Ancient Tonga Traditions on the ‘Jesus Loves Me’ Bus

Don’t try this at home! He is ripping the husk off a coconut — with his teeth!

Starting the job...

Got something stuck in my teeth...

But that was later, in the afternoon...

Frankly, the morning walking tour of our port town, Nuku’alofa, Tonga, was a waste of time. Everyone agreed. I'll share a few photos anyway. ‘Tonga is a Polynesian kingdom of more than 170 South Pacific islands, many uninhabited, most lined in white beaches and coral reefs and covered with tropical rainforest. The main island, Tongatapu, is protected by lagoons and limestone cliffs. It’s home to the rural capital of Nuku'alofa, as well as beach resorts, plantations and the Ha’amonga ʻa Maui, a monumental coral gate from the 1200s.’ [World Bank]

Tonga (population 107,000) is the only remaining monarchy in Oceania — and it has never been colonized by another country. No Spanish. No Portuguese. No French, No English, though there is English influence — they drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. It is also distinguished from most of the other South Pacific islands because it is totally flat. Here’s His Majesty King George Tupou VI and his royal palace.

The black and purple bunting and decorations indicate recent deaths. We saw this quite often downtown. The one on the right would make a nice hat.

The three main religions are Wesleyan [Methodist], pictured below, Catholic and Mormon. With a smattering of Pentecostal and other smaller denominations. One of the passengers saw a couple of Mormon schools. I’ve seen prettier flying buttresses.

Artifact in a handicrafts shop. Now that’s pretty.


The REAL Tonga was revealed on the afternoon excursion called ‘Tonga Traditions’ and highlighted by the ‘Ancient Tonga’ presentation by one family. They showed us how a tea-like drink called kava is made by grinding the kava-kava root then adding rain water. They served it to some of our group in a ceremonial kava ceremony. We were treated to dancing by one woman then two women, doing soft, gentle hip-swaying movements with delicate hand gestures. She is wearing a patterned tapa cloth (bark cloth) made from paper mulberry stalks that are pounded into sheets that are then joined together, then painted with natural dies. We saw that demonstrated, too.

This was followed by two ‘warrior’ dancers with a whole different style, as you can deduce from these photos:

There was a drumming performance, a demonstration of coconut husking (see above!) and scraping and squeezing (to extract the milk) plus an explanation of cooking techniques with samples of a chicken, rice, onion and coconut dish wrapped in large leaves and cooked under hot stones.

The mama chicken and her chicks enjoyed the coconut ‘processed’ during the demonstration.

‘Ancient Tonga’ is a family ‘company‘ — I think there were four generations present if you include the little girl who ran in and out of the performances, carrying her cell phone — and it was one of the best shore excursions yet. It was hard to top that, but we did ride out to the site of Captain Cook’s Landing, in 1777. And saw a lot of ‘local color’ along the way. This coral archway at Ha‘amonga ‘a Maui dates from the 1200s. From it, you can hear the pounding surf.

A very valuable piece of real estate...

Tonganese cemeteries all look like this.

Our tour guide Anau. She is 24 and has studied tourism but is now studying theology, following in her father’s and elder brother’s footsteps. She was fairly knowledgeable about history, local economy, etc., but our bus forgave her her lack of all the answers because she charmed us all. She asked us twice if she could sing to us, and sang two religious songs — about what, we never found out. One passenger asked could she sing a song in English. She didn’t know any, she said, then he began singing ‘Jesus Loves Me, This I Know...’ and she chimed right in. Most of the bus sang along. When we disembarked from the bus, she kissed each of us goodbye.

Back on the pier, the Nuku’alofa Police Band and local dancers — who had welcomed us all as we disembarked at 8 in the morning — were back to play and sing and dance us back on board at 5:30. Their last song was ‘Jailhouse Rock.’ And, on that note, we departed from ‘The Friendly Isles’ of Tonga!

©2017, 2018 Susan Nash/PassePartout
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