Thoughts and Impressions of Tonga
written by Lolo Masi
ON "TIME" in Tonga
Time, as an independent idea, did not exist in Tonga. Some people say
it doesn't exist today either. They say, "There is no tomorrow in Tonga."
The Tongan word for time, taimi , comes from the English word.
Before European contact and the introduction of clocks, watches, and
reading (1831), daily events were used. For example, aa puaka , meaning
the waking up of the pigs, is that time, about 4 or 5 a.m., when the
pigs wake up; hopo e la aa , the rising of the sun, is the time of sunrise; etc.
ON "RUSHING" or "being in a hurry" in Tonga
Rushing in Tongareally stands out. Everyone notices and looks with
some wonder at the person who is in a hurry. It often results in
laughter. The heavier and more distinguished Tongans usually move or
walk slowly and with an air of dignity. Rushing is not really
considered impolite, usually just foolish; unless, of course, there
is a good reason for it, such as running from a fire or playing rugby.
Anyway, this is one thing that Tonga can teach us.
Relax ! There'stime !?
ON RELIGION and ANCIENT FEELINGS or ATTITUDES
Ancient feelings or attitudes can be very strong and even 'take over'
our behavior sometimes. It is said that Tonga is nearly 99% Christian
and there are about 8 different sects or denominations. It is also
said that there are more churches than any other building in Tonga.
It is officially against the law to work or play on Sundays. Most
people spend their Sundays going to church, eating or feasting in large
groups, singing hymns, sleeping, going to church again, etc. Even
during the week the church bells ring, and three or four choir practice
sessions per week is not uncommon. Their singing is beautiful and
religion is a very social affair.
But late one night in the latter 1970s, there was a very big earthquake
(7.1), and the islands shook terribly. Lolo, an American by birth, ran
out of his house fearing it would collapse. Then, he heard a lot of
noise. People all over his neighborhood were hitting their tin roofs
or rain water tanks with sticks, etc., and making as much noise as they
could, in any way they could. Asking his neighbors why all the noise,
he came to learn that the ancient belief for the cause of earthquakes
was this: an ancient underground god was having a bad dream, rolling
around in his sleep and shaking the earth. The making of noise was to
wake him up, to stop the frightening earthquake ! How deep, Lolo
wondered, does religion go?
ON THE IDEA OF "RIGHT" or "CORRECT"
The Tongan word for right or correct, is totonu . But after living in
Tonga for some years and learning their language and customs, one finds
that the meaning attached to this idea is different than that of the
West. The western idea of correctness or rightness has a much more
narrow meaning than the Tongan view. In the West, it's like a thin
line, and if you are not on that narrow, thin line, then you are not
correct or right. But in Tonga, it means within the bounds, and often
wide bounds; totonu generally means that anything within the wide road
of 'correctness,' anything that is not very wrong, anything that is
acceptable by someone, is O.K., and therefore right !
ON STIGMAs and WILLINGNESS TO FORGIVE AND FORGET in Tonga
In ancient Greece, a person who committed a rather serious crime was
literally branded with a mark, or stigma, burned into their skin for
life so that everyone could see that mark an know he or she was a
criminal. In Tonga this is not so, and people are quite willing to
forgive and forget over time. Even prisoners, from Tolitoli Prison on
Tonga's main island, can be seen in their brown uniforms with a blue
police truck nearby, tidying up around the downtown market or
cleaning the streets during the daytime,
and occasionally laughing and joking with passers by.