (I’m certain they will). The X-generation of Tongans are wired and hooked into the age of technology, economy, and pop culture (good for some, bad for others); regardless, will Tonga be anything more than a vacation destination spot for them?

Can we really pose solutions to Tonga’s environment from this forum? Or are we merely expressing opinions, like garbage cans, everybody has one. People, get beyond the personal bashing. It’s a practice that’s yester-year Tongan. Because in all likelihood all the personal ranting and raving that takes place in this forum doesn’t mean a damn thing to our brothers and sisters in Tonga. If there is a nugget of Tongan pride in you, get involved in your local community and build-up your own legacy and the best perception of Tongans to the citizens in your city. Maybe then, the people of Tonga may give a damn who you are, your contributions to our people, or where you recently vacationed and how much money you spent there.

Sincerely and respectfully yours,

Alipate Sanft

Executive Vice President

Mango Financial

asanft [at] mangofinancial [dot] com