A Little Kingdom And A Great Queen
In May 1920, Dr. S. M. Lambert arrived in Papua as part of the Rockefeller Foundation humanitarian program. He travelled extensively throughout the Pacific and, in 1924, travelled to Tonga. His recollections of Tonga are recorded in Part Two, Chapter III, of his book A Doctor In Paradise, published by J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., London, 1942.
The chief medical officer of the Tongan Islands was away on leave. Dr. Minty, his competent assistant and the only other medical officer on Tongatapu, called me in to assist in an emergency operation on Her Majesty Salote Tubou (Tupou), monarch of the last surviving native kingdom on the South Pacific. This was at Nukualofa, the capital.
Dr. Minty had no anaesthetist, and asked me to help him put; it was a job I didn't relish, for the responsibility would be pretty heavy, and surgical operations in the hot tropics are always something of a gamble. The queen lay on a bed in one of the royal chambers. Her beautiful eyes turned toward me, her friendly lips said that she was glad that I had come. Her consort, Prince Tung, bent his huge Tongan frame over her, consoling her and buoying her courage. It was my first personal medical service to reigning royalty, an adventure among giants, for the Queen of Tonga was two and a half inches over six feet and weighted over 300 pounds. She came of a family of giants; her father had been even larger, and her great-grandfather George Tubou the First had been over six feet five inches and built in proportion. She wasn't fat, either. The breadth of her shoulders showed tremendous physical strength. She was a woman of heroic size, a proper mother of Polynesian kings.
Queen Salote of Tonga.
Everything was ready. I said: 'Your Majesty, breathe regularly, and deeply. If you find the anaesthetic is coming too fast, raise your hand and I'll give you a breath of air; but not too often.' I started the stuff going and she raised her hand. I gave her air and started again. Again she raised her hand and kept on raising it until I said as deferentially as I could: 'Remember, Your Majesty, there is no royal way of taking an anaesthetic.' After that she was still as a mouse, an ideal patient. Her marvellous chest expansion, breathing in the vapour, was like the opening and shutting of a great accordion; her chest seemed to lift a foot.
Getting her into her bed was no job for a weakling. Prince Tungi was for carrying her in his arms; he was quite capable of it, but I wanted to keep an eye on her breathing and said: 'Don't be a hog, Tungi, move down and give me a share.' My arms hardly reached under her shoulders and I was relieved when the move was completes safely. She was one of the handsomest, biggest women I have ever seen.
Minty's rapid, efficient job should have been nobody's business; but an operation on royalty is always of great national moment, and the kingdom was agog. Especially in the European section; for Tonga was prosperous enough to employ a great many foreigners to fill Government posts. Next morning Bob Denny, the picturesque Scottish postmaster, gave me the first inquisition. 'Doctor, didn't the queen have an operation? What was it for?' I said: 'I only gave her the anaesthetic.' He couldn't understand my obtuseness and shouted: 'But what was the matter with her?' I said: 'That's the queen's and Dr Minty's business.' I knew that if he asked Minty he would be rounded up with a short turn.
In the South Pacific, where everybody's business is your own, Aesculapian secrecy was never quite understood. When Postmaster Denny found that I wouldn't talk about the royal operation he generously forgave me by offering me some pamphlets addressed to a lady who was away. 'They might be interesting,' he said, 'but you'd better get them back in a week. She's due about then, and she's cranky about her mail.'
Dr. S. M. Lambert and Malakai.
For my share in the much-discussed operation I was rewarded in royal Tongan fashion. The house we lived in was loaded down with gifts of appreciation: rolls of fine tapa, huge chunks of roast pork, and quantities of selected Tonga fruit.
These gifts had become familiar to me; in May of the previous year I had accepted an invitation to make a hookworm survey of the kingdom of Tonga. I spent three months there the first year of the survey. My family and Malakai accompanied me. We showed the Foundation film Unhooking the Hookworm with great effectiveness in the local movie theatre to large crowds which assembled, docile to the queen's command. In the remoter areas we fell back on the hookworm charts. The response in specimens was splendid. This was what the Tongans liked - they were already interested in health, and there was something new for nothing. Our examinations yielded little noteworthy in the way of hookworm disease. The infection rate was low and the number of worms per head was low. I judged this was because the Tongans still obeyed the old Polynesian tabus about the disposal of excrement; we also found that most houses in community groups had latrines of a sort, though these were inadequate. But their water supplies were awful. There are almost no running streams and the drinking water was largely obtained from shallow wells, which were subject to great contamination because pigs, fowls, horses, and humans shared them.
The pig question came up right away. The chief medical officer wanted me to say that pigs carry hookworm to human beings, and that theory ran foul of my conviction to the contrary. The chief medical officer and I ceased to be friends after I refused to agree with him. He was a Scot. Scots have about the best medical minds. When they find that a theory is right nothing can budge them. You seldom run across one who will devote all his native stubbornness to a shaky hypothesis.
Well, I'm a bit stubborn myself, and on the question pigs I had my reasons. One of the weaknesses in native diet is the shortage of meat, fresh or otherwise. Europeans coming into native life immediately want to put pigs in corrals. I knew an Irish doctor who didn't rest satisfied until he had enforced such a regulation. He hailed from al and where, according to legend, 'they keep the pig in the parlour'; but to the native such intimacy isn't good form. My observation has been that when pigs are enclosed in the corral, the meat supply soon runs out. Why? Because one man objects to feeding the other man's [pig; keep them in a common enclosure and they are gradually killed off, with no replacements. When pigs are allowed to run loose in the villages they pick up their own food, or most of it. This is the native way. Much as I have looked into the subject, I know no Pacific island disease that is carried by pigs. Hid I agreed with statements to the contrary, to satisfy the aesthetics of a few foreigners, I could not have been honest with my own convictions.
Tongans are notably robust and resistant to disease, as shall see, and I attribute it in no small measure to a generous supply of pork, added to their other foods.
Tongan good feeding and abundant hospitality almost made a wreck of a visiting Fijian football team. I saw the first march of that series, much to my sorrow, for I am Fijian to the bone. When the boys came to Tonga they were regarded as much the superior team, and when I talked with Native Practitioner Savanada, one of the players, all was confidence. But on the field of glory Fiji was dull and heavy as lead. Then the saddened Savanada told me why. On the thirty-six-hour steamer trip to Tonga the Fijians had had little to eat. The minute they stepped ashore they were confronted with a feast. poor, starved Fijians!
There were more roast pigs than they had ever seen at one time, heaped up with trimmings of yams and succulent bread-fruit, and chickens and fish to fill in the crevices.
When they went on the field they were a little like Mark Twain's Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, artfully weighted down. The crafty Tongans, by the way, played on empty stomachs. All over the South Pacific, a sharp trick like this is known as 'Tongafiti.'
Tonga won the second game, too, with me yelling my head off for the glory of Fiji. This time Savanada explained it away with a dignity worthy of his chiefly rank; 'Queen Salote was present, and it wouldn't have been courteous for us, as her guests, to win.' But Fiji won the last game hands down, and every time the Tongan team came to Fiji the kingdom's athletic pride was lowered a hitch.
Speaking of 'Tongafiti,' as far as I can find out the word is a compound of Tonga and Viti (Fiji), and it is probable that the Pacific's ancient conquerors took Fijian warriors along with them in the days when they were the Huns and Vandals of their time.
Sikiana had been cleaned out by 'Tongafiti' people, there was evidence that they had fought their way via the fringing Polynesian islands to the west, conquering as they went; at the tip of the Solomons the people of little Rennell Island had beaten these warriors by luring them up on the sharp coral, which mangled their bare feet. One end of Rotumah (Rotuma) is still settled by a chief who is descended from Tongan invaders, so is one end of Mangaia on the Cooks. For two or three centuries the Tongans made slaves of the Samoans; at last Malietoa drove them off, and they promised never to return except in peace. Then Tonga forgot the arts of war, but in the seventeenth century it became fashionable for their chefs to go over to Fiji and join forces with one or the other of their warring provinces. These trips were always welcome because they were unafraid of charging a fortified position, something that the Fijian always dreaded. Chief Ma'afu. descending on Fiji, would have unseated Thakombau (Cakobau) had the British not intervened.
Contact with Melanesia has given the Tongan a slightly browner colouring than the golden skin of the pure Polynesians; those portions of dark Fiji where Tongan warriors and mission teachers were most frequent can still be picked by lighter skins and other Tongan stigmata. Tongans have a stoutness, a fibre, that excels that of all other Polynesians. In many ways they are the superior natives of the Pacific.
Captain Cook discovered them in 1770, although seventeenth-century navigators had sighted them. Because of their kindly reception Cook called them 'the Friendly Islands'; he didn't know that he would have been butchered and his boats seized if the chiefs had not disagreed among themselves. A few years later the Port au Prince was less lucky. A young boy appropriately named Mariner was the only one saved; Finau Ulukalala, the leading chief, happened to take a fancy to him. Mariner lived there for four years, and after his escape a Dr. Martin took down his enthralling story, which reads like a dime novel.
The missionary followed the white trader, and Tonga was a cockpit for religious factions. The last chapter of that bitter feud was written as late as 1924. It was Methodist against Catholic at first; finally Methodist against Methodist - actually Wesleyan against Wesleyan. Taufahau, a giant chief of the Kanakupolu family and destined to be king, first saw the writing on the wall and joined the Wesleyans; by that time the Tongans had lost their old religion, the worship of Polynesian deities. Taufahau may have yielded to a greater magic than he knew. He may have become a true Christian, although this seems difficult to believe. Certainly he seized the opportunity to weld the group into a political unit. A great warrior, a great strategist, a great man, he was enthroned in 1826 and lived until 1894. Under his kingship all Tonga became Christian, mostly Wesleyan.
In his later years, around the seventies and eighties, scandals arose in the Church. Much money was exacted in religious offerings, and after the missionaries had feathered their own nests, the balance was sent out of the country. Tonga, mind you, was just emerging from the Stone Age - yet she was supporting foreign missions! /Finally Taufahau, now King George the First, decided to head his own state Church, the Free Church of Tonga. There were cruel persecutions of Wesleyans who wouldn't recant; many were killed, thousands driven out of Tonga. George the First had a renegade Wesleyan missionary named Baker as his guide, and the guide became Prime Minister. Although Prime Minister Baker served the kingdom with some permanently wholesome laws, his rule degenerated in the course of years. As much appears to have been wasted through him as through the former rule of the missions, and things came to such a pass that the British High Commission had to intervene and institute a protectorate over Tonga. The Free Church pursued its erratic way through the reign of George the Second of Tonga, who died in 1918, and into the reign of Queen Salote. In 1924 she joined the Wesleyan Church, and the Free Church ceased to be Tonga's official faith. The Free Church left a bad financial record, and had little regard for honest business practices. For many years Tongan religion had been largely a matter of politics. Whenever a monarch switched his religion there had been a corresponding switch in the opposition to the Crown.
The Tubous are the sole survivors of numerous native dynasties which the first white men found in the Pacific. The Tongan kingdom has outlived the greedy gobblings of western powers, and the people have kept their identity through every political crisis.
The Tubous have a past longer than that of any other ruling dynasty to-day. Their kings first came from eastern Samoa, probably from Ta'u, which seems to have been the cradle of great Polynesian kings. The Tui Tonga was the spiritual and temporal head of the state, and Aho'itu was the first of the Tui Tonga. A later Tui Tonga wearied of the double burden and turned temporal affairs over to his brother Tui Haatakalaua, and Haatakalaua finally passed his power over to another brother, Tui Kanakupolu. When King George the First took the throne, he abolished the title of Tui Tonga. Joeli, last chairman to this ancient title, died after my first visit to the kingdom.
This seems a pretty sketch way to pass over a thousand years of history. When I first saw Tonga its two great historical strains were joined in marriage. The Haatakalaua and the Kanakupolu families united in Tungi and Salote. The royal wedding was in 1918. With three sons the dynastic succession seemed safe.
In 1924 the reigning couple were more highly educated than most of their subjects. Salote had studied in Auckland and Tuni had gone to an excellent school in Sydney. Ata, one of the great nobles, had also been to Sydney for his education. Otherwise only a few half-caste children had enjoyed foreign advantages. Generally speaking, the people knew only a few words of English.
The Tongans were great nationalists with a mortal dread of being taken over by one of the Powers. They were even afraid of England, although they seemed quite safe in that direction. The British protectorate over the kingdom was (and is) a very light one. Great Britain was selecting chief justices and auditors for them, and quite naturally the Tongans paid the salaries. The British Consul and Agent acted as adviser to the queen, and it was his duty to approve any financial expenditures. With those restrictions, Tonga is to-day a free constitutional monarch, with a parliament and the queen's privy council.
The point of friction has always been the British Consul's right to veto expenditure. If he was well trained in the British civil service the plan worked out well.
But the job occupies not more than an hour of the consul's day, and too many of them have used the leisure to indulge in petty statesmanship and tyrannies far beyond their official authority.
The financial veto is a powerful weapon, but the check in expenditure has been Tonga's salvation. It is hard for western civilisation to understand the Polynesian's utter lack of money sense - or the Melanesian's, for that matter. From early childhood the European has learned the art of getting and spending. Not so the Pacific Islander. Although in many ways they may excel us intellectually, it is next to impossible to make them understand that coined metal isn't something you pick off trees and throw around for the moment's enjoyment. It's all great fun, while the party lasts. Only by hard knocks will the native learn money economy. Oftentimes his education comes in jail, where he can study at leisure the disadvantages of western methods over his old-time communal system.
Wild extravagances of Church and State forced Great Britain to set up a protectorate to prevent Tonga from falling into other hands. The British Consul, with keys to the treasury, had to span the great void which is the Tongan money sense. To-day I know of no other nation so financially sound as Tonga - no debt, internal or external, and a surplus of 150,000 pounds, about twenty-five dollars per head. For the United States this would be a capital of well over three billions, with no debts at all. Not so bad for Tonga, a land that saw iron for the first time about 250 years ago. And the kingdom's wealth is well distributed, too. Every Tongan male at the age of eighteen receives from his Government eight and half acres of fertile land and a town lot to build his home on.
The white man goes through these islands and sees many things that may be comic from his biased viewpoint. but shouldn't we turn the laugh to ourselves in the light of new deals and planned economies? While western civilisation is eating its accumulated fat and beginning to gnaw its own vitals, I wonder if some Tongan Brain Trust might not lead us out of our wilderness of bureaucratic taxes, and teach us what the Abundant Life really means.
In 1924 Queen Salote was in her young twenties, but her mind was matured by experience in government, and she was quick to see the help our Foundation could give her little realm of 25,000 souls. We were working like devils to give Tonga an adequate water supply, and I wore my diplomacy threadbare trying to convince the Scottish chief medical officer of the obvious need. Although I am a chronic admirer of the Scots - and haven't I seen them survive and carry on posts that would have demolished a less sturdy breed? - this medical officer remained a prickly thistle that drove me to distraction. I'm a peaceable man, as the Irish say. Certainly I've managed somehow to get along with a great variety of human types.
But not with this one. The few faint hairs that remained on my head bristled at the sight of him. He bothered those hairs worse than the Tongan flies that swarmed around breakfast at Bill Smith's boarding-house; there I learned to cover my bald spot with a knotted handkerchief. No handkerchief could shield me from the Scot's irritating perversity. I had to confer with him, of course, or I couldn't have worked at all. He was a very competent surgeon., particularly skilful in eye surgery - a rare accomplishment in the South Pacific. As a health officer he had done some splendid work, especially with yaws. But I had got off on the wrong foot when I disagreed with him about pig hook-worm. His great fault - if it be a fault- was his firm conviction that he was a final authority of everything.
One of his assistants, a brilliant young fellow who suffered as long as he could endure it, then accepted a high post in Australia, gave me all the help he dared, and that was useful. But eh Scot had an anti-Lambert complex. We were trying to install model latrines all over the Tongan Islands and we had to choose a type that met with his approval. Nothing I offered was satisfactory, and it was impossible to find out what he wanted. If I hadn't finally resorted to a 'Tongafiti' trick. I feel sure that nothing would have been accomplished. At last, in complete despair, I went to him with one of the plans he had rejected and said suavely: 'Well, doctor, I've finally come around to your original idea, and I'll go with you on this plan.' Without a murmur he accepted it. I had discovered a system.
Probably Tonga was fortunate in having so good a man at the helm. For the kingdom had been hospitable to some quacks, both clerical and medical.
A prominent trader was saying good-bye to friends at the boat and remarking: 'Glad you're going while you have so good an impression of the women,' when a well-dressed stranger with a lady on his arm strolled up and said: 'No man is good enough for a good woman.' This knightly champion's name doesn't matter, except that it went on the Tongan medical register with the string of initials: 'M.D., Phy.D.O., M.S.R.U.I., S.A. and Harvard University D.O.' The S.A. might have meant something but his fantastic list of degrees remained as much a mystery as why the Tongan Government appointed him to a high medical post. Later on he admitted to me that he learned all his medicine as a hospital wardsman.
He was the only physician available when Queen Salote gave birth to the Crown Prince. His elegant bedside manner combined with his official prestige had elevated him beyond criticism. The accouchement took place, according to tradition, in the royal suite; following old custom,, the great nobles waited in an ante-chamber to hear the birth proclaimed. Now and then the much-titled physician would pop in to take a look at his patient, then pop out to smoke a cigarette and shoot his cuffs. Finally a capable half-caste nurse, who had been constantly in attendance, poked her head out and announced that the baby was coming. The titled one hurried to the bedside a minute later, the child was already born. He stepped over to the nurse and, whispered confidentially: 'And what shall I do next' It was his first obstetrical case.
Well, the nurse must have taken care of it, for when I was in Tonga the Crown Prince was a charming little boy. The obstetrical curiosity was not dismissed; he served the kingdom for quite a while. When Fatefehi, father of the lat king, finally succumbed to his family's hereditary disease (old age) our hero was on something of a spot. He was told of one royal funeral where the body lay so long awaiting the family's arrival that the pall-bearers had had an unpleasant task in bearing away the casket. It was decided to embalm the remains of Fatafehi - which stumped the poor fellow again. Finally, he compromised by filling the lead coffin with formaldehyde solution. On the way to the grave the pall-bearers wondered why it was too heavy to manage. They had to bore holes in the side and let out the solution before they could lower the coffin into the grave.
At last the good doctor was faced by a flu epidemic. He couldn't handle it, so he went to Fiji for 'medical supplies,' and never came back. I didn't know much about him when he came around to me in Suva and impressed me with his charming manner. I wanted a competent doctor to take my place while I was home on leave, and his fine talk almost decided me to take him ion. 'All I want,' he said, 'is a chance to treat the natives. Just for my board and keep. I love the natives.' When I asked the Tongan consul about him the answer didn't quite satisfy me, so I changed my mind.
He went the way of all flesh; a very minor sanitary inspector in Fiji, then a job as little doctor on a little ship; then a move back to Tonga to settle down to beach-combing, with a native wife. He could at least lay some claim to having brought a royal heir into the world. Even though he hadn't known what to do next.
If the saga of tropical medicine has a comic section, some of the Tongan M.D.s legitimately graduated from the pick of the universities deserve a place in it. One very able physician was a practical joke addict. In his office was a skeleton, jointed and movable, with which he scared natives by jerking the strings. At night he would rub phosphorus on his bony playmate and take him driving in his buggy; the ghastly hell-light threw the town in a panic. When old Bridges was Collector of Customs the fun-loving doctor brought in a 'drug order' which included a great many household furnishings. To dodge duty, he gave the furniture large Latin names, like Carpetorum bruiselorum and Hattus rakus. This got by the native inspector, to whom Latin was all Greek, but Collector Bridges stopped the racket.
They told me of another doctor who was anxious to become chief medical officer. Over in Haapai he quarrelled with Chief Israeli, who was a great swell in Tonga and closely related to the king. Some minor skin disease took Israeli to this doctor, who found his revenge in saying: 'Man, you've got leprosy!' He kept poor Israeli interned for six months outside the village and started a dicker with the Tongan Government. He craved promotion to chief medical officer, he said, and if they handed him that Israeli would be pronounced cured. The doctor got what he wanted, and proclaimed that his treatment had saved the patient from a leper's tragic end.
When I began hookworm treatments the royal family were the first to take the medicine, as a good example to Tonga. for me that was a delicate assignment. The household numbered forty in all, for Tongan hospitality kept the palace bulging with relatives and near relatives. Keeping up the establishment must have been quite a drain, although Salote had a competent income and Prince Tungi was well salaried as Premier; both had landed estates. But they were rich relations to two large families, and feudal tradition imposed on their generosity.
Feudal tradition encountered modern medicine when it came to dosing the queen. The terrachloride had to be mixed in a special mug; for custom demanded that no common mortal should eat or drink from any dish or cup that royalty had used. However, the queen and consort took their medicine gracefully and allowed themselves to be photographed taking it. As anxious populace waited outside the palace, and there was a murmur of relief when it was announced that our medicine had taken its normal course.
As a special favour I was given 'back-door privileges' at the palace, and it was an honour I valued highly. Here on quiet mornings I would find Salote sitting in loose, easy clothes, a relief from the British-made silks and satins of her state appearances. Our talks got me very close to her quick mind and her eager desire to learn what was best for her people. Taufaahau, the heir apparent, and his two brothers would be playing around the place. Sometimes I would see them riding the giant turtle which has never left the palace grounds since Captain Cook brought him from the Galapagos in 1773, a gift for the King of Tonga. I always had chocolate bars or some other sweet for the children to nibble when they decided to sit on my knee. That was sixteen years ago. The turtle is still alive and the Crown Prince has graduated with honours from Sydney university. He is going to Oxford to study law and anthropology. Salote and Tungi had a right to be proud of this tall, splendid young man. Lord, how time has slipped along. ...
Many and many times I talked my plans over with Salote, and especially my fixed idea that there must be a modernized Central Medical School in Fiji. She was a constructive listener. She looked upon the people as her children, and was grieved by the tricks that had been played upon them by alien races. Once I asked her if politics and religion weren't the same thing in Tonga, and she said: 'Doctor, I think you're about right.'
A true Christian, she had an intense admiration for Queen Victoria. Once a year, robed for the occasion, she would open Parliament, and be seated in the red chair of state, with her adored Tungi at her side. She insisted on ceremonial black for the parliamentarians assembled, and before the great day there was a tremendous scrambling for European clothes. Once a small boy scampered into a trader's store and demanded a pair of silk stockings. He was a queen's page and had to put on full regalia.
Ancient suits were hired or borrowed for the occasion; dress suits, dinner jackets, unique cutaways and obsolete Prince Albers; anything so long as it was black. Once I contributed my winter-weight dress clothes to an appealing noble, and watched him join the long, sweaty line of lawgivers that filed in to the boiling ceremony. And the minute it was over ministers of state sneaked away crosslots, suffocating coats over their arms, tight shoes in their hands. They were stealing home to their comfortable and sensible lavalavas.
Major-General Sir George Richardson, Governor of Western Samoa, told me of his presentation at court when the queen was very new to the throne. Richardson, a crusty Britisher who had gone through the mill at the Court of St. James's, may have exaggerated the incident. In the presence of young Salote, he said, he had approached the throne, made the proper bow, and backed the prescribed distance. Out of the silence the queen clapped the prescribed distance. Out of the silence the queen clapped her hands: 'Johnnie, bring the gentleman a whisky-soda'!' She hadn't yet learned all the European formalities, but hospitality told her what a Britisher seldom refuses.
Salote, with the pride of an ancient dynasty behind her and the problems of a modern world facing her realm, was the connecting link between the old and the new.
Strangers, dropping off at Nukualofa, have looked over the ancient stone relics there, have wondered at their monumental size, and have heard, perhaps, smatterings of their legend. They have seen the great Haamonga (Burden on the Shoulders), a trilithon with side pieces fifteen feet high; one piece is twelve feet wide by four feet eight inches thick, the other is nine feet seven inches wide by three feet eight inches thick. These are above-the-ground measurements, as they are set very deep. They stand ten feet apart and are grooved at the top to support a cross-piece that is fifteen feet long, five feet wide, and twenty-one inches thick. The stupid, literal measurements describe a colossus, and nobody knows where the stones came from. Tradition says that they were brought from Wallis island in ancient Tongan canoes.
The great squared arch is the gateway to the old sacred marai (marae) (family ceremonial ground) where the Tui Tonga worshipped until the rise of temporal power moved them to another marai, a few miles away. On the old marai where the Burden on the Shoulders stands there is another relic important to the lost religious history of Polynesia. This is called the leaning Stone, and is a slab-like pillar nine feet high, five wide, two thick.
The Tongans, you must remember, were fast losing their old religion when the white man came. They knew that the trilithon and the leaning pillar were of sacred memory but what they signified was not clear. It was not until I visited the Cook islands, where I saw similar relics and heard the young chiefs recite their poetic myths, that I realized what Tonga's stone relics signified in the old paganism.
Almost everywhere in Polynesia the symbols were the same. The arch represented Hina, goddess of fertility, and the leaning pillar was Tangaloa (Tagaloa), her husband, god of life's origin. After I found similar pillars and arches on the Cook Islands I concluded that Tonga's ancient worship must have been phallicism. I submitted my theory to Prince Tungi and he consulted with keepers of the old tradition; they all agreed that this was probably the explanation. Tungi told me that there were caves on Tongatabu which were called Hina because of their archlike shape, and that on Vavau there was a very realistic cleft stone, also called Hina.
When I describe the Cook Islands I shall elaborate a little more on the ina (or Ina) and Tangaloa myth, for the Cook Islander still remembers.
Tonga's third wonder is the Royal Tombs, the Langi. There are five Langi, generally pyramidal in shape, and covered with from three to five layers of stone. They measure about two hundred feet on a side; their outer stones, some of them twenty feet long, are nicely squared and fitted. Each was built for a Tui Tonga.
During one of our back-porch conferences queen Salote told me that she had recently allowed one of her relatives to be buried there, because he was of the Tui Tonga line. The queen was also of the same ancient family, so she was the only witness, except the Haatufunga, honourable buriers of the royal dead. The chamber into which the body was to be lowered was deep down in the centre of the Langi. It was covered with an immense slab that had lain there four hundred years, and was raised with great difficulty. They found a vault, about twelve feet long by four wide and three deep, walled with artfully fitted stonework.
I beg Her Majesty's pardon if I misquote her, but this is what I remember her saying: 'I saw the body go down into the dark vault. When it was first opened we found the skeletons of three men. One lay face down and must have belonged to a very powerful man. The other two were more slender, and their bones showed that they died in a sitting position.'
The seated skeletons were probably those of the Haatafunga, whose duty it was to prepare the bodies and wrap them in fine mats. In the old days they were permitted to remove the costly cerements and take them away as perquisites of office - if they could work fast enough. They were given just the time it took to poise the slab over the tomb, and lower it. The pair squatted on either side of the noble skeleton had been a minute too slow, and had been sealed in.
Later Tonga grew more humane, and the funeral workers were not permitted to touch the mats; they were given safe exit before the lid fell. Certain valuable things, equivalent to the funerary spoils, were set aside as their reward. The queen told me that Joeli, lineal descendant of the Tui Tonga, had opened a tomb a short time before and found a beautifully carved ivory pillow. She had wanted to present it to the scientific world, but Joeli had reinterred it.
That Tongan people, always having lived under communism qualified by an aristocracy, still offered an example of socialized medicine in daily practice. Sickness was treated free. If it was often not treated at all, that fact was partly due to the wise scatteration of little islands, and partly to the incapacity of an understaffed medical department. Voyaging round the small, forgotten islands, I groaned over dirt and flies and the ignorance of simple hygiene which spread yaws, dysentery, and typhoid. General weakening from these diseases had made the people easy prey to the influenza epidemic of 1918, which swept away eight per cent of the population. What they needed most was proper soil sanitation, proper water supplies, and education in these necessities. So many deaths were unattended by a physician that it was difficult to estimate the mortality figures covering typhoid, for instance.
The question of infant mortality-deaths of children under five-was to grow less crucial year by year. I have learned that by stimulating one branch of public health by physician is apt to stimulate many others. Our hookworm campaigns in Fiji, for example, worked toward the reduction of infant mortality; from 200 per 1,000 it fell below 100, and in one banner year was as low as 89.
The Tongans were a pithy breed with a will to live and an eagerness to learn-if you got around their ancient prejudices and the new peculiarities imparted by various mission sects. Proselytizing Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists had confused the issue. The Adventists had been popular when natives found that this faith gave two workless days a week. They were less ardent believers, however, when the preachers forbade smoking and the eating of pig. The Mormons were anti-tobacco too. Visitors at the mission stations of either sect had to keep cigarettes and tobacco locked away from light-fingered converts.
I sometimes wondered if civilization had done these people any good at all, except to shake off the abusers of the nobles. The ancient communism, with nobody rich, nobody poor, in a self contained island group that fought away intruders-would that be the simple answer today? Over 100 years ago Mariner thought so, when he asked good Dr. Martin to write into his book: 'Captain Cook brought the intermittent fever, the crooked backs, and the scrofula' (probably tuberculosis).
And Vancouver brought the bloody flux, which in a few months killed a great number of them... To any man of humanity, nothing can be more distressing than to cast his eye on the island of Otaheite, a spot blessed by nature with everything that can make life pleasing... but now become a scene of general morality, and a prey to disease, which to all human appearance, will in a few years render it a desolate wilderness.
But when you run a thumb over Mariner's Tonga Islands you are forced to believe that the old cures were sometimes super-spartan, although the savage doctors recognised tetanus long before the discovery of bacteria. Says Mariner:
In all cases of considerable wounds produces by pointing instruments, the patient is not allowed to wash himself until he is tolerably well recovered nor to shave, cut his hair nor his nails; for all these things are supposed to produce gita (tetanus).
Mariner reported that convalescents 'happening to wash themselves too soon, spasms, supervened, and death was the consequence'. Observers told him that 'wounds in the extremities... are liable to produce tetanus... They never allow females to be near men thus wounded, less the mere stimulus of venereal desire should induce this dangerous complaint...' One man was 'eight months without being washed, shaved, or having his hair or nails cut...'
Now for the treatment of tetanus, an art they learned from Fiji, where warlike habits made gita common.
...consists in the operation of tocolo'si or passing a reed first wetted with saliva into the urethra, so as to occasion a considerable irritation and loss of blood; and if the general spasm is violent, they make a seton of this passage by passing down a double thread, looped over the end of a reed, and when it is felt in the perineum they cut down upon it, seize hold of the thread... the thread is occasionally drawn backwards and forwards, which excites great pain, and an abundant discharge of blood...
Several times Mariner saw this cruel operation; the jaws, he said, were violently closed for a few seconds, but lockjaw never developed. The recovery, he thought, were about 40 per cent. They also let blood in this way for ridiculous reasons like wounds in the abdomen; but they had a theory (rather in line with some of our advanced scientists) that passing a reed into the urethra has a rejuvenating effect on the debilitated. The King of Tonga, in Mariner's time, had this operation performed 'and two or three days later he felt himself quite light and full of spirits.'
The operation called boca was castration in cases of enlarged testicles (probably elephantiasis). Tourniquets were skilfully made of native cloth and the instruments were razor edges of split bamboo. Dr. Martin wrote:
A profuse haemorrhage is most likely the consequence of this operation; it was performed seven times within the sphere of Mr. Mariner's knowledge... to three of which he was witnessed. Not one of the seven died.
Sounds gory enough, doesn't it? But those native sorcerers, working with tapa and banana leaf bandages, cutting with split bamboo, displayed an art and a knowledge of surgery which had been cultivated through generations of experience. This wasn't just voodoo. It was applied surgery, practised by men who needed only the touch of modern science to equip them for the great work.
In contradiction to what I have said about native deficiency in money sense, I found the Tongan developing into a keen trader in a small way. The Tongafiti game wasn't lacking in his deals and many European traders were going bankrupt because the native was too sharp for them. The old Tongan was a babe unborn when it came to expenditures, and these are stories of primitive natives playing pitch-game with shipwrecked trade dollars. Not so to-day.
Tonga Royal Tapa.
Salote and Tungi were studying finance methodically, patiently, to learn modern economics. Up and down the beaches their subjects were sometimes sharpening their wits in a very practical way.
Trader Algy Slocombe told me of the only times he every got around a native in a deal. Living next door, a Tongan family let a couple of their trees hang over his fence and interfere with his tennis. He approached the native wife, who talked to her husband, and there was a long Tongan dicker.
The husband admitted that he was grateful for the water he got from the Slocombe well; so that was something to bargain with. Algy said to the native's wife: 'If you'll cut down those trees I'll let you have all the coco-nuts that drop into your yard from the palms on my side.' The Tongans say: 'Fa moli moli,' when they mean 'Many thanks,' and there was a far-off look in the woman's eyes when she said it. For years she had been gathering those same nuts, and no questions asked. but a trade was a trade.
A native from Vavau came to Algy's office proposing to deposit some tobacco against a loan of the pound. He said he was mayor of his town, had a good plantation, dealt with Lever Brothers. Algy wanted a day before closing this big transaction; just for curiosity he wired Vavau and found that this man had never had credit there. The customer returned - without the tobacco, of course - and said he must have the money at once, as the boat was leaving for Vavau. Algy merely smiled: 'Fa moli moli,' and his applicant departed without the slightest sign of ill feeling. His five-dollar build-up had been an elaborate as that of the New York confidence man. But that was all right. He'd find a touch somewhere before the boat left.
Neither in Fiji nor Tonga did the natives have family names; though some of the better educated were beginning to affect the European way. I ran across a Tongan named Joni Motocawiah. If you say it fast it sounds like 'Johnnie Motor Car Wire' - just what it means. The day Joni was born his mother saw her first automobile, and a roll of barbed wire was washed up on their beach. There was also a baby named Atalosa, which sounded sweet. Before the baby came her mother had sniffed something they told her was attar of roses; 'Atalosa' was the way she said it.
Remodelling the English language wasn't confined to Tongans. Eloisa and I were quartered for a while at Bill Smith's boarding house, where food was delicious and flies abundant. Bill Smith was the reigning Mr. Malaprop. Once when he cornered me in a learned medical discussion he referred to 'A man's tentacles and pinnace.' He knew more about the cook-book than the dictionary, and told me how to bake ham under a layer of mud so that it 'brought out the intersticine juices.'
Tongan Royal Guards outside Palace, Nuku'alofa.
A Tongan's own language served him well if he didn't happen to like you. Needy aristocrats, beginning to learn the value of money and liquor, had perfected a little trick of giving a high title to visiting Europeans and making them 'members of the family.' If the European was romantic snob enough for the game, he freely lent money and whisky to the noble donor of titles. When money and whisky played out, the titles vanished also, and the once honoured one was unceremoniously removed from the family. This old army game was a bit of Tongafiti that was practised in Samoa as well as Tonga. The generous Polynesian was beginning to learn that you don't give something for nothing in this wicked world. Chief Ulukalala, a pretender to the throne, had titles to give that sounded extremely noble. He gave one to an official, and another to a resident doctor's wife. Between the two honoured ones there was contention as to which should rank above the other at native ceremonies. Her title was To'e Umu, literally 'Scraps from the Oven.' His was Kuli Haapai, which in English is 'Dog of Haapai.'
The relics of early missionary blue laws made it very easy to go to jail. It was forbidden to do any sort of work on Sunday, even on your own premises. When I was there Dr. Ruben, a medical officer, was arrested for breaking the Sabbath by picking a bunch of bananas in his own yard. Despite his protest that he was only gathering food, he was duly fined. Sunday games were prohibited. Algy Slocombe's tennis court got him into trouble with the puritans. We had some splendid Sunday games there, and Algy felt secure because his court was screened by a hedge. Some holy peeper caught him finally, and all his players were haled before a native magistrate and fined. Fortunately that happened after I went home.
All crimes lead to jail, or are supposed to. Going to jail in Tonga seemed to be quite a merry social affair. Back in the days of old George Tubou one of the royal relatives was a prisoner. Every afternoon the king's carriage would wheel up, take the culprit for a drive and for tea in the palace, then return him at six o'clock, the closing hour.
A friend told me that when he first saw the Vavau jail there was a sign over the door: 'All prisoners not in by six o'clock will be locked out for the night.' When was there the jailers complained bitterly because there were no prisoners and they had to do all the work. Tongan prisoners were great gadabouts. In one village there had been several burglaries of provision stores, and the police were baffled for days. At last they located the loot, hidden under the jail where the inmates could delve in, when they pleased, for a midnight snack. it seemed rather remarkable that such good boarding houses were losing boarders.
That was Tonga as I saw it, going in and out for many years. Like all Pacific groups, it was a land of marked contrasts. At sunset an old witch woman would stand on the cliffs, 'calling the sharks.' She would throw scraps into the water, then raise a high, queer chant, and the beasts would poke their noses through the surf. And in the palace at Nukualofa an educated, civilized woman sat with her consort, planning to meet the conditions which a new world had imposed on her kingdom. Because their rule was good, and the British Protectorate a wise one, Tonga continued to improve greatly, both in health and in understanding.
I never let Salote and Tungi forget that the native medical talent was right there in the kingdom, waiting to be developed. Every time I visited the islands I told the queen how the pick of her young men could go to Fiji for a first-class medical education, if we had the money to back such an enterprise. There was always that bit If. Salote's common sense and patriotism told her that I was right. Her generous wish was not limited to her own realm; she saw how the native races of Oceania could not be helped until they learned to help themselves. But when I talked this problem over with her I realised that little Tonga was not rich enough to effect a programme that could cover the whole wide Pacific.
One day, in 1926, I was very discouraged when I came to Queen Salote with my troubles. I told h3er of a letter I had just received from Heiser; he had decided that I must abandon the school idea altogether. It was no fault of his, he has done what he could. But the case was hopeless.
Queen Salote listened carefully to what I hade to say. In her thoughtful hesitation I saw that she was agreeing with Heiser. I had put up a four-year fight for an impractical ideal.
Then suddenly she raised her kind eyes and asked: 'Doctor, is it such a tremendous amount that we can't bear our share?'
It wasn't a spendthrift Tongan speaking. It was the voice of a woman who had considered the question carefully, and had come to see the road to a sick kingdom's recovery. She knew that there was a competent treasury balance. She had been with us from the first. Her influence had helped reduce Tongan infant mortality until it had become the lowest in the Pacific; she had encouraged mothers to come to doctors or Government dispensers for supplies of baby food; this had given medical officers a chance to check up on the condition of young children. Salote had encouraged war on tuberculosis, and had seen that every house in her realm should have sanitary arrangements, even if they were still crude. The medical men she backed with moral support were cleaning up yaws with arsenicals. No one more than Salote knew the health situation in Tonga.
And couldn't Tong bear its share in our school, so that the Pacific would at least have competent native medical service? Before she had spoken, my school had been taking its last gasp. Now it was alive again.
I went to Samoa and quoted her offer to the old Governor, Major-General Sir George Richardson. 'Well,' he grunted. 'if Tong is willing to do that we'll come in too.'
The fight wasn't over, even than, but the wall was breached.
When I left Tonga for the last time the Crown Prince Taufaahau was on the ship with us. He had come home to the celebration of his twenty-first birthday and had been given the high title of Tubou Toa. He was a splendid boy, one I would have been proud to have claimed as my son. Two young anthropology professors from the University of Chicago were with us and were charmed with his conversation, always on an intellectual footing with theirs. Gigantic as his ancestors, he kept fit by exercising with fifty-six-pound dumb-bells. He laughed, remembering the chocolate bars I used to feed him. I was telling him about a chief of a lost Pacific island who had asked me to come back and be his guest for life; the 'Crown Prince fell into a long study, the way his mother did when she was deciding something for herself. Then he said: 'Doctor, I invite you to make your home with me in Tonga. But, of course,' he said, 'that will be after I have assumed my place in Tongan society.'
I know of no happier place for my old age.