A Polynesian Queen whose
DREAM CAME TRUE
In the words of Crown Prince Tungi, Premier, and heir to the Sovereign, Queen Salote, the visit of Her Britannic Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to the Pacific kingdom of Tonga, was “a dream come true”. It would not be out of place to say that the visit of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to that engaging coral strand was for the 50,000 subjects who give their allegiance to two Queens the most notable event in their history.
An interlude in the Commonwealth tour, Queen Elizabeth's visit was, in a sense, a return of compliments. Queen Salote represented her Pacific realm at Queen Elizabeth's Coronation in June last year, and London's rain on that historic day, and Queen Salote's imperturbable smile which challenged the cold and discomfort, won her an immediate place in the hearts of millions of Englishmen.
Tonga returned similar recognition and affection when Queen Elizabeth landed at Nukualofa wharf on December 19 last—amid a shower of rain! It was a tropical shower and soon passed, but eyes opened wide and broad smiles appeared as the coincidence became so obvious to those who gathered to watch first the meeting and then the progress to the malae of the two Sovereigns.
In some contrast to the reaction of the Fijians to whom strict silence while in the presence of a superior is the greatest sign of respect, the Tongans showed a more responsive Polynesian strain in their welcome to the Queen beyond the seas. They cheered vociferously on the slightest provocation, but in their enthusiasm never allowed their emotions to gain control—except when tears came to the eyes of some old folk as they watched their own Queen walk
Typical thatch buildings on Queen Salote's estate form background to traditional entertainment (NPS Photograph).
It had been Queen Salote's intention that Queen Elizabeth's visit to one of the smallest British protectorates should as far as possible give her guests an opportunity to relax, and in spite of the damp heat, that intention was largely fulfilled. The Queen and the Duke, it can be said, enjoyed extremely and even looked forward to the air of the improbable which surrounded the programme for their entertainment.
On their first night in Nukualofa—Queen Salote's wooden Palace was given over entirely to her guests—the Royal party watched and enthused over a series of hula dances given in their honour at the residence of the British agent and consul, Mr J. E. Windrum. Here Her Majesty bestowed on Queen Salote the Grand Cross of the Victorian Order.
The failure of the electric lighting system at this party amused the Royal guests, and the fact that the Minister of Police, who lived next door, felt sufficiently satisfied about his security arrangements to give a party of his own, was rather typical of life in the Friendly Isles.
And at some time during that night, under a lovely tropical moon, as near full as it could be, Queen Salote's silver band marched through Nukualofa and played ‘Rule Britannia’ until nigh on the point of exhaustion. Only the reappearance of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke prevented more repetition and the cheers from the crowd of waiting people drowned and submerged the by now really plaintive music.
Queen Elizabeth and the Duke might well have likened their visit to the kingdom of Tonga to a modern fairy tale—just as many actually did. They slept in a palace which had been built by New Zealand contractors, and they saw in the grounds a tortoise authentically said to have been brought to Tonga by Captain Cook. In any event it looked its age, and it and its keepers were much photographed by the visiting Queen.
Moonlight bathed the island and clad the sea in shimmering silver, and around the palace, which has as its only normal protection a coral wall 3ft. high, a night vigil was mounted by voluntary guards, who sat in groups of four over little flickering camp fires.
At dawn, four nose flautists—amid other noises of the morning—began their gentle wailing. To play a primitive flute with the nose is a fast-dying art in Tonga, and Queen Salote's secretary, who is also keeper of the records, had the utmost difficulty in finding three other enthusiasts to join him.
The visiting Queen watched a programme of posture and action dances of exceptional vigour, quality and grace. These followed more the Fijian style with the exception of one importation from Samoa, in which women and young maidens sat on the ground and moved from position to position with hand actions and song. But the beaters found a hollow log drum in-
sufficient to express adequately their enthusiasm in rhythm and quickly requisitioned an old rusty, empty oil drum. (See our photograph.)
The Duke was quick to notice the improvement in the volume of noise and delightedly pointed out the instrument to Queen Elizabeth. Queen Salote merely smiled and gestured as though to agree with everyone that the substitution was acceptable. Then to the feast, where 3000 guests sat cross-legged in rows 150 yards long and faced 2000 roast sucking-pigs, chickens, lobsters, yams, and other Tongan foodstuffs, with coconut milk to wash them down. It was a novel experience for Queen Elizabeth and the Duke who sat on cushions, but, unlike the other guests, they used knives and forks, and drank from glasses. Thus did a peaceful people entertain the crowned head of the Commonwealth.
The modern kingdom of Tonga came into existence in 1845 with the consolidation of the widespread island group by King George Tubou I, whose far-sighted work, particularly in regard to land titles and security of tenure, was even further improved upon by his successor, King George Tubou II. The latter died in 1918, and at the age of 18 Queen Salote came to the Tongan throne.
Queen Salote was born on March 13, 1900, and was married at the age of 17 to Prince Tungi, who later became premier. He died in 1942 and the premiership is now held by the Queen's eldest son, who has also been given the mane of Tungi.
Early in her reign Queen Salote strove to unify her kingdom of about 150 islands and coral islets scattered over 270 square miles of Pacific Ocean. One of her main endeavours has been to combine two rival religious bodies whose disputes drove a wedge among her people. Her efforts have been largely successful, and today she is the head of the Wesleyan Free Church of Tonga.
It was on December 3, 1945, that the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the kingdom was worthily celebrated, and Queen Salote's first official act that day was to grant clemency to seven prisoners. To five she granted free pardons, while the other two had sentences of life imprisonment reduced to 10-year terms. On that day, too, she was made a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire. During the celebrations the guns of the battery presented to Tonga by the British Government in honour of the centennial fired their first salute. The same guns boomed when Queen Elizabeth II of England set foot on Tongan soil for the first time.
Capital of the Tongan kingdom is Nukualofa, which is on the main island of Tongatabu. At the head of the State is Queen Salote with her Privy Councillors and the Cabinet. The law-making body is the Legislative Assembly, which comprises the Privy Councillors, seven nobles elected by their peers, and seven representatives elected by the people. The casual eye will see in the Tongan Government the semblance of a working democracy, but it is still very much a Royal Family affair with wholehearted faith and belief in an adherence to the word of the Queen.
Every male Tongan of 21 years of age who pays taxes and can read and write is qualified to vote at the three-yearly elections. Parliament meets each year, usually in the cooler June month and its session lasts about 30 days. Every Tongan-born subject, on reaching the age of 16, is entitled to an allotment of 8 ¼ acres of land mainly because of the insistence of King George Tubou I and of his successors that the land is the inheritance and the birth-right of the people. A much bigger increase in population would, without doubt, compel a review of these existing land laws.
With the advent of Wesleyan missionaries in 1826 came the first school in Tonga. Indeed, missionaries have played a vital part in Tonga's government for many years. Education is compulsory for all Tongan children and is free in State schools. There are at present 70 Government and 60 mission primary schools, at which more than 10,000 pupils attend. There are also Government and mission secondary schools in the education system.
All Tongans receive free medical attention and throughout the island kingdom district nurses and temporary medical practitioners care for the population's health.
There are no railways in Tonga, but there are about 60 miles of coral road in Tongatabu, and 18 miles in Vavau suitable for most traffic. Queen Salote has the most modern car in the kingdom, and it was purchased specially for the visit of Queen Elizabeth. Crown Prince Tungi and his brother Prince Tuipelehake ride in a modern car of the same make as many of London's taxicabs.
Tonga, unlike New Zealand, has a written Constitution. Unique in this is the declaration: The Sabbath Day shall be sacred in Tonga for ever, and it shall not be lawful to do work or play games or trade on the Sabbath. And any agreement made or document witnessed on this day shall be counted void and shall not be recognised by the Government. The law in this respect is strictly observed.
To the visitor the most unusual sight in Nukualofa is a grassed area not far from the Royal Palace. This is the site of the tombs of the two former rulers—King George I and King George II. Both tombs are of white marble with typically ornate Victorian decoration. But around them is a nine-hole golf course! Probably nowhere else in the world will be found a similar setting. Prince Tungi is credited with the innovation, and is said to have played the first ball over the course.
By and large the Friendly Isles—justifiably named by Captain Cook—have not been touched by the assault of influences from the western world. Clocks are but ornaments; the kingdom is unspoiled by the frenzy of modern exertion; it basks in a wonderful climate, it enjoys prosperity, and above all is ruled by a gracious, erect and dignified Queen who in her relationship with her people is more like a mother to them all than a monarch.
She is well-loved, approachable and sincere. She belongs to her people. She is Tonga.
Heir to the throne is Crown Prince Tungi—named Taufaahau at birth in 1918—who has the blood of three lines of Tongan kings in his veins. So has Queen Salote herself. In the days when fables began Tongan legend says a god came down to earth by a tree so tall that it pierced the heavens. He came to visit his earthly bride. The son she bore was the first of the Tui Tonga—the Sacred Kings of Tonga. They reigned for 38 generations until 1865, but for long centuries the actual cares of government were in other hands.
Of the earlier generations of Tongan Sacred Kings little is known, but they have left impressive memorials of themselves in eastern Tongatabu. Tradition tells of a king who, fearing assassination, sat with his back to a stone, while with a long staff he kept a space cleared about him. The ‘Leaning-against Stone’ still stands, and nearby is the famous but mysterious trilithon named Haamonga which, tradition again says, was set up by a king who declared he would make posterity wonder at their purpose and plan. He has had his desire.
Not far away are the tombs of the early kings, huge mounds faced with terraces of stones, beautifully worked and set accurately in place.
As the centuries unfolded the 1300's saw a Tongan king conquer part of Samoa and later be driven out. In the fifteenth century a Tongan king was murdered and his son embarked on a wide ocean search for the assassins, at last capturing and slaying them. Wearied of strife he kept for himself the honours and pleasures of supreme kingship, but entrusted the cares of State to a junior branch of his house, the Haa (clan) Takalaua. Henceforth there were two kings—the Sacred King (Tui Tonga) and the Ruling King (Tui Haa Takalaua), whose daughter was married to the Sacred King to bear him a successor.
The Sacred and the Ruling kings were in time overshadowed by a new power arising in western Tongatabu: the head of the house of Heart-of-Upolu, Tui Kanokupolu. So high became the prestige of these western chiefs that their daughters replaced the daughters of the Ruling kings as principal wives and mothers of Sacred Kings, and by the end of the eighteenth century the Tui Kanokupolu were effective rulers of the entire Tongan group.
In remarkable fashion and through all these changes the royal sanctity of the Sacred King was unimpaired and scrupulously observed by rulers and people.
The spread of Christian missions, however, gradually diminished the declining influence of the Sacred Kings of Tonga, and when in 1865 the Sacred King died no successor was installed,
* For the material on early Tongan kings I am indebted to Dr E. E. V. Collocott, one-time Methodist Minister in Tonga, who published an article, ‘Queen Salote's Heritage’, in ‘The Fortnightly’, January, 1954.
A POLYNESIAN QUEEN WHOSE DREAM
CAME TRUE (continued from page 29)
but the special honours and prerogatives of the office were transferred to Taufaahau—King George Tubou I. He was a big man, wise and strong. At 95 years of age he was unbowed and vigorous, but an early morning swim in the sea in front of his palace during an attack of influenza was too much even for his Herculean strength, and his death occurred in 1893.
His son and grandson died before him, and he was succeeded by his grand-daughter's son, who thus became King George Tubou II—Tubou being the title of the Tui Kanokupolu. Like his great-grandfather he was a tall, well-built man over 6ft tall. He died in 1918 still a comparatively young man, and he was followed on the throne by his daughter Salote, a tall and handsome girl not long returned from her schooling in New Zealand.
The year before her accession she married Tungi (Tu'i), head of the house of Takalaua, whose ancestor and mid-fifteenth century Sacred King had made ruler of the land. Tungi, was very strong but he died while seemingly in the prime of mid-life.