13 February 2011

8 ways to have fun in Tonga

The back of a truck, loaded for the beach
Early yesterday morning we were awakened by what I thought was someone running up the flight of stairs to our house, an indistinct rumble. Several seconds later, the windows started rattling, our closet swung crazily, and the whole house shook! It was a 6.1 earthquake, originating almost under Nuku'alofa! No one was hurt, and nothing was damaged, so it was little more than a jolt awake and some excitement. We had been sound asleep from a busy, fun weekend. We'd made apple pie with some friends on Friday, gone to the weekend market on Saturday morning, and capped off the day with an exciting game of ultimate frisbee, dinner, and an evening movie night with friends where we watched 12 Angry Men, which everyone loved.Which brings me to a question recently posed: "What do people do for fun in Tonga?"

In Tongan, there is no word for "fun" as the English language means it; as a time distinct from work in which enjoyment is the prime goal. But that doesn't mean that people don't find plenty of ways to relax, be in community, and enjoy themselves.

So here are some things people do for fun in Tonga:

1. Watch Filipino "movies" (novellas) or movie anthologies. For some reason, Filipino novellas are a huge hit among a certain population here. Just like I might watch 5 episodes of Mad Men on one lazy Saturday afternoon (hey I'm not saying I'm proud of it), the mostly-female population who watches novellas will joke about having stayed up way too late because they just had to find out whether the main character's baby was her husband's or not! Almost everywhere, you can get disks of cheaply pirated "action movie pack" or "Tom Cruise pack" - a collection of 4 or 20 movies along that theme. Just the other day, we watched part of Pretty Woman on a Julia Roberts pack. For those who have moral qualms with pirated ... a legit movie store would actually make a ton of money, if only they actually wanted to sell in Tonga. There is not a single alternative option here.
A cooler of chicken waiting to be barbequed

2. Go to the beach. Almost everyone loves going to the beach, and we always welcome a day in the sand, eating good food. Just like in other countries, usually the biggest beach days are around the holidays, when people have time to take a day off in sunny laziness. But if you thought that you'd pack a light swimsuit, some cold drinks, and a sandwich to take to the beach, you'd be sorely underpacked. At the very least, going to the beach means bringing huge pots of food, a truckload of mats, and usually preparing an 'umu or barbeque so that later in the day, everyone eats hot grilled chicken, lu, and sweet potatoes in a shady spot under a tree.

3. Play sports. A lot of young people will play rugby (if you're male) or netball (if you're female) during the respective seasons for those sports. Towns will play against each other in exciting tournaments that draw people from all across the immediate area. We went to the rugby tournament in 'Eua last year.

4. Go to Mormon dances, school events, and fundraising konisetis. Mormon dances are quite the scandalous event, the only place where boys and girls can hulohula, or dance at arms length like a middle-school Valentines day dance. The only place, that is, unless you are truly naughty and go to one of the small handful of nightclubs downtown. One volunteer recently went to a smashing school party, and almost everyone has been to a koniseti at some point or another, an event held to raise money in which kids and middle-aged ladies dance in the middle of the town hall, while everyone else stands outside and peeks in the windows.
These friends aren't getting drunk, but rather creatively trying to finish some juice. But oh what a way!

5. Get drunk. Unfortunately, alcohol causes most of the accidents and police incidents especially here in the city, and it is mostly small groups of young men who choose to partake. We've always been a bit surprised here that there is no mid-ground in drinking; either you never touch alcohol, or you regularly drink a handle of cheap vodka in one night. Our guess is that perhaps the people who drink to extreme excess are unconsciously applying the same principles they use with food: "food will go bad, so it must be finished." Happily, I think, for the extreme drinkers, there's emerging another way of drinking -- "to drink like a foreigner" means to have one drink, and then stop, like a having a beer with food.

6. 'Eva. ('Eh-vah) This delightful word is untranslatable into English, meaning something like "ramble," "roam around," "sightsee," "visit people spontaneously," or "wander," and when someone asks you where you're going, most people will say "eva pe," or "I'm just wandering around." Usually when you 'eva, you walk around the neighborhood, visiting with people, enjoying the air, and talking with whom you are with.

7. Talk. Talking is a huge art, and people greatly admire someone who can tell a good story, make fun of someone subtly and genially, or outright tell a good joke. At a kava circle, the kava is poured into the cups by a young, unmarried woman called the tou'a, and the best tou'as are the ones who can give funny yet modest, subtle, witty comebacks to the raunchy jokes that the men throw her way.

8. Drink kava. Only if you're male, that is. Depending on personal preference, guys will join a kava circle once a week or sometimes every single night, and most kava circles stretch late into the night as conversation spins and gradually the participants drop off to sleep. It's not uncommon to see a male colleague stumble into work red-eyed and bleary. "Fu'u lahi inu kava?" we ask. Did you drink too much kava? Kava is an important time for people to catch up personally as well as decide what to do in the community. There is usually a short kava circle before church and at every significant reunion event, as well as just informal community circles throughout the week.

Thanks to NTKT for the inspiration for this post

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