A beautiful "tapa" (or bark cloth) painting. Big tapa are presented at funerals and special occasions.
Last week, the Queen came to 'Eua. She's the mother of the current King, Tu'i George Tupou V, and owns quite a bit of pine-forested land in the North of the island, as well as having a claim to the royal residence at the outskirts of our very own town. On Monday last week, we met the other staff and students of Hango, dressed to the nines, and walked down to the royal house for "church with the Queen." I wasn't sure whether this meant that other people would come, or whether the Queen always had church on Mondays, but as soon as we arrived, quickly saw that this was the equivalent of a personal royal meeting.
Speaking in whispers as we got closer to the house, we were ushered into a long screened porch with mats on the ground, where we sat cross-legged, packed in along the walls and center. At one far end was a bare-walled, white room with a stuffed chair in the middle, facing our long screened porch, evidently where the Queen received her visitors. When she came in, her royal demeanor belied, or perhaps enhanced her simple, clean surroundings. The Queen's representative in town sat immediately to her right on our porch, answering her questions and introducing the speakers. The principal, deputy principal, and school chaplain all sat on her left at the front, and started out with formal thank you speeches and a long prayer. For the next 30 minutes, we had church much like any other day in Tonga, singing from the small blue hymn books, reciting the Lord's Prayer in Tongan, and ending with a closing prayer, everyone stealing surreptitious glances toward the Queen in her stuffed chair. When church was done, the Queen asked about Hango, putting everyone at ease with humour and gentle teasing, and encouraged Hango in several farming projects she had been thinking about. After about an hour of talking back and forth with Hango's managing staff, each person walked up to the Queen's chair on their knees as he or she was introduced by the representative, shook her hand, and then crouch-walked out the door, keeping our heads well below hers.
It was a very interesting experience. For one, I never expected to be allowed to sit and have church with the King's mother, and I never expected it to be on a simple, screened porch. I was surprised that she was so approachable, and at the relative lack of pomp and , and was impressed, if not surprised, at her easy command of the entire room.