15 July 2012

The Royal Wedding

The biggest talk of the city - along with, of course, the vote of no confidence that the Democratic Party has leveled against the Prime Minister - has been the royal wedding between HRH Crown Prince Tupouto'a 'Ulukalala and Hon. Sinaitakala Fakafanua. Not the least because of the divided opinions surrounding the fact that they are second cousins - on both sides, a fact especially savoured by foreign news sources.

In fact, it's not just the foreign news sources that look upon the marriage with skepticism, it's also close members of the royal family; the HRH Queen Mother Halaevalu Mata'aho and the current King's sister, HRH Princess Pilolevu were conspicuously absent from the past week's celebrations. This caused general scandal and also quite a bit of sadness from the general public, dismayed to see the royal family so divided after most have been thrilled to see the practical and considerate approach the new King has taken since commencing his rule.

The huge wedding tent was supplemented by two additional side wings of tents to accommodate all the guests

The wedding reportedly had over 2,000 guests from all around Tonga and the world, all congregating in the lawn in front of the palace right in the centre of Nuku'alofa and only a block away from my office. As I rode to and from work, I looked every day at the detritus of the previous evening's event and feast - broken chairs, tables, strands of tiny lights, all waiting for the next evening when everything would be swept up and made gorgeous again for the next event.

Special bottles labeled with "In honour of the Royal Wedding" lined each table
Like most Tongan weddings, the church wedding was held on a Thursday, while the royal couple were married by the state the previous Tuesday; Tuesdays and Thursdays being the most appropriate and auspicious days to get married. The last day of the celebrations was yesterday, in a "First Sunday" service where, as custom dictates, the couple goes to church for the first time as a married couple and then goes home to live together for the first time. Along with a much hushed up tradition involving a sheet, this fact causes a lot of winks and blushes to be traded around the "First Sunday" among young people in many commoner weddings. I have no idea whether similar conversations happened last week, but for the sake of their majesties' royal dignity, I won't guess.

Fine china and fresh coconuts graced the feast tables
By a great stroke of kindness, we got to go to Sunday's festivities, and we dutifully dolled up as nice as possible, to follow the embossed invitation's instructions to come attired in "FORMAL NATIONAL / LOUNGE SUIT." Asa used Mark's nice ta'ovala while mark used our spare, and I wore my nicest kiekie and heels.

A huge bowl of....
The programme of entertainment and speeches carried on as we ate our way through the tasty dishes. About halfway through, Mark opens a large bowl and we both look at it, trying to discern what it may be. It was a kind of tender meat with a light coconut curry sauce, and it smelled mouth-watering. "I suppose it's beef?" Mark said with a question. "Horse?" I proposed, confused because it horse is usually reserved for funeral feasts. "Yes I think so," he agreed, and satisfied with our classification, we dug in. Before I can hear the gasps of the horse lovers out there, let me explain that a lot of horses raised for funerals here are just like free-range cattle; they live good lives and are dispatched quickly. And they are delicious. Gasp. Sorry everyone. I'm a horse lover too.

So, we dug in. As I chew through my third or fourth bite and am just about to consider taking seconds, I hear the family who prepared the table ask the woman next to me, in Tongan, "would you like some of the turtle?" motioning to the delicacy I had just been gluttonously shoveling in to my mouth. I froze. I remembered one of my favourite books when I was a kid: Narnia's the Silver Chair. After having fought and lived alongside talking animals for the last two hundred pages, the main characters find themselves eating the most delicious venison at a guest's table. After having eaten most of their portions, they overhear a conversation at the next table revealing they've been eating a talking stag.

As the programme came to a close, many had already started to doze
I felt awful; the turtles that are captured and presented or cooked at feasts are endangered and, of course reproduce incredibly slowly. There are laws against taking female turtles, but they're almost impossible to enforce. And this was the only time I've ever eaten turtle I liked; to be that kind of meat I guessed it would have had to be a very large turtle indeed. Around this year with all the feasting for church conferences - and now the royal events, I wonder how many have been captured. The irony of it is that I've never seen many people to really relish the taste of turtle; it seems to be at tables to give honour rather than taste.

The Tongan Police force were out in full dress 

We could look far, far up at front and see HRH the Crown Prince and his bride as well as the King and Queen

Kids entertained themselves through the programme
After a number of choral songs, band performances, and humourous speeches, the event came to a close, marking the official end of the wedding celebrations. Many have a lot of hopes for this young couple (they are both in their 20s), because they are in line as next King and Queen, with the potential to provide some much-needed stability in the monarchy and the power they will have from both of their royal connections and bloodlines. We, along with many, hope they will live up to the expectations and wish them the best of success.

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