03 August 2011

Your cousin's mother-in-law's brother is my aunt's cousin's father

A military march for the King's birthday
When anyone first meets someone in Tonga, the conversation will most likely go like this:

"Hi. 'Ofa Fifita*?" [They have already asked who this new person is from several people around you]
"Yes, hi."
"Mele Maka" says new person.
"Do you know my cousin, Melenaite Maka?" they ask.
"Isn't she the daughter of Sikaleti Po'oi? Sikaleti's my aunt's father in law."
"From Kanokupolu?" they ask, citing a large town on the island.
"Yes, are you from there?" the new person asks. "You know the blue house right before the Chinese shop as you come into town? That's my family's place!"
* Names are completely made up

And the conversation will move on from there. I am always amazed at the huge genealogies that everyone in Tonga seems to carry around in their heads, effortlessly referring to them at any useful occasion. It gets even more confusing when, as foreigners, we ask how certain members of the royal family are connected to each other--because at almost every important event, the guest of honour will be royal, or at least noble. 

At one event, I asked how the two royal guests of honour were related to each other, and was told, "Mele Siu'ilikutapu is Lupepau'u's aunt. Well, no, she's more like her cousin. Lupepau'u's mother's father, the late king, was brothers with Mele Siu'ilikutapu's father." And with head reeling, I quietly watched the rest of the ceremony without asking any more questions!

For the sheer joy of examining family trees, I've made a very simple tree to understand the Tongan royal family. It shows the current line of kings, starting with Tupou 1, who is generally known for uniting Tonga into one country and preventing Tonga from becoming a colony through his shrewd leadership. The current King is Tupou 5, and after him, the succession to the throne gets a little complicated, because: 1-He has no legitimately recognized royal children, 2-his next sibling is female and is not eligible to succeed him, and 3-the next sibling married a commoner and disqualified himself from succeeding the throne. So, the throne will eventually go to his youngest brother, and from there on, to that brother's eldest son.
A couple of caveats: Names have been shortened in some cases, and most of the names without Prince, Princess, King, or Queen in front of them have an "Hon." that I have left out for the sake of space. I've also left out first or second marriages that are not considered part of the royal line. Bold titles underneath the names are the hereditary names that get passed from generation to generation, and purple dates indicate when the monarch reigned.

To carry on with the royal theme, this last Monday was a holiday to celebrate the current king's birthday, which happens to be the actual date of his coronation. We woke up to the sound of marching drums, and strolled downtown to watch the festivities, joining people we knew on the way.

The military band marched proudly down the main street

The float from St Andrews College was especially colouful, with a sign promoting their new peanut butter business- "Go Nuts"

Tonga Family Health had a huge troupe of people doing aerobics down the street

Many school bands played

Representatives from Japanese aid and JICA did their own float and paused for a photo op with an Australian defence representative

And the Kingdom of Tonga float had tapa-clad flagbearers looking very sharp

One of the most amusing floats was the "Mr. Tonga" body builders...

... followed immediately by our friends from Filitonu performing group, giving their own rendition of Mr.Tonga

1 comment:

  1. Hi again,

    Still reading away at your entries. Had a good laugh; that is exactly the way I hear most Tongan conversations.

    Regarding the genealogies - as a New Zealand born Tongan, it blows me away how people can hold so much of their genealogy. About 2 years ago, my grandfather requested that I write down some of his family tree for him. We decided to do it on the computer. Next thing I know, he's recited numerous family connections stretching 7 generations back.

    All I can do is operate my gmail and barely remember to make my lunch. Long way to go before reaching that kind of memory. Must be the fish from Ha'apai


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