hd_3001a.gif (4031 bytes)

TONGA

TONGA - THE CORONATION OF THE KING

The Coronation weeks of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV was a most joyous occasion. One of the guests was June Knox-Mawer who met the new King at the dawn solstice ceremonies at the Ha'amonga. June Knox-Mawer's recollections are a valuable historical record and formed the basis for the information contained on this Web site.   

           

In the last days before the Coronation, the mere preparations would have provided sufficient entertainment for a dozen such occasions in the lives of lesser countries. Around the Palace there was a change of scene from hour to hour, each one more spectacular than the last.  Meanwhile an unending river of people poured past our house, the entire adult population it seemed of every one of Tonga's thirty-odd inhabited islands. The presentation of gifts from each village was the formal sign of loyalty to the Crown, and with each presentation must go dancing, songs and speeches.  And so all day long, from the narrow lane outside, came the roar of singing, the clash of palanga see anklets - like a hundred money-boxes shaken together - and the rattle of biscuit-tin drums. In the rare silences, one could hear the marvellous soft rustle and brush of a hundred leafy skirts as the dancers walked by in procession towards the Palace gates. sometimes they were soldiers' in tall crepe-paper hats and streamers, with wooden words and war-paint on their cheeks. sometimes they were mermaids and mermen, with breast-plats of thousands of silvery-shells and tails of coloured leaves. More often they were traditional Polynesians in kilts of tapa, with plumes of docks' feathers in their hair and garlands of frangipani and hibiscus at wrist and throat, muscles gleaming with coconut oil, broad feet dusty with the long walk to the town.

Behind the dancers came the gifts, mats often fifty-foot long rolled up and carried on the heads of the women, men with yams on their shoulders the size of small three-trunks, and finally the pigs. The cooked ones reclined peacefully, on beds of leaves, brown and glistening with a sprig of myrtle in the middle of the belly. The lice ones caused more trouble. Fattened to an enormous size, they were usually tied to wooden sledges and hauled along on ropes, to chorus of porcine squeals and human yells. One or two prize specimens were led along by proud owners, and here the King's machine demonstrated its versatility proving itself to be amongst other things, a folk-lift. More than one obstinate porker lying down on the path in protest, a solid wall of sighing pink flesh, was surprised to find himself suddenly hoisted in mid-air and trundled along in this undignified position to be deposited in the kitchen yard.

The driver, a young handsome matapule, seemed to enjoy the machine, proudly waving and smiling to his acquaintance as he roared in and out of the Palace grounds. When I made his acquaintance later though, at one of the feasts, he confided wistfully to me that it wasn't his line at all. But the King has picked him out to take charge of the machine, and he had had to comply.

In between the village presentation, came the delegations from overseas. One day it was the Maori Queen Te'Ata and her Court from New Zealand, trailing their traditional feathered cloaks up the Palace steps, like a procession of ancient hearth-rugs. The next it was the turn of the Fijians, the Chiefs first, the familiar figures of Ratu George and Ratu Edward Thakombau, Ratu Mata and Ratu Penia taking their places of honour alongside the King on the verandah, while the Fijian rugby team, traditional enemies of the Tongans, came forward in immaculate black blazers and kilts, carrying the great wooden drinking bowls of Lau, black and white tapa from Taveuni, and the immense balls of sinnett-twine illustrated in the missionary memoirs of the nineteenth century. A four-tier iced cake appeared in the midst of the procession from the Tongan community of Sydney, almost colliding with what looked like half-a-mile of scarlet cloth snaking its way down the opposite lane. Even at the British Consulate, a stately bungalow on the other side of the town, there was evidence of flurry. Stacks of the London Illustrated News of the last decade had been replaced in the reception room by official programmes, and an extra desk moved in for the Duke of Kent's secretary.

Thank you so much for visiting the above four Domains. I am very pleased to be able to share with you that further limited advertising on Tonga Coronation Page, along with other Web Pages within the above three Domains, are now available. Potential advertisers are cordially invited to choose from several thousand Web sites available for placement of your important advertisements.

I would like to sincerely thank everybody for visiting and for your kind support. Best wishes and God's blessings to all. For further information, please contact me at:

jane@janeresture.com or jane@pacificislandsradio.com

Across the streets, triumphal arches sprouted everywhere, topped with huge cardboard crowns and giant signboards of the Tongan Royal coat-of-arms. Coloured bunting sprang up round curly wooden verandahs. Schoolboys built festoons of palm branches, leaves and flowers, while the girls stitched and painted a hundred loyal messages 'God Bless Our King', 'God Save His Majesty'. To the usual Nuku'alofa sounds of grunting pigs and honking motor-bikes were added the boom of practising cannons, the lush warble of rehearsing choirs, and the martial roll and thud of the Vavau brass Band, resplendent in scarlet and gold as they marched and counter-marched outside the Palace Walls to the strains of 'John Brown's Body'. Punctuating the whole symphony, regular as a metronome, came the drill cries of 'Malie! Malie' (Well-done! Well-done!) from the courtiers in black seated along the Palace verandahs, in appreciation of one dancing marathon after another. 

On the radio, the customary Tongan calm showed signs of cracking. Announcements about the different opening times of Niku'alofa's public lavatories on coronation Day were followed by a long-range weather forecast which closed guarded with, 'A ridge of high pressure is at present lying over the entire Kingdom'. Finally came the final adjurement. 'Please will everyone in Nuku'alofa endeavour to complete their cooking by 6 p.m. this evening and on subsequent evenings to enable the festive lights to be switched on for this historic occasion.'

Flushed with haste and heat, Lavinia and the girls emerged triumphant from the kitchen with supper at five minutes to the hour. Hardly had we taken the first mouthful than there was a joyful chorus from the boys on the verandah. Rushing outside along with the rest of the population, we watched with oos' and aahs' as the misty dusk exploded in a thousand coloured bulbs. The Palace was a wedding-cake, iced with silver arc lights. The Norfolk pines, hung with fairy chains, looked like half-a-dozen Trafalgar Squares at Christmas. Over at the almost-completed Post Office (an imposing edifice of the utmost modernity) even the workmen were floodlit in gold as they laboured among the scaffolding to finish it off in time for tomorrow. Loyal Tongans had rallied to the national call, eaten early, and now ere out in the streets to survey the results.

'The Dateline! Let's go to the Dateline!' cried the girls.

Tui'vakano was still out at a rehearsal for the Royal Kava Installation, so to the Dateline we flew - and found that the world had come to Tonga. The marble dance floor, the size of an ice-rink, that usually lay empty as if waiting for Rogers and Astaire to come gliding across it, was crammed with couples. Every table was crowded and up on the palm-thatched rostrum, George Tonga, the island's Henry Hall, was working hard to make 'Deep Purple' even faintly audible above the noise. There were New Zealanders in shorts and braces, British naval officers beaming over their gins, American diplomats and their wives, blonde Australian ladies smart and bronzed in last year's fashions, the last surviving English colonial officials, a circle of Swedish movie-makers, a familiar face of B.B.C. television with his court of cameramen and producers. Suddenly we were all part of a pre-war Hollywood musical. The moon was rising to time above the palm trees, and around this instant honey-pot of money and excitement buzzed a varied cast of Tongan extras - teenage spins in winkle-pickers with fat Polynesian bottoms squeezed into blue jeans, ladies of the town with towering beehives and satin mini-skirts and a whole army of hand-picked, American-trained waiters as polished and smiling as a male chorus-line.

'Where Time Begins,' drooled one purple-faced American State governor as he lurched by in waltz-time. 'Boy! Y'cn sure say that again!'

'Just not a thing on Hawaii though,' retorted the lady in his arms, the wife of one of the dignitaries from America's 49th State.

'Shush! here comes the cabaret.'

One of the local Mormon teachers, a drooping youth in a blue suit, advanced upon the microphone and began to speak about 'Tongan's ancestral stories in dance-form'. We stayed just long enough for him to introduce a chubby schoolgirl bulging out of her Tahitian grass skirt, a tiara of gardenias pushed ludicrou8sly down over her round cheerful face, another dressed as a Hawaiian fire-juggler and a third swinging a pair of Maori 'Poi' balls. then hastily we squeezed our way out again. Lavinia had remembered she had still to iron Tui'vakano's starched white tunic for tomorrow, and polish his brass staff of office. Hina, looking thoughtful, said how sad I must feel not to be staying at the Dateline with the other 'palangis'. It took me all the way home to convince her otherwise. Tui'vakano was sitting in state awaiting our return. It was worth every moment of his tirade on the loose ways of modern womanhood o be home again, I thought, falling to sleep on the sagging feather mattress and the pillow signed 'Sweet Dreams' amid the soft rise and fall of Tongan talk and laughter from the other rooms.

Even so, waking next day, I couldn't help wondering if the Dateline aura would invade the Coronation itself, and the celebrations that followed. Would it all turn into a grand-scale tourist attraction?

Even to think of it was to reckon without that genius for compromise which runs with an almost arrogant conviction of the absolute wisdom of all things Tongan. the long-awaited Coronation service was Western-European occasion, a miniature replica of the rituals of Westminster Abbey crammed into a Methodist Chapel designed to hold less than a hundred people. but it was stage-managed by Tongans - the European world as seen through Polynesian eyes. My own view of the event was from a crow's-nest perch shrouded in black curtains outside the main window of the Royal Chapel. This was the coveted site of the New Zealand Broadcasting team, the only television crew permitted to film the event - the B.B.C. celebrity had been consigned to wooden benches at the bottom of the garden to jostle with the rest of the world's press and film representatives. The Tongan commoners sat silently respectful on the green outside the Palace walls, where the Royal Guards in scarlet and white paraded alongside the part of British naval ratings. All along the pathway to the chapel door a vast strip of billowing tapa was laid as a carpet of honour, with ladies of rank seated at intervals along the edges like giant paperweights. Along the tapa walked overseas dignitaries in morning dress and silk hats, their ladies dressed according to the strict instruction of the official invitations - 'long dresses with sleeves, gloves and a small dainty head-dress such as flowers. Arms should be covered.'

The Tongan nobles were equally formal I their own full dress, high-necked tunics of black or white, and swaddlings of family mats from which small elderly men peered out like turtles, and the fat ones moved like Diogenes in his barrel. It was a perfect day, the glitter of the sun like half-a-dozen are lamps, the pine-trees too green, the sea too blue for everyday reality. An inner voice urged me to try and remember everything for I would never see such a sight again. As a result of which, a number of scenes went past in a blur, and some oddly assorted details engraved themselves permanently on my mind.

The King's procession from the Palace was framed for me in a chink of black curtain, through which I ;peered out ignoring the curses of the cameramen, as through a harem peephole. It was exactly te4n o'clock. The king appeared like a Colonial Governor, in plumed cock-hat and a General's full-dress uniform of dark blue and gilt, but trailing behind him a vast cloak of crimson velvet trimmed with ermine. The Queen was in a smaller cloak, and beneath it a simple dress of white glinted with crystal embroidery. Three small eighteenth-century pagers walked behind, the youngest of the Royal Princes.

Through the glass of the chapel window, the service rolled by like some extravagant silent movie, the quaint and glittering congregation framed in the stained-oak decor of Pacific Gothic, 1880. Ve'ehala had pointed out to me at the back of the throne an inlaid star of a different wood. It had been taken from an ancient tree used as a back rest at the investiture of Tongan Chiefs, since the very earliest times. And the Coronation itself, identical in form to that used to crown ever King and Queen of England, was still embedded in Polynesia. His Majesty received the orb and sceptre, was anointed with holy oil, was crowned with the heavy gold circlet by the Royal Chaplain. But the voices of the choir that burst into Handel's. 'The King shall Rejoice' were purely Tongan; the Tongan tongue had given the liturgy an exotic strangeness, and now the drums outside, that echoed the chapel bells, belonged only to Tonga. So did the odd ladies who broke into solo dances of joy as the new King reappeared, and the elderly man who performed hand-stands in the path of the Royal progress - one of the prisoners released that morning as a mark of Royal grace.

The moment came to descend to earth again, down the shaky cat-ladder from our improvised platform in mid-air. At the bottom was the Tongan engineer who had been recording my commentary on a tape-recorder for broadcast later that day over the South Pacific service. The tape was also to go to the B.B.C. in London. My heart froze as the man looked up at me grinning from ear to ear. I had been in the South Seas long enough to know what that meant.

'Machine not working', he laughed, shaking his head. 'Nothin' going' round. Perhaps the battery gone crook, eh?

Which is why the next ten minutes found me being driven furiously along the Radio Tonga's studios by the Director of Broadcasting, the only people on the island to be travelling away from the Palace while towards us on every side surged the entire child population of the Kingdom. It was the mass procession of schools, on their way to a triumphal march-past the King, a vast bobbing tide of bouncing girls and boys, waving red and white flags and chanting the Tongan hurray at the tops of their voice. 'Tue-Tue! Tue-Tue!'

Like the Red Sea, they parted for us from time to time, cheering us on our way, while I scribbled huge, undecipherable notes for a broadcast across the back of my List of Official Dignitaries - enough for five minutes at the microphone anyway, taken a suitably dignified pace, with inserts of rehearsal recordings of the Chapel Choir.

After this, the rest of the festivities seemed to merge into a single non-stop kaleidoscope. The Official Programme made a gallant attempt at sorting out one day from the other. The firework display by the Navy, in fact, began on the evening of the Coronation Day, and went on for four nights, together with 'the ancient Tupakapakanava Ceremony when the north shore of Nuku'alofa and the islets in the harbour will be illuminated by torch-bearers standing at regular intervals.' With so much illumination outside, who needed domestic electricity? Promptly at six, the lights in the house faded out, and a great milling crowd wandered through the spangled dark of the malae. The spires of the Palace stood sharp against the stars. guards in snowy uniform moved watchfully up and down the white-washed walls lest anyone should be so absentminded or impertinent as to lean on them. I was first brushed off for doing so, then apologized to - it was only a Tongan tabu, it seemed. Suddenly there was a puff of sound out to sea where H.M.S. Sirius lay. Upturned faces were lit by a shower of scintillations in the sky, drifting down like leaves, fading to ;pinpoints as they met their reflections in the black silky water. Cartwheels followed in purples and pinks, then great green pincushions of sparks, flowers that bloomed brilliant and iridescent, fountains of dripping exploding light and sound, each climax eagerly awaited, sadly watched after. As a grand finale the whole ship was floodlit, floating like a silver bird of the darkness. Then when it was over, and the applause faded away, a new illumination sprang up, but his time from the land, a chain of light that followed the curve of the bay and flowed on into the next, and the one beyond, as the torch-bearers set alight to their brands. Close to, you could see they were children. On the sea-wall next to us, three golden faces encircled the flaming bunch of coconut branches, bound together with oily fibre. One boy held the torch; the others knocked off the ash to keep it bright, changing position from time to time. The torches had to be kept alight from seven to nine, Hina told me.

"In the old days it was to keep away evil spirits from the King.'

On the shores of the islets opposite another line of flame sprang up. The magic circle was complete, and we turned back to the malae. From a floodlit platform angelic voices swelled heavenwards as thirteen mass choirs queued to complete for the Grand Coronation Contest.

'Tonga Fonua Monui'a, He'Otuaak a Sihova ...!'

'O Tonga my blessed land' --the programme translated.
'Where Johovah abideth,
Possessed of a priceless treasure,
Awareness of the holy scripture . ...
Ancient of Days we plead with thee
That Tonga my last endlessly.'

This was the set price decreed by the committee, 'to be followed by any selection of sacred music'.

For a moment I was home again in Wales, resonant with Eiteddod fervour, the faces of the aficionados at the ringside tense with the same professional concentration. Yet only that afternoon - was it? - a gilt-edged invitation card with the king's Crest had wafted us to the Buckingham Palace atmosphere of a Royal garden-party. '2.30 p.m. Honorary A.D.c's to be assembled at Kau-vai to receive guests' the programme warned. Kau-vai was the country residence of the Crown. Here palm-leaf tea-tents had been set up amidst rolling lawns, muscular Tongan matrons wielded massive urns, and ladies clad in the decreed 'short cotton or terylene dress with stockings, hats and gloves' were gratified to be presented to the Duke and Duchess of Kent. The Tongan Royals appeared on the verandah like a Victorian photograph, taking tea en famille. Meanwhile Tut'vakano and his noble cronies perched in the shade on Bentwood chairs, keeping boredom at bay with a tremendous intake of iced cakes.

The real eating was to come the next day at the Royal Fest. Overnight the ever-versatile malae had been transformed into a gigantic open-air dining-room. All morning long a procession of people laden with stretchers of food had been making their way there. By one o'clock, lapped in a warm tide of cooking aromas, several hundred guests were seated beneath leafy pavilions, almost engulfed by a gigantic carpet of Polynesian culinary art, rich with repeating patterns of brown pig, creamy breadfruit and purple taro, pearly crusted clams, rosy lobsters, chickens and fish packaged in bright green leaves. Over this transformation scene knelt a flock of plump Tongan fairies, waving wands of palm to discourage flies. The European guests looked round in nervous awe. How to attack it? How to digest it? Ladies in flowered hats sat sideways, awkwardly knobble-kneed, (It would be advisable to wear wide skirts to feasts') worried about grease-spots and Tongan table manners. Then Methodist Grace came booming through the microphone. His Majesty was seen to take up a leg of chicken in the Royal Pavilion and everyone plunged in.

After all that, what could be more conducive to relaxed digestion than to sit and watch the dancing that followed. - from chairs, of course, and in the shade of yet another grandstand of palm and hibiscus. It was, for me, rather like finding oneself at a concert-hall performance of a vast, unending symphony - which one has heard before played only in snatches on solo instruments in odd rehearsal corners here and there. There they all were, the warriors in their tall paper hats and clashing anklets, the mermaids and the mermen, the navigators weaving their ancestral paddles, but now they were massed together in one great panorama, wave after wave of dancers pouring on and off the green.

Today, the King's daughter, the eldest of the Royal Princesses, took her place of honour in the centre of the long laka-laka line, a pretty buxom girl, stately amidst the tossing white plumes, the whirling garlands and flashing copper arms and profiles. Instead of the row of matapules with their uninhibited shrieks of 'Malie! Malie!', there was a sea of strange faces, an air of subdued formality in the presence of Royalty and important guests. Then the old Tongan gaiety erupted again as amazon ladies came waddling out with their gifts at the end of each performance. Yards of brightly-coloured cloth and long silk scarves were laid out in piles at the dancers' feet, coins were dropped down bodices, paper notes tucked into sleeves, all to roars of approval from the crowds.

Afterwards the green had the look of an English park after a village fete - strewn papers on the ground, the homeward-struggling crowds, a chilly dusk. But soon after dawn, the next day, it had all been tidied away. It was the day of the King's Kava Ceremony, the true Tongan installation of the monarch, and focal point of all the festivities. Since first light the old ladies had been busy with their long brooms about the grounds. Now they were bustling like noisy birds around the King's pavilion. I sat on the steps and watched as about fifty fine mats were carried on. The white-haired supremo of the party was a vigorous lady in a woolly cardigan, old black plimsolls on her feet against the damp. She instructed me on their various origins and purposes of the mats, as they were carefully laid into place.

'These are twins. See, one is light, the other is dark, they fit together. This one is very soft - like silk, eh? It is maybe a hundred years old. It belongs to the Queen. This one belongs to Queen Salote's family - it is torn, but it is precious. You see these words here? That means Freedom to all Men and Women!' She repeated it in Tongan, and the ladies broke into a cheer, before resuming work. But after an hour, the supremo, who turned out to be Hina's aunt (hence her excellent English) frowned and clapped her hands. The order of the mats was wrong. They must all be re-laid. After another hour of patient shuffling and reshuffling, the dais was complete. In the center, the throne with the koka-wood star was screened with more mats to waist-eight, so that Royal legs might be shielded from the vulgar gaze.

Accounts of the ceremonial itself were equally veiled in mystery. It had not been performed in this way for many years. Certain taboos regarding spectators would be rigorously enforced. Being an event of sacred significance, it seemed impolite to question further. Instead, I stayed close to Tu'vakano, resolving to wait and see. The start of the rituals was reputed to resolving to wait and see. The start of the rituals was reputed to be ten o'clock. But my mid-day there was no sign of activity. People were still drifting to and fro around the fringe of the green or lying chatting in the shade of the trees. Apparently there was an omen of good luck for the new reign in a delayed start, so Tupou told me.

Tu'vakano and I strolled back across to the house for lunch. When we returned, the nobles were drifting slowly into their places. Tui'vakano left me to join the great ring of solemn elders while I ducked uncertainly down among a group of Europeans alongside the Royal Paviliion. Within minutes, half a dozen Tongan policemen had made a gentle hut ruthle4ss swoop on us, moving us all back a good ten yards or so, politely lifting our chairs back for us. Rather less courteously, the Time correspondent was requested to leave altogether as being 'improperly dressed' in his usual teeshirt, instead of the essential collar-and-tie. 

Backed up against a tall hedge, we became aware of other hidden currents of activity. There were rustlings and murmurings in the undergrowth, and bright eyes peeped through the foliage like forest animals. Several hundred Tongan commoners were gathered to watch the Tabu ceremony in the traditional way. The hushed commentary from hidden transistors added to the air of sacred conspiracy. Every now and then the rumours were whispered through to us. His Majesty was till sitting inside the Palace in his pyjamas reading Life magazine. He might wait till dusk the pleasure of the tardy Ha'angata - the tribe responsible for the central rituals - and thus avoid the unwelcome attentions of overseas photographers at the mystic moment of the drinking of the kava. There were high junks going on the Royal reception rooms apparently, where Tui Soso, the Bible-reading Fijian of my host's household, was enjoying his hereditary role of King's Jester.

No sooner do we speak his name than the little man appears, a grotesque form in wild tatters and black war-paint, pouncing out from a side-gate on to the green whirling an enormous club. Then comes the King himself, stately in cream silk and stiffly-folded waist-mat. Seated on the dais in his Buddha pose, his hands to up in a familiar gesture to his dark glasses that are also binoculars, as he adjusts the screws on both sides. A sigh ripples through the gathering, half-relieved that the King is safely in position, half-bracing got the long ordeal ahead.

Then the passage of time warps, distorts, dissolves in the usual Tongan way. Immense processions of people unfold across the green. Others rise up on the horizon and roll slowly past in their wake, rhythmic and orderly as the waves of the sea. The solemn men in black are the fabled Ha'angata, still in Royal mourning. "Armed with long staffs, their task is to touch and count ever gift assembled on the green, first in single numbers, then in tens, and finally hundreds, calling and counter-calling in a long-drawn operatic chorus. One troupe of villagers brings on so many whole trees of kava - six men to a root - that they rustled on to the arena like the moving forest of Dunsinane, leaving behind them a leafy barricade about fifty yards wide and ten foot high. Behind these come baskets of food, yams and vegetables and fruit, swinging on a yoke between two women apiece, and next a shabby green lorry which shudders to a respectable halt before the Royal presence and upturns its load of whole pigs on to the green. Black-clad processions of men and woman surge through on a wave of singing, skirling and leaping with delight. An aged crone leads the way, brandishing a long branch like a wand, drawing dignified smiles from the assembled courtiers, and hisses of joy from the hidden commoners. An then an air of eighteenth-century formality descends again. A dozen elegantly-dressed noble ladies glide out through he Palace gates, to kneel before the King with presentations of fine mats for the Royal apparel.

Throughout it all, a formal accompaniment of thanks rings out from the seated line of matapules below the dais, hypnotic as the chime of bells. The sing-song lilt is taken up on the opposite side of the arena, echoing to and fro like the swoop of a flight of doves.

Four hours had melted away before the formal kava ceremony itself. With slow balletic arm-movements he kava-makers pounded, stirred, strained and finally squeezed out the milky mixture into the great wooden owl. Ve'ehala had told me this seated semi-dance was based on the movements of the female Tui Tonga of a thousand years ago who was spied upon by her courtiers as she dried herself after her swim in a forest pool. To me, the fantastical shapes of these high-priests of the Royal Kava Ceremony, their heads and shoulders framed in fan-shaped ruffs of matting, suggested Oriental or Byzantine scenes. Then immediately after, with the formal speeches of noble allegiances to the Crown, one was transported to medieval England and Shakespeare.    

Suddenly it was dark, or about to become so. The pine trees, chapel spire, and carved verandahs, turned to filagree against a lilac-coloured sky. The star of Venus and the strings of fairy-lights sprang out through the mist as if switched on by the same invisible hand.

Equally suddenly, realization dawned that no arrangements had been made for the ceremonies to continue during the hours of darkness. A flurry of Tongan improvisation began. An old lorry roared down the lane. A horde of youths leaped out and tore round in circles with lengths of cable, draping them over trees and pavilions, screwing in electric light bulbs at random. The Kings's brother, Prince Tuipelehake could be glimpsed in consultation with a bevy of courtiers. Amidst much arm-waving and running to and fro, the Royal car glided across the green, and its headlights were switched towards the Royal dais; Where all had been rigid immobility, marked by the watchful guards, an enjoyable panic now reigned. In the midst of it all the King's name was heard called by the herald, the first royal sip taken from the sacred cup. The solemn moment of climax over and done with, all that remained was the ritual passage of the cup from noble to noble, as the eerie voice of the chief kava-maker called out each name in turn - 'take it to ...' and each the cup-bearer made his stately progress back and forth between the bowl and the intently-watching circle.

This, in fact, took another three hours. when I went home, halfway through in the chilly dark, it was to find the family circle gathered around the radio, following the noble roll-call with the same avidity. By the time Tu'vakano arrived back he was stiff with cold, swathed in his old camel coat. He leaned on his ancestral staff to deliver his list of complaints about the length of the ceremonies. for once he took the glass of hot whisky I handed to him without formal protest.

Other Royal distractions followed in the next few days. I also hand another conversation with the King who talked of new schemes for growing vanilla, teaching sums by the abacus in school, opening skating rinks and surfing beaches for visitors, finding oil under Tonga, and introducing herds of Eland to Tongan farms - his soft, breathless voice flowing blandly through the Vicarage atmosphere of the Palace sitting-room with its embroidered antimacassars, pots of ferns, and gilt-framed Victorian photographs.

But what coloured these days for me was the atmosphere of Tui'vakano's house. Every day the household routine was the same. 'Each morning about five o'clock, the old man would get up and put on his overcoat against the dawn chill to walk the half-mile along the coat road to his wife's grave.

'I say good-morning to Faafehi,' he told me in explanation.

There he would sit, smoothing out the pebbles that patterned the mound of white sand, re-arranging the kia-kia, the faded dancing-skirts that were hung around it, until it was time to come home to breakfast and family prayers. More than once i came upon him in the parlour dancing alone to the m8usic of the radio, twirling and bowing with outspread arms beneath the coloured photograph that hung above the floor.

'I dance for Fatafehi,' he would say, with his characteristic shrug and chuckle.

From dawn to dusk, family and visitors flowed in and out through the verandahs, as rooms were swept, meals were cooked, mounds of washing boiled in the garden tub, and an ancient sewing machine chattered away like a mad mynah-bird on the verandah of the little shanty house across the compound, the home of various tenant families. sometimes, after a midday meal of lavish abundance - it seemed a Tongan custom to put out on the table everything that was in the house, irrespective of future meals - supper would be a homely affair of bread and jam and mugs of cocoa. ('English people like this, eh?' Lavinia had inquired on my first day.) Nevertheless, it was served with the usual formality, to Tui'vakano and me alone, and the doors were always carefully closed so that we were not over looked by the people who fed around the kitchen table - Tui Soso among them, to my surprise.

'He is not a Chief,' Tui'vakano had replied simply when I asked him about this.

Any village official who called at such times, conducted his conversation with 'The Lord' seated cross-legged on the floor, close to the door, but was not invited to cross beyond into the front rooms of the house. "Tui'vakano, listening thoughtfully to the latest accounts of his estates reserved an expression of faint hauteur for these occasions, I noticed. but he never refused to see a villager or treated him with anything but the strictest courtesy.

The only other interruption to meals came from the ancient telephone, focal point of all household drama. It had been strategically placed by a window so that whenever it rang a hand would appear through the opening, noiselessly lift the receiver, and the conversation would proceed with muffled whispers and giggles from the verandah outside.

The rituals of Tui'vakano's day were simple and predictable. Shaving came after breakfast, a morning walk to the store led to a stop for a gossip on the sea-front, and if it was Friday, the purchase of a Konikal - the weekly Tongan Chronicle. An afternoon walk ended in a long policy-making discussion around the kava bowl at the house of a fellow-noble. sometimes the coloured leaves in the garden border that spelt out the words 'Welcome' or 'Fatafehi' would need clipping with a rusty pair of shears. sometimes there was a letter to the be written to a relation in another village. Often it was time for a doze in his armchair, with one eye on the open door and the passerby in the roadway beyond. always, the day that had begun with a visit to the family grave, was rounded by family prayers. Snatches of song from the kitchen intermingled with the soft pad and brush of feet and broom, as the last breath of scent rose from a quickly fading tropical flowers, and guitar chords sounded outside a neighbour's porch. There was the rustle of bats' wings in the branches of the breadfruit tree, and made the house soft Tongan talk that might stop and start again throughout the hours of the night.

Into all this, I had been taken as if I belonged. My name, Helala, was called at the family prayers. I had my chair at the table, my mat on the bed. someone had tucked my photograph in the corner of the family frame. The creak of the iron gate, the three uneven steps to the porch, the window that Tu'vakano had showed me how to unbolt from the outside after curfew, were all familiar parts of my comings and goings. Behind the ornate panorama of Coronation song and dance, there were faces in the street that smiled and knew me, hands that took mine and held them as we talked.

All at once, there were arrangements, messages and promises to be made. Embraces and mementos were exchanged. Numberless phone calls took place about the times of planes and cars, all with different results. Suddenly those times had rolled together into one - the time to go.

  Tonga Home Page  
  Jane Resture's Oceania Page  
Tonga Postcards and Picture Galleries
 
click here Jane's Tonga Home Page                                           
click here Oceania-The Last Voyage of Captain James Cook  
click here Jane's Oceania Home Page                                        

Pacific Islands Radio Stations

Jane's Oceania Travel Page
 
 (E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 15th November 2008)