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A Recollection of Tonga - Part 2



Did you adopt her legally? What about her parents? Surely you can't love her in the same way you do Tami? Such questions my papalangi friends asked when they heard that Tupou had become our daughter. Tongans - having an old and happy history of adoption saw no reason to ask. Perhaps by answering them here, I can help explain the Tongan point of view.

We did not adopt Tupou legally. The question never arose because according to Tongan law, a child if he be legitimate, can not be legally adopted while its mother lives and Tupou's pretty mother, Soko, is very much alive. The law is, of course, a European conception grafted onto Tongan life. It becomes important only when thee is a question of money or property to be inherited and we are as poor in such things as our Tongan neighbours. The girls share alike in the only inheritance we have been able to give them - a healthy happy childhood, a good education, a love of books and music, a capacity for friendship, and an appreciation of this world and of its Maker. If that is not riches enough, then life is not worth living.

If Tongan law forbids adoption of a child whose mother still lived, Tongan custom recognises no such limitations. Adoption has always been an integral part of the social scheme in Polynesia. If a couple has many children and another couple in their family has none - or not enough - they will give them one. It is as simple as that. But, my papalangi friends cry, you don't belong to Tupou's family. By blood or by law, they are correct, but when I said that the village had accepted us, I meant just that. We have been given not the grudging acceptance Americans manage to give neighbours who differ from them in colour and background, but the complete acceptance that a family gives its members. In this modern world there is a great deal of talk about the brotherhood of man. Tongans prove every day that it is possible. Soko and Felemi gave us Tupou not because they cared so little for her, but because they cared so much. They knew Tami needed a sister and they felt that with us Tupou would have a far better opportunity to receive a good education than she would with them.

Hard though it is for outsiders to understand, thee has been no loss in the whole arrangement. There has been only gain. Tupou gained an extra set of parents. So did Tami; for Soko and Felemihave become her people. They have become our people, too - a couple with whom we feel reciprocal trust and reciprocal love. That's all very well, the objectors cry, but surely you can't love her in the same way as you do Tami who is your own child. That is true. I do not love Tupou in the same way I love Tami. I cannot love any two people in the same way because no two people are exactly the same. Indeed, it seems to me that the capacity to love at all is the capacity to recognise in each individual his unique qualities.

I have two daughters. I love them both.


History is full of magical names, but most often the magic is in direct proportion to the amount of time that has elapsed since the person concerned lived. Those who, in their own day, become myths, are few. One of them was Tonga's Queen Salote Tupou who ruled this country during the first sixteen years of my stay in it. Long before she went to Queen Elizabeth's coronation and caught the fancy of the press and the world by refusing to be sheltered from a sudden London downpour, Queen Salote had become, in her own land, a story-book queen. Beauty, power, a regal graciousness, a mystic origin - she had all the components of a mythical queen. Like all other people in the world, Tongans find no difficulty in holding at one and the same time, conflicting beliefs. Accordingly, although they are all Christians and have been for over a hundred years, they continue to believe that their royal family takes its descent from the old Tongan god, Aho'eitu, who once lost his heart to a beautiful girl of the house of Tupou.

To anyone who ever saw Queen Salote, the belief was understandable. She did seem different from other mortals. It was not so much the fact that - powerfully made and perfectly proportioned she stood over six feet tall, as that she carried herself always with the proud assurance of a born ruler. There was, too, always a touch of loneliness about her. It was due, I think, partly to a widow's natural aloneness and partly to the fact that Tongan customs kept her apart from the small daily intimacies which ordinary people share with family and friends. I had met her briefly during my first days in Tonga, but it was my second meeting with her that was most memorable. she was due, five months after I arrived here, to pay a visit to Vava'u. Knowing that she was intensely interested in the church schools, I had written when I first heard she was coming to ask if she would have afternoon tea at the college, inspect the girls' work and talk to the tutors. Her secretary had replied that she would come on the first Saturday after she arrived in Vava'u. That would have been enough to make the visit a never to be forgotten one, but Farquhar and I had purely personal interest in her coming which to us was even more exciting than entertaining her at tea.

By then, we had decided to be married and as Tongan ministers were not licensed to marry Europeans, we had planned to have Mr. Pauson who, as Queen's chaplain, would be coming with her, perform the ceremony. A certain amount of correspondence and a visit or two from him, had not increased my liking for him - nor was he the sort of man Farquhar could respect. consequently, I had not confided to him our plans. I had, perforce, written requesting a blank for a European marriage, but I had given no particulars and he had sent it thinking it was for one of the numerous half-castes who are, legally, Europeans. We decided it would be time enough to tell him that were were the couple concerned when he arrived. We would both have preferred to be married by Lepa, the Tongan head of the church in Vava'u who, calling himself my Tongan father, had all along taken a kindly interest in us and our affairs, but, in spite of the fact that he was a senior minister and was in addition, an uncle of the queen, he could not perform the service.

Tu'ifua had known our plans almost as soon as we die. Even at that early date, she had become what she has ever since remained - my "pele" who, as she explain s it, is "the friend who really belongs to you, just like your family". With her rare capacity for sharing other people's joy, she was as happy as we were on that afternoon the Queen was expected. The three of us walked down to the wharf to watch the Hifofua come in. Our eagerness had made us early. We stood awhile talking quietly, looking at the bright harbour with its encircling hills, but soon we were caught up in the excitement of the day. The quiet air began to pulse with a rhythmic beat as the school children came marching barefooted to line the sides of the road from the wharf to Veitatalo, the big old house by the post office where royal visitors always stayed. They made a gay rainbow - our own girls in blue, the Catholics in brown, the Mormons in green and the government schools in red. When they were all in place, the band resplendent in scarlet uniforms, their instruments polished to a dazzle, came down between the children playing a gay march which set our feet and hearts to tapping in time. Soon our governor, the Queen's younger son, Prince Tu'ipelehake, arrived and after him the chiefs of Vava'u and the heads of government departments - tall, fine-looking men all of them, dressed in their best valas with finely woven mats, ta'o valas, tied neatly about their waists. Behind the officials came a great crowd of people, bright with holiday clothes and holiday spirits.

When the band had played again, we could hear, cutting through the silence that followed its last note, the unmistakable thump, thump, clunk, thump; thump, thump, clunk, thump of the Hifofua's asthmatic old engine. The whole crowd held its breath and turned and stared down the harbour to where the sea curved around the hill of 'Utulei. A minute passed, another still minute and another and then the Hifofua chugged into sight. Wildly on the big drum the drummer pounded, everyone shouted "Welcome" and shouted again and again until the whole harbour echoed it - and she was there, the Queen herself, standing up on the bridge waving and smiling.

As the ship docked, the band played and the children sang the songs they had prepared. when they had finished, the 'queen and her aide came down the gangway and were met by the official party. They talked together for a few minutes and then the queen turned and faced the band, standing silent with head slightly bowed as if in prayer. The prayer came - the great swelling notes of the Tongan national anthem which burst from the band and from the throat of every local Tongan, young and old.

'E 'Otua Mafimafi
Ko ho mau 'Eiki koe
Ko koe ko e falala'anga
Mo e 'ofa ki tonga
'Afio hifo 'emau lotu
'A la 'oku mau fai ni
Mo ke tali ho mau loto
'O malu'i 'a Tupou.
Oh almighty God above,
Thou art our Lord and sure defence;
In our goodness we do trust Three
And our Tonga Thou dost love;
Hear our prayer for, though unseen,
We know that Thou hast blest our land;
grant or earnest supplication,
Guard and save Tupou, our Queen.

When it was finished, she moved across to the waiting car, got in the was driven slowly up the wharf road and along to Veltatalo. As she went, the crowd closed behind her and followed along after the car cheering and calling greetings, but Farquhar clasped my hand and whispered, "Now the others will come off," and he and Tu'ifua and I moved closer to the ship.

"The Queen's matabule - her talking chief," Tu'ifua whispered as a tall man came down. As the other members of the royal entourage followed, she continued to inform us who they were. "her name, Ofa, her hairdresser, the noble Ve'ehala," One by one she pointed out all the important people. At any other time it would have been fascinating but now Farquhar said impatiently, "Where's Pauson? And Tu'ifua voicing the obvious replied, "He's not coming yet."

"I suppose he's been sick," Farquhar said with more disgust than sympathy.
At that moment, Tu'ifua grasped my arm, "Look," she said, "That's Uesile Taufa coming down now."
Uninterested I asked, "Who's he?"
"The Queen's Tongan Chaplain."

Her words brought to our minds a fear which soon became a certainty. Tu'ifua had moved across to Uesile as he came on to the wharf, caught hold of his sleeves, and had a whispered conversation. when she returned to me, she said dismally, "Mr. Pauson didn't come."

The Queen's visit was no longer a festive event. Colour and excitement drained out of the day. slowly, the three of us walked back to my little house on the college grounds.

"What do we do now?" I asked as we sank into chairs in the living room. Farquhar shrugged his shoulders and said nothing. Tu'ifua offered, "What about Father Gregory?" but she knew even as she made the suggestion that it was useless. We were not Catholics. We sat and stared at one another disconsolately until Farquhar, trying to raise our spirits, laughed wryly and said, "To think of being in such despair because Pauson didn't come, I suppose the Queen couldn't stand him either!" Tu'ifua and I laughed perfuntorily. Then, suddenly, she sat upright. "I know," she said, "everything will be all right."

"How can it be?" we wailed in unison.
"You know Johnny Kamea?" she asked.

We knew him very well. He was a carpenter. He had made some shelves for Farquhar's library and was, even then, making some alterations in the house at 'Utulei. We knew, too, that on Sundays he was the Seventh Day Adventist Missionary (and it is on Sundays in Tonga. so that we will be in step with our neighbour, New Zealand, the International Date Line juts out of its rightful course to include Tonga. Adventists, not recognizing the jutting, contend that Tonga's Sunday is really Saturday and so they observe it as their Sabbath day). "We know him," we said, "but he's a Tongan. He can't marry us any more than Lepa can."

"Oh, yes, he can," Tu'ifua contradicted gaily. She went on to explain that Johnny had spent some time in Fiji and that while he was there he had been licensed to marry Europeans. "I'd like that, if he can do it," Farquhar said seriously. "Johnny is a fine man. I'd a lot rather have him marry us than have Pauson." "So would I," I agreed. The day began to grow festive again. I chortled. "Won't Pauson be pleased to have the headmistress of his college married by an Adventist!" A picture of that sectarian little man with his close pursed lips rose into my mind. soon Farquhar went around to see Johnny and discovered that it was as Tu'ifua had said. He could marry us and would be happy to do so. We had a full weekend ahead of us. On Friday afternoon, Farquhar and I would be married. On Saturday, the queen would come to the college for afternoon tea.

Both of us wanted a simple wedding and that is what we had, with Tu'ifua acting as bridesmaid and Lepa, my Tongan father, giving me away and only my college tutors as guests. The ceremony took place in the living-room of my house on the college grounds. When it was over, we all walked around the corner to where John Galloway, Farquhar's landlord and a leading member of Johnny's church, had prepared a feast for us. It was a friendly little gathering with everyone offering us their best wishes while Farquhar and I felt that they had already come true. When the feast was over, the tutors, led by Tu'ifua, escorted us down to the boat. An evening breeze had sprung and, as we pushed off from the wharf, I looked up into Tu'ifua's great brown eyes which sparkled a blessing down on us.

"If it hadn't been for Tu'ifua ..." I said for the first of many times and for the first of many times Farquhar agreed. Then he smiled at me, started the outboard and we sped across the harbour to our home in 'Utulei. Our wedding night was a proper introduction to the lot of a doctor's wife. We were still sitting on the veranda watching a full moon silver the harbour, listening to the distant muted voices of people passing in boats and the closer sounds of villagers on the beach and savouring our happiness when there was a discreet cough at the far end of the veranda, followed by a very determined knocking.
"Who's there?" Farquhar called out.
"I, Lutui," came the answer as the head MO at the hospital strode into the sight. "Well, hello," Farquhar began, but Lutui interrupted.
"I know, Doctor, I know, I'm sorry to come tonight, but a woman's just been brought in. She's an ectopic, I think, and she's in pretty bad shape. If you could come ..."

But before he had finished, Farquhar was down the veranda opening the front door. "Just let me get my stethoscope and some tobacco and I'll be with you," he called over his shoulder. In a moment, he was back. "How did you come down?" he asked Lutui. When he said, "With some villagers in a row boat," Farquhar handed him the keys to the engine house and said "We'll take my boat back. If you'll put the engine in, I'll be with you in a minute." Lutui took the keys and went across the garden to the engine house and Farquhar turned to me. "I'm sorry," he said, "but it can't be helped. Now you know you're a doctor's wife." He leaned down and kissed me and then he followed Lutui down the steps. A minute later I heard - as I was to do so often in the years to come - the engine spin into action, roar past the house and then grow fainter and fainter until at last there was silence and I knew it had reached the wharf on the other side of the harbour. Laughing at my rueful feelings, I went into the house. 

By the next afternoon, the patient was resting easily and Farquhar and I - he in his long white trousers and starched white jacket, I in my best dress, were sitting in the living-room of my house on the college grounds talking to Lepa and his wife, 'Ulukimata, who had come to help us with our tea for the queen. From outside came the voices of college girls, singing snatches of the song they had prepared for the queen or shouting to one another in the high-pitched excitement that I have come to know is peculiar to Tongans expecting a royal visit. Tu'ifua, in a new dress, wearing the fine linen-like mat which has been handed down in her family for over two centuries, filled the air with a delightful smell of sandalwood as she darted into the living-room to give a finishing touch to a bowl of flowers, or out to the kitchen for a last minute inspection of the cakes and sandwiches - or off to the grounds to see the final rehearsal of the ma'ulu'ulu, the famous old Tongan sitting dance which the girls were to do for the queen.   

I called Limu and Silla, the two college girls who had been selected to serve, and, with Farquhar playing queen, we went over and over the whole process of afternoon tea. Limu, who thought a betrousered ruddy-faced Scotchman passing as queen a great joke, giggled her way through approaching him, bowing low, and offering an imaginary cup of tea or passing an illusory sandwich; but the practice was a good one, and, when they had run through it a couple of times, I prided myself that they served as skillfully as the Queen's own girls. We were still passing a final empty cup of non-existent tea when Tu'ifua came hurrying inside the room. "It's twp-thirty," she announced. "She'll be here in a minute or two. She's always on time." She cast a critical eye on us and asked, "Are you ready?" We were, but something in Tu'ifua's look sent Farquhar into the bedroom to run a comb through his hair and me following after him to have a final look in the mirror.

When we returned to the living-room, Lepa and 'Uluakimata who had been sitting with us during the serving lesson had moved from their chairs and were sitting on the floor on either side of the doorway. I started to ask them why, but Tu'ifua said quickly, "It is our custom," and herself sat on the floor at my side. At three she stood up and paced across the room and out onto the veranda where she could see up and down the street. "I don't understand it," she said coming in again at the front door. "She's always on time." Farquhar was helpful. "It's probably just a mistake. Two-thirty is early for afternoon tea. She probably thought you meant three-thirty."

"Perhaps," I said doubtfully, "but she was to inspect the school and see the dances first."
Agreeing with Farquhar, Tu'ifua swept my doubts aside. "You're perfectly right, Toketa. That's it. There's been a mistake about the time."

Fortified by that hope, we set ourselves to wait again, but at four o'clock, Lepa stretched his legs, yarned, and stood up. "Maybe someone came and she was held up," he said. "We'll go home now." And with that, he and 'Uluakimara left. Tu'ifua watched them until they had disappeared down the garden path. "I think we'd better wait a while longer," she said. From the kitchen where they were surreptitiously nibbling on cookies, Lima and silia let forth a cascade of giggles. I sighed, "What a way to spend the first day of my marriage." Farquhar laughed at my mournful voice. "Perhaps that will teach you to entertain royalty," he said. Tu'ifua had been the most patient one of us all, but at five o'clock, she suddenly rose, walked purposefully to the kitchen and bust into a spate of Tongan which sent Limu and Silia running out onto the grounds calling on the girls to weave fresh coconut front baskets. "What's going on?" I asked.

"We've waited long enough," she said firmly and went on to explain. "In our custom, if you prepare something for an important person, as we have prepared tea for the Queen today, you wait and when you've waited so long that you know she won't be coming, you sent it to her." it seemed to me a bit like saying, "here's your old tea ... and so what?" but as Tu'ifua assured me that it was the polite and accepted thing to do, we bundled sandwiches and cookies, cakes and bottles of lemonade - and even a thermos or two of tea, into baskets. When they were all filled, a group of blue-uniformed girls led by one of the tutors was dispatched to Veitatalo to take the Queen her afternoon tea. Tu'ifua went off to prepare for evening study hall and Farquhar and I returned to 'Utulei. so ended our first attempt to entertain Queen Salote.

Of course, there was an explanation - the simplest - and, from a Tongan point of view, the most natural one in the world. Ve'ehala, the personable young noble who acted as the Queen's social secretary, gave it when he called on us next morning. "You see," he said, "her Majesty heard about your wedding and she thought you wouldn't be thinking about the tea party. She sends her apologies. She really never thought you'd be there."

"We were there," I said rather huffily. "We agreed to be there and we were," but Farquhar, more agreeably, and in perfect Tongan form said; "Thank you for coming to tell us." Ve'ehala smiled. "her Majesty wanted me to ask if she could come next Saturday instead." So when Saturday came round again, my cottage and the college were once more in sparkling order. Once more Farquhar, Tu'ifua and I were dressed in our best clothes, once more Lepa and 'Uluakimara sat on the floor by the door, once more the girls practised serving. As Limu was demonstrating how she would offer the Queen a second cup of tea, the scrawny yellow cat who had adopted me leapt hopefully at the empty tray she held out. "Pusi kovi ... bad cat," shouted Limu as she brought the tray down on the unfortunate animal's head.

"Here, here," I said. "if yo do that when the Queen's here, the tea will scald the cat and then you'll have a scene." Limu tried to look contrite, but laughed in spite of herself. Not a bit amused, Tu'ifua turned to Silia. "Get rid of the cat," she ordered, "Put it somewhere." At that moment the clock struck the half hour. Two-thirty. We heard a car door close and looked out to se Vilai, the Queen's tall handsome half-brother who served as her aide, going around to hand her out of the car. Silia and Limu dashed from the room carrying a bewildered piece of protesting yellow fur between them. Tu'ifua sank to the floor beside Lepa and 'Uluakimata and Farquhar and I went to the veranda to greet our royal guest.

Queen Salote had that greatest of royal social gifts - the ability to make everyone she met feel immediately at ease. She came up the steps that day and onto the veranda and stretching out one hand to Farquhar and one to me, offered us, all in one breath, congratulations on our marriage and apologies for having failed to come the week before. Her clear, rather deep voice was musical, and musical, too, was her laughter which cascaded through the conversation all that afternoon. But not at all musical was the muffled "meow, meow, meow," which, as soon as we had stepped into the living-room came to our ears. I looked around, but I could see no sign of my cat. The Queen had perfect hearing. fortunately she also had perfect manners. she gave not the slightest sign of having heard anything amiss. Nevertheless, I was relieved when, very shortly, we set out on a tour of the college grounds and left the "Meows" behind.  

The three Wesleyan girls' colleges - Queen Salote in Nuku'alofa, Pilolevu in Ha'apai and Siuilikutapu here in Vava'u were especially dear to the Queen's heart. Certainly, she never seemed happier than when she was walking among the girls, seeing examples of their school work and listening to their young voices. She looked that day at countless notebooks, endless embroidered pillowcases and piles of mats and baskets. Interested as she was in everything belonging to her country's past, she was especially pleased that the traditional crafts of weaving and tapa making were being taught in the schools. Now and again, she would reach out with the big fan she always carried, tap a basket and say, "That is beautiful! See the fine even weaving!" or looking at a piece of tapa, she would exclaim, "That's a delightful pattern." As she spoke, the face of some one of the blue-uniformed girls standing at attention behind their work, would light up like a tree full of Christmas candles and it would know who had made the item.

When we returned to the house, the girls had put three chairs on the back veranda. There we sat - the Queen and Farquhar and I - she in the middle in a big tapa-draped armchair and Farquhar and I on either side of her with Tu'ifua, Lepa and 'Uluakimata on the floor at our feet. When we were settled, Tu'ifua leaned toward the Queen and told her the college had prepared some songs and dances for her. she nodded her head, smiled and said, "let them begin." A sitting dance may sound like a contradiction in terms, but everyone who has seen the ma'ulu'ulu knows that it is not. There was something delightfully incongruous about the double line of thirty girls who, dressed in the college blue jumper and white blouse, had tried brightly-coloured grass skirts about their waists, dyed their cheeks with red hibiscus and hung frangipani leis (garlands) about their necks. They came up before us, stopped, bowed low to the Queen and, sitting down, spread out their gay grass skirts and listened attentively for the first beat of the drum behind them. When it came, every arm was outstretched as with shoulders, arms, hands and heads, the girls began to dance. The lower part of their bodies remained still except for a tell-tale bare toe or two beating time to the music. 

"That's a very old dance," the Queen said to me, "so old that no-one now knows what the words mean."
I nodded and she continued, "There are many such. some of them must go back to the distant time when all the Polynesians were one people in some Asiatic homeland."

On a long-drawn-out plaintive note, the ma'ulu'ulu finished. The girls stood yup, bowed again, and marched away. although Siuilikutapu was a girls' college, we had one class of boys who lived in some church property just out of town and came into classes every day. Not at all chagrined at belonging to a girls' school and not to be outdone by the girls, either, they had demanded permission to do a dance. Now they came in, tripping over the anklets that they all wore which were made of the big flat seeds called pa'anga which clacked as they walked. They had skirts of leaves and were bare from the waist up except for leaf collars. Each boy carried a long spear. They may have come bumbling in in the clumsy way typical of adolescent boys everywhere, but once they started to dance,. They moved in a rhythm as perfect as the girls' had been, but what a different rhythm it was! The spear dance goes back to the old days when war parties danced themselves into a frenzy to give themselves courage for battle. It is a favourite with young boys, for as they dance and thrust their spears with a violence that makes one fear for their lives, but with such perfect control that they never actually touch one another, they give forth fearful blood-curdling yells.

"There's no question about their being healthy young specimens if they can stand up to that," Farquhar said. The Queen held her fan to her ears and laughed. "How noisy they are, but how they love it!" And noisy they were, but not noisy enough to drown out a "Me-o-w" that seemed drawn out of pure fury. "In the old days," said the Queen quickly, "the spears were beautifully carved and inlaid with shell."
"Me-o-w, meow, meow."
"I know," I replied. "I saw some fine ones in the museum in Auckland."

When the last of the dances was finished, the Queen stood and for a few minutes spoke to the students who filled the square in front of us. she introduced Farquhar formally and spoke of her joy at our marriage. She thanked the dancers and expressed her interest in the college work she had seen. She spoke of the future and of the young people there that day who would help to create it and asked God's blessing on them all. Then, with Tu'ifua holding the door, she went through to the living-room. Farquhar followed her, but I lagged behind to whisper to Tu'ifua, "Where's that cat?" for the Queen's speech had been heavily punctuated with feline remarks.

"I don't know," she said hopelessly and then, as I showed signs of lingering to find out, she gave me a push and whispered "go on. You can't stay out here." So in I went and when we were all seated, I gave the nod that had been agreed on as a signal for Limu and Silia to start serving tea. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw them leave the kitchen and cross the dining-room carrying, each one, her tray at just the proper angle. I had not finished congratulating myself on having such well-trained girls when they stepped into the room, took one terrified look at the Queen and fled - to the inevitable "meow". The Queen fanned herself busily. Tu'ifua rose and went into the kitchen. When she came back into the room, she was carrying a tray. "Come and help," she said to me. "Those wretched girls were frightened. They've run away."

So much for our practices! Tu'ifua and I managed very well. She, Lepa and 'Uluakimata, in accordance with Tongan custom, would not, eat in the presence of the Queen so there were only three of us to be served. And soon we were all provided with sandwiches, cakes and tea. The Queen had just asked Farquhar something about the Medical Department when, as if it rose from under our very feet, came another anguished "meow". The Scotch are noted for facing issues squarely and for saying what must be said. Brushing aside the Queen's polite unconcern and my studied indifference, Farquhar lived up to his national characteristics. "Where," he demanded in a loud voice, "is that cat and what is wrong with it?" My thoughts were scarcely those of a loving bride. I felt my cheeks flush scarlet as I replied miserably, "I don't know. I think the girls put it somewhere so it wouldn't be in the way." From behind the Queen's fan came a delighted titter. "Maybe they'd better let it out," she suggested; so Farquhar and I finished servicing tea while Tu'ifua went off to find Limu and Silia and discover where they had put the cat.

When the tea was finished, I asked the Queen if I might present my tutors to her. She said at once that she'd like that. In my mind, I had made a picture of that part of the afternoon. It was, I suppose, based on American faculty meetings called to hear some famous visiting educator in which, following introductions, the visitor spoke and the faculty asked questions. It was not to be. I had made my mental picture without taking Tongan custom into consideration. Tu'ifua came back about that time and the Queen looked up at her and said, "Well, where was the cat?" "In the woodbox." "Poor thing!" the Queen said and then, to Tu'ifua, "Come and sit beside me." I watched as she sank to the floor beside the royal feet. The next tutor was an island girl who had never been so close to the Queen before. As I called her name, she came to the doorway of the room, sank to the floor, crawled on hands and knees across the mat, seized one of the Queen's bare feet in her hands, fondled it for a minute and then bent and laid her cheek against it.

When I saw that, I forgot all about American faculty meetings. We were in fact, witnessing the ancient ceremony of moemoe'i accorded in times past only to the Tu'itonga, the spiritual ruler of Tonga. As Queen Salote was a descendant of the last Tu'itonga she was, in Tongan eyes, entitled to such signs of respect. As one after another of the tutors repeated the same performance, all my American ideas of equality rose into my mind - and yet, there was something perfectly natural about the whole thing as if, in that moment of contact with their ruler each of those young tutors was joining herself with the whole stream of her country's history and ideals. It was a shared moment - as moving, I think, to the Queen as to the tutors.

When the last of them had been presented, they sat in a circle on the floor about the Queen while she thanked them for their work in the college. She spoke, as she was to do so often again in the future of the difficult time of transition that lay ahead as Tonga moved from being a small isolated agricultural country to take its place in the great family of nations. She stressed the role education had to play in the coming changes and implored the tutors, as she was later to implore all Tongans to "Keep the best of your own old Tongan ways and adopt the best of the new European ways." She came to an end, looked up, pointed across the room with her fan, "There's the culprit." I followed her gaze to where my scraggy yellow cat sat in the doorway exercising the old feline prerogative of looking at a queen.

"Si'i pusi ... poor kitty," she said as, still laughing, she rose and said it was long past time for her to be going. Farquhar, Tu'ifua and I, followed by the cat, saw her to the car. We were not alone. Crowding behind us were the tutors and the college boys and girls. They were completely silent until Queen Salote lowered the window at her side, leaned out and called, "Than you again - all of you,." Then they set up a great cheer which must have echoed in her ears all the way back to Veitatalo. 

by Patricia Ledyard

Pacific Islands Radio Stations

Jane's Oceania Travel Page
 (E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 18th December 2008) 
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