Visit to Tonga — ‘The Friendly Islands’
Among the 30 New Zealanders who attended the annual conference of the Pan Pacific and South-East Asia Women's Association in Tonga last August, were four Maori women, all members of the Maori Women's Welfare League: Mrs M. Hirini, Mrs R. Takarangi, Mrs Te A. Potaka and Mrs E. Magee.
In this article Mrs Eve Magee gives her impressions of the conference.
flying from auckland to Fiji, our plane went at a terrific rate, and the trip took only four hours. After spending the night at a Fijian hotel we boarded another plane, not nearly such a grand one this time, for the second part of our journey to Tonga.
Beneath us were the mountains of Fiji's interior, the shining rivers and the coastal plantations. Then after three hours above the clouds we came in sight of Tonga, a long thin island with a big lagoon, no mountains and no rivers.
Many people were there to meet us at the airport. Pretty girls put leis around our necks, and buses and cars took us to the town of Nuku'alofa. There we were most warmly welcomed by our hosts and hostesses, who billeted us in their homes and did everything possible to look after us and make us feel at home. Everyone in Tonga seemed delighted for us to be there, and they certainly lived up to their country's name as ‘The Friendly Islands’.
In their isolated home it needed hard and enthusiastic work to organise such a large conference as this. The Tongan people made a wonderful success of it, and have set a standard it will be difficult for future conferences to follow.
I stayed at a very comfortable new house in the heart of the village. Round about us were tall coconut palms, other tropical trees and plants, and hibiscus flowers in full bloom. The weather was fine and very warm.
Seeing the ‘Sights’
Next day we went sight-seeing. Among the ‘sights’ of Nuku'alofa are the Royal Palace, the Royal Chapel, the Tongan High School, the Quen Salote College, and the market-place where local arts and crafts are displayed. We also saw the tombs of the Kings standing imposingly in an area set carefully apart, and visited a village where we saw the whole process of tapa-making being carried out. Flying foxes hang upside down in the trees at Kolo-
vai, and in the grounds of the palace there still wanders the old, old blind tortoise which Captain Cook presented to the Tongans in the 1770's.
Nuku'alofa has a lovely beach, and a wharf where the big ships come. In the water live the brightly coloured fish that you see in aquariums. There was a deep purple one that darted in and out of the rocks, then quite a number came out, orange and yellow ones, even some pink ones.
A Kava Ceremony
On the Saturday evening we witnessed a kava ceremony. All the boys aged from 15 to 20 were sitting cross-legged on the verandah, just sipping a little of the kava, being served once every half-hour or so. There was beautiful singing. They were really enjoying themselves.
By this time I had learnt quite a lot about Tonga. Tonga is an independent kingdom under the protection of Great Britain. Queen Salote, who has reigned since 1918, rules with the aid of Parliament and a Privy Council. The Parliament is made up of the elected representatives of the people, of the Chiefs and of the Nobles. All male Tongans over 21 may vote, but women do not yet have the vote.
At the age of 17 each man receives a holding of eight acres, which he cultivates himself. They grow plants such as yams, kumaras, pineapples and breadfruit, also copra and bananas, their main exports. When a Tongan man dies, his land belongs to the Crown again.
Everyone goes to church. The Queen is the spiritual as well as the temporal head of her people, being head of the Free Wesleyan Church, the state religion of Tonga. The main church holds 1,400 people, and is so big that it could be a cathedral. On Sunday everyone dresses up and no unnecessary work is done. There is no bathing in the sea, no cooking inside, and no fishing. No one is allowed to land in Tonga on a Sunday. The men are supposed to prepare the meals. They go for walks and visit one another.
On the morning of Monday 17 August, Her Majesty Queen Salote officially opened the 10th conference of the Pan-Pacific South East Asian Women's Association.
The theme of this year's conference was, ‘the role of women in preserving the cultural heritage of mankind’.
Each address on an aspect of this subject was followed by round-table discussions in groups. It was most interesting to hear the various views of the delegates, who came from the U.S.A., Hawaii, Western Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Tonga, Japan and Taiwan China. The diversity of opinion was startling, coming as it did from delegates representing under-developed, medium, and over-developed countries.
Some of the questions discussed were: women's role in the home, in the community, and in the bringing of peace to the world; the needs of developing countries; the roles of the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation; the effect of such instruments of change as the radio; art and culture as a bridge between the past and the future; the role of the mother, guardian of the race and of its heritage.
I feel that the discussions and interchange of opinions were of much value, and that we all gained a great deal from considering the central issue against such a wide background of differing human circumstances.
The international concert held one evening was certainly a highlight to remember. Each nation was given ten minutes to stage impromptu items. For New Zealand, Mrs Takarangi and Mrs Potaka of Wanganui led all our delegates in song, poi and haka. It was sad that Mrs Hirini, past president of the Maori Women's Welfare league, could not join us that night, because she had received a telegram that day telling of the passing of her mokopuna. We were all sad for her.
On Sunday we were invited to attend a church service in their huge church, and heard the combined choirs singing choral numbers. The climax of the evening was the singing by these hundreds of voices of the Halleluia Chorus. The building was 60 or 70 feet high, but their full, harmonious voices filled it without any trouble. Hearing them was a wonderful experience, and truly inspiring.
mr j. w. stevens, a Maori teacher at Taupo's Tauhara School, is one of a dozen New Zealanders who recently left for England to spend a year as an exchange teacher there. Mr Stevens, who is first assistant at his school, will be met in Southampton by his brother, Mr W. T. Stevens, whom he has not seen for 12 years.