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Preserving tradition through intelligent and rational choices

Moss Beach,California, USA


The emotional impulse and prejudice demonstrated by Sione Mokofisi and the individual from New York over my recent editorial comments in the Matangi Tonga is a matter of sentiment and twisted logic that influenced them to side step my point. Siosaia Moimoiangaha articulated my point very well. Richard Wolfgram added more premises with stunning examples illustrating the importance of why we should be concerned about the environment and make a conscious effort to restore the beauty of Tonga. The world is moving towards a knowledge-based economy and we have a moral and ethical responsibility to help the country we love.

Tonga had a tradition that was cleaner and friendlier to the public life and the environment. Indeed my father, Solomone Payne, amongst other business people in Tonga provided public transportation (bus and taxi services) that were widely used and helped keep the carbon dioxide emissions low. The invasion of automobiles in Nuku'alofa has become more of a nuisance than convenience. Its negative effects, on public life, safety and enjoyment of the town and environment, need to be addressed.

Tonga, like many other developing countries, has been seduced by some of the worst aspects of western culture. Embracing western culture does not mean we have to adopt the bad habits. Tonga has made many intelligent decisions in the past to adopt parts of the western culture and values such as Christianity, education, modern medicine, modern houses with indoor plumbing, ground & air transportation, rugby and competitive sports. These have proven beneficial to Tonga's economy, lifestyle and health.

Traditions change and powers change as new civilizations emerge. Should Tonga revert back to pre-missionary and pre-European time? Similarly, should the United States have maintained the tradition of slavery? Some traditions do not make sense and will loose ground in this and future generations. There are other traditions that are significant and meaningful in Tongan society and they should be preserved. I did not imply that Tongans should start worshipping pigs and become vegetarian. Presenting dead pigs may have been meaningful in earlier times and rulers. Can we develop a rational recipe for preserving the tradition of offerings (fai fatongia) to the King, church and community without being wasteful?

Gifts-giving is a tradition shared by many if not all cultures. There are numerous ways of demonstrating our generosity that would be significant and meaningful to society such as charity, funding education, healthcare, building parks and playgrounds for the children and addressing critical issues that are provoking crisis. The royal family must take the leading role in supporting and promoting such endeavors based on principles that we can build on. The national and international success of Poundbury in southwest England is assured because of its famous patron, Charles, Prince of Wales. The late Princess Diana auctioned her wardrobe and donated the proceeds to support her favorite cause. His Majesty King George Tupou V, the Prime Minister and those in high position can promote and encourage good behavior because good behavior connects with good opportunity.

The population in Tonga has grown both from birthrates, migration from overseas (primarily Asians and Indians) and from other islands to the main island as well as deportees from overseas. Nuku'alofa is becoming very dense and consequently exerts a great deal of pressure on the government to improve the existing infrastructure to support the growing population. HM King George Tupou V inherited a kingdom with political unrest and little money to rebuild and improve the educational and healthcare facilities, roads, electricity, water, sewage and waste management, parking and prisons. Government is largely relying on foreign aid and Tongans living overseas to support the economy and quality of life in Tonga.

Introducing higher taxes on activities that are unfavorable to the planet friendly such as using chemicals on land, waste management (recycle, reuse, salvage, solid waste), parking, personal transportation, petroleum, etc. is a good start towards nurturing clean & healthy environment and mitigating global warming. Criminals can do community work by cleaning up waterfronts, beaches, streets, marketplace, historical sites and public spaces. The waterfront along Nuku'alofa can be revitalized and beautified so that it becomes the town's front porch and not its backyard. Implementing walkways and cycling paths along the waterfront will encourage people to exercise while enjoying nature's beauty. The wasteland in Popua can be transformed with intelligent green urban design to incorporate shops, cafes, housing, playgrounds, landscaping that will promise to lure shoppers, diners and people from all walks of life. There are no one-size-fits all solutions but Tongans (in Tonga and abroad) must recognize the world is in grave danger due to human behavior and activities and must be willing to confront the future by making moral, ethical and intelligent decisions today.

Environmental destruction, poverty, disease, crimes and famine are as much a governmental issues as moral imperatives that we need to face up to. I have not proposed specific practical solutions in most cases because I want to first focus on an approach. Tonga has few, if any, problems that are unique. My feeling is that we can learn by observing what others have experienced and adopt the "best practices". Too many things are not even tried in Tonga simply because of timidity, stubbornness and tradition. Should Tonga stay on its current course and be like Easter Island, totally isolated from the rest of the world?

The King in his speeches during his tour of the various islands stated that Tongans must live in harmony with the Chinese and learn from the Chinese as they have learned from Europeans in the past. The King's message is clear that he desires Tongans to learn and adopt the Chinese work and business ethics, consumer behavior, tenacity and practicality that have made Chinese successful. I would expand upon that. There are many other cultures which also offer examples and inspiration. Not so long ago, China, Korea and Taiwan were just as poor as Tonga is today. These countries have become economically and culturally successful because they recognized that quality decision-making is important and quality of life is critical.

Many cities in the world are moving more and more towards pedestrian environment, bringing community together in an intimate setting, enlightened urban design inspired by their inherited experience while reflecting their tradition to create the most beautiful cities and towns in the world. In Copenhagen, Denmark for example, bicycle use has overtaken automobile use and has made major improvements to the public realm by creating a good-quality public space that doubled their tourism. Melbourne, Australia is another city that has improved its public spaces, increased pedestrian traffic on weekdays by 40 percents, upgraded street furniture, and planted more trees. This has doubled the number of people visiting the city. There are many more great cities that have set examples that Tonga may be keen to follow in order to improve the quality of life of the locals, resuscitate their economy and become a popular venue for hosting educational, sports and other type of businesses.

I also take issue with the notion that the "lifestyles" of people overseas is "denied" to the Tongans. Such things are always a choice and the only issue is what effort is required. Arnold Schwarzenegger, an Austrian immigrant and now governor of California and Madeleine Albright, a Czech immigrant and first woman US Secretary of State are two examples of success because they made a choice to integrate themselves into the system that sustains the American way of life without losing their identity and heritage. Many Tongans have made the effort to move where these "lifestyles" are already commonly enjoyed. Others will undoubtedly work to bring these to Tonga itself.

One thing I have learned quite well, particularly since living, working and traveling overseas, is the extent of my own ignorance. I therefore find it very necessary to listen intently to others with more experience and then try to process and distill what I hear. That journey never ends.

Those who live in Tonga must ultimately come up with the answers and I hope the approach I outlined will facilitate that. Who rides bicycles and how people get around has been addressed in countless places on this planet. The Mayors of New York and San Francisco take public transportation so they can make human connection while learning more of the lifestyle of their cities. Necessary improvements to these cities will attract more visitors and businesses.

Most successful cities in the world are integrating approaches to social, economic, and environmental issues as well as governmental concerns on a global, national and regional perspective. On many such issues, I like the approach of the Swiss. They have been very successful for a very long time in many ways. I believe it has been this way because they embrace what works, reject what does not and invent only what they need to. I will not tell you Switzerland is like Tonga geographically; however Tonga can have the same balance of tradition and modernity.

The King, with his discipline, sophistication and discriminating taste no doubt wants to improve the quality of life of his people and make Tonga flourish. Michael Parkinson, Director of the European Institute for Urban Affairs at the Liverpool John Moores University in Liverpool, UK, believes that often the difference between whether a city performs well or poorly is not its location or history, but rather the choices its leaders make. Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, is said to have found Rome in clay and left it in marble.

Mele Payne Lynch

Mlpayne222 [at] aol [dot] com