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TONGANS: UNBROKEN TRADITIONS


Tongans in Hawai'i display one of the most intact cultures of old Polynesia. Tongan life dates back to about 1000 B.C., some 1000 to 1500 years before the migration of Polynesians north to Hawai'i. Today, Tongans continue to bring their ways to Hawai'i, reminding everyone of olden days.

Key to the preservation of the Tongan culture is the concept of tauhi vaha'a, a Tongan vow to maintain ties between family and community, helping to preserve the culture from outside influences. Tongans hold po-lotu, evening gatherings where as many as 1,500 celebrate and discuss religion, family and community. Often open to the public, po-lutu provide an opportunity to experience Tongan music and to feel the strength of the Tongan brotherhood in Hawai'i.

One reason for a strong sense of community is a decision made in Tonga in the 1860s to keep all land under Tongan ownership. This made Tonga's destiny much different from Hawai'i's, where kings and chiefs gave land to foreigners and changed the ancient land management system so that property could be sold to anyone.

Tongan culture in Hawai'i can be seen in Tongan homes, which display some of the best examples of Polynesian tapa, a cloth made from the bark of the paper mulberry plant. From this tapa, clothing and wall hangings are crafted and


Tongan basketry on the Big Island




decorated in natural dyes with intricate geometric patterns. Many Hawaiians, who almost lost the art in the Twentieth Century, study with Tongans to regain this Polynesian skill. Tongan mat-making skills are also still intact and men and women still wear the tau'ovala, made of finely woven pandanus leaves and tied as a skirt. In Hawai'i, Tongans are the Polynesians who most often wear their native dress. The tupenu is a skirt-like wrap worn by men for work and church. Tongan women wear long ankle-length wraps.

Outside the home, Tongans are respected in Hawai'i for constructing rock walls by hand. They understand the principal of leverage and are capable of manipulating giant boulders weighing far more than most humans can handle. They seem to have a relationship with stones that gives them the extra power needed to move them.

Stones are also employed for earthen ovens and Tongans are famous for their traditional Polynesian cooking. The Tongan Village at the Polynesian Cultural Center on O'ahu has been chosen for roasting pigs in the umu (underground oven) and ceremoniously delivering them to the nightly kai pola (or lu'au) for visitors. The Tongan



Aneta Matangi of
Kona's Tongan community


Village itself is a place where Tongan culture is proudly protected and revered by Tongan students who attend Brigham Young University on O'ahu and work at the village in exchange for tuition, room and board. The village is comprised of thatched Fale Mohe (sleeping house), Fale Kautaha (women's workshop) and Fale Fakataha (meeting house). Visitors are invited to play lafo, a game similar to shuffleboard, and can join in coconut craftsmaking of toys and Tongan headbands.

At the Village, Tongans share their dance and music, including the exuberant tanafa program, featuring the rhythms of very large drums. The dances of Tonga are much different than Hawaiian dances, featuring hand and arm movements more than the swaying of the hips. In Tongan dance, legs and lower body move to keep the rhythmic pulse. When watching Tongan dance, notice the flexing and extension of the wrists and knuckles, the facing of the palms, the curling of the finger, and the two kinds of hand clapping-one with a flat high pitch called pasi and the other a cross clap with cupped hands which emits a lower hollow sound (fü).

Tongans and Hawaiians are attempting to explore their historical and cultural connection, which dates back to ancient times when warriors of Tonga traveled by kalia, or canoe, with armies conquering a wide area of Polynesia, from Rotuma in the west to Niue in the east, including much of Samoa. It is believed that people from this area sailed to Hawai'i in some of the many migrations from the South Pacific.



Villi shares Tongan rhythms at the Polynesian Cultural Center on O`ahu


In 1964, a conference sponsored by Queen Salote of Tonga brought women from Hawai'i to Tonga to rejoin in spirit the descendants of the settlers of ancient Hawai'i and Tonga. The Hawaiian women, whose kingdom was overthrown in 1893, were able to experience a Polynesian kingdom with a monarchy that has been uninterrupted for over a thousand years. Currently, led by Tonga's Royal Highness King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, Tonga is the oldest and last remaining Polynesian monarchy and the only Pacific Island nation never to become a colony under European power. Another connection between Hawai'i and Tonga comes from King Tupou, who has led a surfing revival, appearing in National Geographic riding a wide red longboard. It was believed that Tongans didn't surf, but American surfers sailing through Tonga in the 1970s discovered an ancient wooden surfboard carefully stored on a remote island off Tongatabu.

In Hawai'i, Tongans are famous for their expertise in rugby, soccer and cricket. They play in tournaments on O'ahu against other South Pacific and American teams.



Sinita Ulluawe offers cultural demonstrations and lu`aus
in the Tongan tradition in Kona

Another link between Tonga and Hawai'i involves the Kailua-Kona based University of the Nations, which is developing a campus in Tonga. It plans to help expand Tonga's economy and enhance its educational system, as it also trains Protestant missionaries from the Pacific Islands. The Kona campus is host to many Tongan students.

In legend, Tonga and Hawai'i have similarities. The demi-god Maui is well known in such Tongan stories as the Raising of the Sky, in which Maui asked a woman to bring him water. She agreed, on condition that Maui raise the sky, which was so low that people walked around with their heads down. Using his spear, Maui lifted the sky forever. The woman gave him water and Maui's thirst was quenched. In another legend, Maui fished a Tongan from the ocean floor, using his Samoan fishhook.

Tongan events are held on all islands. Check with churches and local newspapers, or call (808) 328-2222.