Tonga Tales

Tonga Tales
Elder and Sister Wally Smith

Monday, June 18, 2012

More On The Tongan People

The Tongan People

Coming Home From the Api
          We just want to share a few things that we have observed about the people we have lived among for almost 18 months.  It has been a blessing for us to get to know them.  There are things we do not have and cannot get here in Tonga but we are very comfortable. 

Planting Taro
          Once in awhile we get a glimpse of how many live here.  Most do not have washing machines.  They do their laundry in a 5 gallon bucket.  I don’t know how they do it but everyone always looks neat and clean.  A teacher might casually say as part of a lesson, “My husband gets up early to start a fire to heat water so that we can wash up in the morning.”  Another tells us that she doesn’t have a frig, her brother does and they share.  Electricity is very expensive.  Children know that kerosene is used in lamps so that they can have light in their homes.

          Seventy percent of the people in Tonga are unemployed.  However, there are many people who work in the bush (farm) or are fishermen or who weave baskets or do other crafts like Tapa.  There are many who do not call that work.  But believe me it is hard work. 

Weaving Baskets from Coconut Plams
          Tonga is very much a communal society.  It is part of the culture to go to family and say, I need money.  You want to give your money and you are expected to give it.  They share all that they have.  I have seen many who did not have much to share and still they give it away.  It is part of Tongan Faith.  They trust that Heavenly Father will take care of them and they trust that when they need something the family will help. 

Taking the Bark off Limb to Make Tapa Cloth
          But there are draw backs to this philosophy.  If you are trying to save for something like a house and every time you get some money put away, someone asks for it and you give it to them.  You will never get a house.  A teacher in one of our schools is trying to build a house without a mortgage.  Her husband is a good fisherman.  I have seen the huge lobsters that he harvests from the ocean.  One year he was able to catch a lot of sea cucumber and they put a lot of money away towards a house.  But people knew and little by little the money disappeared. 

Doing the Wash in a Bucket
           So the next year instead of putting the money in the bank, she bought blocks to build the house.  When people came to ask for money, she told them it was all gone and it was.  Now her husband is in Australia doing construction work.  They are buying the wood and the tin for the roof and the wire and sand so that they will have a paid for house.  He will be gone for six months but it will be worth it.

          It is interesting to get to know a Tongan family.  They may have five, six or seven children and two or three others are living with them. Sometimes they just live with them so that they can go to school.  Or they have adopted them.    Generally adopting does not mean going through all that legal stuff.  It means that you have them in your home and you take care of them.  They are part of the family.  They just want to make sure that the children have what they need and that they are cared for. 

          We are reminded of some of the closing words in The Other Side of Heaven.   Elder Groberg was talking about people in the Niuas who still live as they did in his movie.  Things are much better on Tongatapu than that.  Still his words are often true. “These people have nothing and yet they have everything.” 

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