25 November 2010

Tongan Democratic Election: Two days in pictures

Tonga becoming a democracy was marked by absences- the empty desks as people went to vote on Thursday the 25th...

...the lack of queues at the voting stations. (This is our district's voting station- in a church hall.) ...and generally the lack of any kind of riot or demonstration, despite everyone being prepared for the worst. Businesses locked their doors, secured their files, and made sure nothing important would get lost if there was any chaos. But fortunately, all was calm.

That evening at a Peace Corps thanksgiving celebration, the country director poses with several staff listening to the election results. We even had turkey and stuffing! Each district around Tonga had one elected parliamentarian, so everyone listened anxiously especially when it came to their district.

The next day, Friday, November 26th, parades went by celebrating the winning candidates.
This one is celebrating our district's winner, called "fuloutis" (floats) in Tongan. Similar floats went by non-stop every day on the week before the election, advertising each candidate.

The day after elections also had a festive air, because it was both the final "Child Cancer Awareness Friday" and a big performance day for all the primary school students. People joked that it was half an election celebration. A large handful of people at work are important members of the Child Cancer Foundation in Tonga, and so there was a Bank-wide competition of which department could wear the most yellow. Some departments even bought blond wigs and wore them with crowns all morning! The prize was a big pineapple pie, and even though only a handful of people or departments won, pie pieces got passed to a lot of people, so the treats were enjoyed by everyone.
Our department won one of the three "yellowest" prizes! As the Bank's "Business Advisory Services" department, we were the "Cancer Advisory Services Strikers" for the day (meaning we strike out cancer risk...).

The morning also marked the primary schools' show day. All of the primary schools in the immediate area gathered at the Nuku'alofa Primary School to show off their dances and beautiful costumes. Most of the fourth quarter of primary and secondary schools is spent preparing dances for times like these. I took a quick hour off of work to go watch and support. The school was crowded!

The school's own kids performed a sitting dance, or ma'ulu'ulu, gathered in a huge throng on the lawn. They're wearing traditional sitting dance decorations over their red school uniforms.

And no ma'ulu'ulu would be complete without a teacher directing the singing with a set of big sticks to count the beat. Usually, dancers in this dance also sing while they're dancing. Most school choirs also have a teacher counting the beat with a clicker like this, a job that is made essential by the number of songs we've heard that purposely change tempo halfway through.

My favourite part of these dances is often watching the parents, relatives, and other adults get into dancing on the sideline- as a way of enjoying the performance and showing their support. It is common to see a group of women tuck money into the main dancers' costumes, and then stay up "on stage" behind them, dancing and swaying.

One school did a Fijian dance. A lot of the other Pacific Island dances are popular at events because they're different than the same Tongan dances everyone expects. The crowd got very loud and enthusiastic during this one!

They had one dramatic moment where all the boys threw back their heads. You wouldn't see this much in a Tongan dance.

Some students, however, did very traditional Tongan dances. This one is the ta'olunga, or the single girl's standing dance. Their costumes are made of real leaves painstakingly affixed to an under cloth layer by layer. Families I've talked to have stayed up all night carefully putting together all the garlands, belts, and other decorations needed in these dances.

Even the littlest members of the school performed, clad in garlands of flowers and skirts made of leaves. This performer had just finished and was amusing herself by sucking on a $2 bill.

Our language tutor's little cousin did a great job dancing! The whole day felt like a holiday - the regular celebrations made that much more festive by everyone buzzing about the recent election. It was the primary gossip of the day.

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