'UTULEI - MY TONGAN HOME
A Recollection of Tonga
by Patricia Ledyard
"Has Tonga changed much? How is development affecting the country? Don't you get tired of living in such a remote spot?"
Those are the questions which in endless variations, visitors ask me nowadays and they are the ones I shall attempt to answer here in this preface to the new edition of 'Utulei, My Tongan Home.
First, I must point out that it is now nearly forty years since I came to live in these islands. In those years great changes have come to the world, to Tonga, to my home in 'Utulei and to myself. When first I came to this country, it seemed to the white people here that there were great differences between themselves and the Tongans and so there were. Skin colour was the most obvious, but the least important. Vastly more significant were the differences in life-style, in general knowledge of the world and in the overall aims of the two groups. Yet, those differences had not always existed. Indeed, when Captain Cook and his men came, the lives of common people in England and in Tonga were much the same for both lived on the land.
What differences there were, were those inherent in the two countries - one having a temperate climate, the other a tropical climate, one being rich in minerals, the other poor, one being close to a continent on which many varying cultures had developed, the other lying in the great ocean in which there were scattered island groups which all had the same basic culture. As the son of a poor day labourer, Cook, himself, would have had no difficulty in relating to ordinary Tongans whose work was raising food and whose pleasure was eating it. You may well ask what happened in the roughly 200 years between Cook and the other early explorers and 1949 when I arrived in Tonga that had caused whole men to feel so different from brown ones and so much superior to them. Put briefly, it was the Industrial Revolution.
More earth-shaking than the bitterest war, the Industrial Revolution was, of course, not a single event, but a whole series of inventions. The steam-engine, the spinning-jenny, the power-loom, new processes of manufacturing steel - were only a few of the things that altered for all time the lives of ordinary men. Some of those inventions had, of course, been made even before cook started to explore the Pacific, but they had not then come into general use. However, had cook lived out his normal lifespan and spent his old age in his native land, he would have fond the world a very different place from what it had been when he was a boy. As most of the initial inventions of the revolution were made in England, it is perhaps, not surprising that the English soon came to feel that they were more clever than any other members of the human race. In England and in the other countries that allowed her into an industrial way of life, there were suddenly great oversupplies of the commodities of everyday life. Things have a vicious way of making their possessors long for more things. It soon became obvious that, if they could sell their surplus, they could manufacture and buy over new things.
Sellers need buyers and it occurred to some brilliant man - or group of men, that if the backward peoples of the world (by whom they meant those who lived in lands not yet touched by the industrial Revolution - most of whom, as it happened, had skins of a darker hue than the industrialists) could be made to want their products, they would have the money for which they now found an increasing need. And so it followed that England and the other great powers sought colonies. Most of them were gained through war with rivals, but sometimes they were merely taken from the natives who wee powerless before the white men's more sophisticated weapons. If the English felt an occasional twinge of conscience at what they were doing to other peoples, they were able to quieten it by telling themselves that they were helping others to rise, although it was inconceivable to them that their darker skinned brothers could ever each their own superior level. That beliefs were sanctioned by the pious churchmen of the day who quoted from Joshua about the "hewers of wood and the drawers of water" which allowed them to feel thoroughly justified not only in exploiting native peoples, but also, when it suited their purposes, in enslaving them.
For a long time, - over two centuries in many cases, the colonies dutifully fulfilled their function of supplying the mother countries with raw materials and buying back the goods manufactured from them. A relatively small part of the manufactured goods was books. Was it from them that the coloured people of the world first learned to dream of political independence or did they come to it by some other means? At any rate, the dream was born and persisted and grew until countless places in Africa and the Pacific and the rest of the world broke away from the great powers and emerged as independent countries. Faced with loosing their submissive markets, the mother countries were in a quandry. War and simple seizure had come into such popular disfavour that they no longer seemed a possible way to secure new markets. it was then that the idea of development came into being. If the emerging countries could be helped to a higher stage of material development than they had known as colonies, their people would want ever more things and would provide a never-ending market for manufactured products. It is true that the moneys poured into emerging countries reach staggering amounts, but they represent only a small part of what the major powers expect to et back on their investment.
There is, of course, an alternate explanation of development which springs from the attractive if probably fallacious notion that the path of humanity is always upward. It claims that the consciences of the powers awoke, that they pitied their less fortunate brethren and belatedly felt that notwithstanding differences in skin colours, they were worthy of having all the good things which the Industrial Revolution had provided for white men. That explanation is, naturally, gratifying to papalangis, many of whom chose to believe it. But that as it may, just as Captain cook's own world was changing as he explored the Pacific so the world of the industrialists was changing as the idea of development swept through their countries. A whole complex of new inventions has again shaken the world, hastened its pace and widened its horizons. To it we give the name, the electronic Revolution. Unfortunately, it has come to the world before the world's emerging countries, or for that matter, before the industrial ones. Have been able to digest thoroughly the Industrial revolution.
So the world at large. Now what of Tonga? In 1970, it gained its independence. Although it had never been a British colony it had been bound to England by a Treaty of friendship which in the eyes of most Tongans was merely a gentlemen's agreement of mutual aid and trust, but to the world at large made the country into a protectorate. By 1970 the British Empire had disappeared and in its lace had come The Commonwealth of Nations which independent Tonga obligingly joined. Although the dominant influence remains English, nowadays Tonga has dealings with many other nations all over the world, most of which do their bit toward development. In Nuku'alofa, the capital, which lies 170 miles south of Vava'u, it is comparatively easy to pinpoint changes as they come, but in the little village of 'Utulei, it is difficult to say just when men's lives and men's thoughts began to alter, but undeniably they have change. For one thing, although Tonga is, to all its loyal citizens, the centre of the world, horizons have expanded and it is no longer the whole world.
When first I came to 'Utulei there were people here, old ones as well as young, who had never been as far away from home as Nuku'alofa. I remember a British civil servant who had worked in the Holy Land who came and talked about it to the village men. At the conclusion of his speech one old minister thanked him profusely, saying that he had never known that the places mentioned in the Bible were real. He had imagined them "made up" to point some moral of Christianity. Nowadays when all the people listen to radio such ignorant innocence is no longer possible. Not only do our people know about the world beyond Tonga, but many of them have seen it for themselves. There is not one of the thirty households of our village which does not have some family member who has travelled overseas. In many cases they have been in foreign places for part of their education. In others they have worked in distant lands.
If it is true that church and children and food are still the main preoccupation of islanders, it is equally true that changes have taken place in them all. The new Wesleyan church in the village is made of concrete blocks. It has its own generator to supply light for night meetings as well as give power for the video machine that now provides so much of the village's evening entertainment. The Tongan families which in the old days often council as many twenty children have gone out of style and today's newly-weds say that is enough. What is more, they are as knowledgeable about birth control as any of the young overseas. Money, a Tongan friend told me in my early days here, was something papalangis had. Nowadays it is something everyone has or at least want. Certainly everyone needs it for the corned beef which has long been a staple of Tongan diet and used to coast 20 cents a can now sells for over $2.00, cement has risen from $2.00 per sack to $10.00, and the thongs that once sold for 75 cents a pair now cost six or seven dollars. I could extend the list endlessly, but to do so would be futile. It is simply that inflation which makes life increasingly difficult in the outer world has come to these islands. Those Tongans who work at jobs (and they are an ever increasing number) get monthly salaries that once would have seemed vast fortunes, but nowadays can scarcely be stretched to buy what has come to be regarded as the bare essentials.
Young men retuning from stints overseas with their pockets stuffed with money and their heads swirl with the wonders of the outer world have broken down the centuries' old dominance of the aged. After all, who wants to listen to grandfather tell how to burn out the centres of a log to make a canoe when he has seen fibreglass boats powered by engines capable of whizzing the long miles to the end of the harbour in a matter of minutes? And who is now content to lie in the warm darkness of tropic nights listening to grandmother tell what the village was like when she was a girl, when he can go off and watch the village video or stay at home and switch the radio on to the world? The amazing thing about Tonga is not how skillfully it has adapted to the modern world, but how much of old Tonga still exists. The pace of life has quickened lately, but Tongans still find time for laughter and for friendliness and sharing remains for them the only true way of life.
When I was first in Tonga only the present King and the head of the Wesleyan church, had university degrees. Now there are hundreds of BA's and MA's and a respectable number of Ph.D.'s and MD's. Many of these educated young Tongans come home to work. Others find that, in order to use their knowledge to the greatest extent, they must remain overseas. But whether they live here or far away, they are still true Tongans and, having enjoyed the widened horizons of a university education, are anxious to share it with others. Overseas remittances from relatives pour into Tonga constantly. A high percentage of that money is for school fees; for, education has, in modern Tonga, become a primary goal. And so the world and Tonga has changed and my own little bit of it has changed, too. As i have written, our home at the point, when we first bought it was a shell which we at once set about transforming into the home we wanted. Now it seems that change is as much a part of this house as it is of the world and of Tonga' for it is still going on.
Since first I wrote this book, the house became too small for our growing library so we had a separate large airy room built in the back to house all our books. Sometime after Farquhar died a visiting New Zealand carpenter crawled under the house and announced the the wooden piles on which it stood would collapse shortly as termites had been busily gnawing away at them. The collapse of the piles would have tumbled my home into ruins so, in a major operations, I had the house transformed from a wooden one into a concrete one. while that was going on, I had a second storey added on to part of the house and so gained two extra bedrooms. As I write this our old school room is changing into an orchid room and my bedroom is getting a new wing that will house my painting materials. And so from the world, from Tonga, from 'Utulei, from my house, I come to myself and I, too, have changed. From a young bride, I have become an old widow. My white hair shows no traces of the red it once had, although T'ifua assures me the temper associated with red hair still shows.
Naturally, I hope that in some small ways I have changed for the better, but it would be more seemly to leave that to my friends to comment on. Basically, just as much of the old Tonga comes through is the Tonga of today, I think much of the old Pat still flourishes in me. Certainly I still find every new book every new plant, every new friend, every new day exciting and never have I felt more at once with the village people than I did on this new Year's Day when they poured over the fence at dawn as they've done every year I've been here and gathered on the lawn below the verandah sing for me the new year's songs which are at once praise to God and thanks for all his blessings.
let those who will mourn for the good old days. With the people of 'Utulei, I look forward to the good new days to come.
I have lived forever here in the little village of 'Utulei on Vava'u harbour in the Kingdom of Tonga. Here I have been old and young, known sorrow and joy, failure and success and all the other stuff of living. Here I have learned to love - and what is just as important, to consider those I cannot love. I have laughed and shared the delight with my neighbours. I have wept and been comforted by them. Here I have read books, listened to music and made plants grow and here I have, myself, grown and sent down roots that hold me firmly to this island so that I have become as much a part of it as are any of my brown-skinned neighbours whose remote ancestors were blown to these shores by some fortunate wind in the distant days that belong not to time, but to myth.
And yet, it seems only yesterday that first I sailed down the long island-lined way that leads to the quit inner harbour, only yesterday that I discovered the grassy paths that wander by my neighbours' gardens into the wild bush land; only yesterday that I met the people whose lives have been woven into mine. Forever, and yesterday. It is a strange doubt time-scheme that attaches itself to my Tongan years, but i think the best periods in all lives are measured so. As a matter of chronological fact, it is now twenty years since I came to Tonga. The ship that carried me away from my native California to new Zealand and the one that brought me a year later to Vava'u were properly named and registered. I myself had a passport and tickets and all the usual paraphernalia of a proper traveller. Yet my trip - as surely as that of the first Tongans, was a drift voyage. I floated here on the restless tide of youth, full of that melancholy wanderlust that is a search for a way of life and for the people with whom one wants to live it. Like those old time Tongans, I was fortunate. They found here everything they wanted. So did I.
When I came, I was alone. I brought little with me - only a bag with a few clothes, a cased of books, a year's contract for a job as headmistress of the Wesleyan girl's college in Neiafu and an eagerness to commence on the period of time I then referred to as "my Tongan year". Now, already, that year has stretched into twenty and I hope I shall be here still when, for me, all years end. I have not adopted my Tongan neighbours' way of life any more than they have adopted mine, but, perhaps, loving side by side all these years has made life richer for both them and m. Certainly I have learned much. The first Tongan word i learned was "malo" which means "Thank you" and the first thing I learned about the Tongan people was that they find occasion to say it far more often than the most polite papalangi, or white person ever does. They do not limit the word, as we are apt to do, to a conventional acknowledgement of presents or acceptable social behaviour, but use it to express their constant gratitude for every good thing that God offers to man - for each new day with the works and pleasures that it brings, for each rest-filled night, for the miracle of birth and the equal miracle of death.
It is because I have learned from my neighbours that gratitude is the proper attitude toward life that I have written this book. I want it to say "Thank you, Tonga". Thank you for your islands that lie in beauty on the sea. And thank you for you people who - although they have all the faults of people everywhere, have been given more than the common allotment of kindness, tolerance and merriness - and, especially, thank you for the villagers of 'Utulei with whom I have shared the days that have grown into my Tongan years. Above all, thank you for the four who, here in Vava'u became my people - for Tu'ifua and Farquhar, for Tami and Tupou. And a final thank you, Tonga, for having made me feel at home in your islands - and in this world.
My feeling for Tonga was love - not at first sight, but even earlier. The year before i came here, I spent in New Zealand, studying anthropology at the University of Otago with the famous Polynesian authority, Dr. H.D. Skinner and it was in his library, in some musty old books with cracked leather bindings, that I first discovered these islands. Reading through the long grey Dunedin days, I soon fell completely under the spell of Tonga which Captain Clerke, who sailed with Cook, described as "one comleat garden".
Because, in pre-European days, Tongans had no written language, an exploration of their history runs quickly onto myth. Gods and goddesses mingle mingle freely with people, an unbelievably large and active force of devils complicates life, men and maidens change themselves at will into animals or stroll casually and and out of this world through the gate that leads to Pulotu, the Polynesian Paradise. To read the history of Tonga, to go back so quickly to the shadowy time of myth, is to leave our chaotic modern society and to find a whole new world that offers all the beauty, all the freshness, and all the simplicity of the early Greek world. The god, Maui, began everything here. It was he, the great fisherman who, on a sunny day, baited his hook, cast his line into the sea and caught, one after another, the islands of Tonga. When he had pulled them all up into this world, he looked at them and congratulated himself on a good day's fishing.
At the time I first read of Tonga, in Dr. Skinner's library, scholars believed that these islands remained just as they were on Maui's fishing day - bright, green and untouched until the ninth century of our era. They thought that about that time various groups of people in Asia - forced by overcrowded conditions, by hunger, war, or harsh rulers - or perhaps only by man's eternal curiosity, began to leave their homeland. By the slow process of island-hopping, speeded often by unintentional drift voyages, they came down into the Pacific. In time, they spread out through all the vast ocean area that is known today as the Polynesian triangle which stretches from New Zealand, the home of the Maoris, clear across the Pacific to Hawaii, from there down to lonely Easter Island and so back again to new Zealand.
In the last few years, the Pacific has been overrun with scientists of all sorts, foremost among them, anthropologists. With their spades they have dug further and further into the Tongan soil and into the Tongan past. Today they still believe that man came to these islands from Asia, but new, mainly as a result of the development of the carbon dating process, they have pushed the probable date of his arrival back as far as 800 B.C. Old memories preserve records of battles between the Tongans and their Polynesian kinsmen and neighbours, the Samoan. There were, too, minglings with the Melanesian Fijians and with other peoples even more distant, but, in spite of such contacts, the Tongan way of life seems to have been basically undisturbed through many centuries. Only with the coming of Europeans was it to be radically changed.
Although the Dutchmen, Jan Schouten and Jacob Lemaire had sighted the northernmost islands of Niuatoputapu and Niua Fo'ou in 1616, they did not actually land, but contented themselves with trading with the natives who came to their ship in canoes. Not until almost thirty years later, in 1643 did Abel Tasman, another Dutchman, become the first European to set foot on Tongan soil. He was favourably impressed with the natives and reported that "all was peace and friendship". In spite of his good report, it was 124 years before another European came to Tonga. In 1767, Captain Wallis in the 'Dolphin' paid a one-day visit to Niuatoputapu. He was the first representative of England, the country to which Tonga was to become so closely allied. A far more important Englishman - the most famous of all Pacific exp0lorers, Captain James Cook, made his first trip to Tonga in 1773 and, in 1774, during the course of the same voyage, visited it again. He returned in 1777 on his last rip to the Pacific and explored and charted Tongatapu and many of the islands in the Ha'apai group. Hearing of the beautiful and fertile northern islands of Vava'u, he wanted to see them, but the chief, Finau whom he regarded as his great friend, told him it would be impossible as there was no adequate landing. Considering that Vava'u has one of the largest and safest harbours in the Pacific, one can only conclude that the false Finau was the first of a long line of Vava'u people to question the desirability of tourists.
Captain cook went away without having seen the most beautiful of all Tongan places, but Finau could not for long keep Vava'u from Europeans. On 4th March 1781 the Spaniard, Maaurelle, anchored in the group and came ashore to be entertained by Pau, the Tu'itonga, (or spiritual head of the country). By the eighteenth century, Vava'u was well known and, like all the rest of Tonga, was visited by successive waves of French, Portuguese, English, Spanish, Dutch, Germans and Americans who came searching for gold, whales, spices, souls to save, the fabled continent of Atlantis and a thousand other things - not the least of which was sheer adventure. an inability to understand one another's language and customs resulted in some misunderstandings and a few fatalities for both Tongans and the early explorers; but, staying for only a few hours or, at most, a few months, those first comers did not change in any appreciable way the life which the natives had led for centuries. They did, however, open the way for change. Before the eighteenth century was over, the first convicts escaped from the penal colony in Port Jackson and the first missionaries had both arrived. Between them they broke the old pattern of life and Tongans were forced to begin the process which is still going on, of trying to fit their age-old customs into the rapidly-changing modern world.
As time went on, the hours I spent reading of Tonga became my most important ones, but soon I realised that reading was not enough. I had to see this place for myself. A regular tourist cruise was out of the question. I could not afford it and, furthermore, I knew that a few hours or even a few days in Tonga would not be enough for me. Remembering from my reading that the Wesleyan church was in control of education, I wrote off to the head of the Mission asking him if, by any chance, he had a teaching job open. By return mail, I was offered the place of Headmistress of Siuilikutapu Girls' college in Neiafu, Vava'u. The salary was minimal, but I did not care. The job would take me to Tonga and give me a chance to spend a year there.
I sailed from Auckland on the old Matua in January - which is to say, in the middle of the hurricane season. The second day out, we ran into a storm which tossed and battered us until after we had left Fiji when it dwindled out into drippy leaden skies and sudden squalls. The morning we were due into Nuku'alofa, I was up on deck early, but it was a grey world that greeted me - grey seas, grey sky, a monotone of grey in which the horizon had disappeared. In vain, i looked for land. finally I asked a passing officer if I were looking in the right direction.
My excitement was shared by a vast number of people of whose existence I had - until that moment been totally unaware. When I had come up, I had picked my way through a strange cargo we had taken on board in Fiji - pigs, chickens, basket, rolls of mats, and miscellaneous mummy-shaped packages bound up with brown tapa cloth. As we neared Tonga, the packages began to stir, mats unrolled, tapa covers were thrown back and from them emerged my first group of Tongans. Although Polynesians are among the world's great navigators, they are also the worst of sailors - and habitually when travelling as deck-passengers lie, as these Tongans had done, like the dead. Resurrection came with magic speed as the Matua carried us ever closer to land. Before my eyes, young women sat up, pulled the drab wrinkled dresses in which they had slept over their heads and replaced them with bright printed gowns, old men sat in groups singing hymns of rejoicing and thanks for the journey safely ending, merry-eyed children ran mischievously about from one group of elders to another and babies were fed and wrapped into smiling packages of contentment.
Although I could understand none of their chatter, I could not mistake their eager anticipation which burst out into delighted shouts when, for a minute, the clouds lifted and revealed a flat shining green land. I made out a few houses strung along the water front and off to the right, set back in spacious gardens, the dazzling white royal Palace - that famous old story-book structure built in the ornate style best described as Victorian gingerbread. A glimpse - that was all I had before a sheet of rain, falling like a stage curtain, shut out the view and sent me scurrying down to the cabin for my raincoat. By the time I came up on deck again, we had docked. The Tongan passengers crowded thick against the railings, but, as i approached, a kindly old man beckoned to me and squeezed me in beside him. Below us, quite undaunted by the rain which continued to fall, was a great crowd of men and women and children. Their upturned brown faces were smiling as they waved and called out greetings to the passengers around me. It was an infectious sort of gaiety. I, too, lifted a hand and waved. Instantly a sea of hands waved back and a whole chorus of voices shouted, "Malo e lelei, malo e folau!"
In halting English, the old man beside me explained, "They say, 'Good day and thanks for sailing to here'." Such friendliness rose with their greetings that I leaned over farther over the rail and waved again, but a heavy touch on my shoulder and a disapproving voice in my ear made me whirl around.
Obediently, I turned and followed him. As he went down the gangway and through the crows on the wharf, the people drew aside, making a passage way for us. Respectful of him they obviously were, but I thought it an uneasy sort of respect; for, as he approached all their natural gaiety disappeared. Smiles left their faces. They fell silent. Once I stopped and while he went on a bit, the crowd closed about me. When I smiled at the people, they responded again. "Malo e lelei, malo e folau", and the warm feeling I had known on the ship returned. It was not destined to last long. In a minute, Mr. Pauson was back.
"I almost lost you in this crowd," he said, but from the note of accusation in his voice, I understood well enough that what he really meant was that I had lost him.
"Follow me closely." At the command, I trotted behind him, while the rain beat down on us with renewed fury. I tried, as we drove away from wharf, to see something of the town of Nuku'alofa, Tonga's capital city, but through the rain-splashed windows I could see little and Mr. Pauson was no guide. Indeed, the task of driving seemed to occupy him completely. He said not a word, nor could I, looking at his grim black-clad self think of anything to say to him. In a futile effort to escape a trickle of water that fell down between us from a hole in the roof, I sat leaning over toward the door wondering glumly if all missionaries were like my companion. By the time we had arrived at the Mission House, I was thoroughly damp and thoroughly dejected.
"The other members of the staff are waiting inside for you," Mr. Pauson said as we got out and walked up the path toward a big shabby house with a sagging veranda. I had a premonition which was very shortly justified, that they had come, not so much to greet me, as to inspect me. There were about a dozen men and women in the musty-smelling living room. They had been talking together in the harsh nasal tones of Australian cockneys, but at our approach, they stopped in mid-sentence and stared at me as if I were some strange sub-species of the human race.
"The American," I heard someone whisper in a disparaging tone just as Mr. Pauson began very properly to present me to each one in turn . Their names and their faces blurred in my mind until it seemed that they wee all one - one wan smile, one look of disdain that made me wonder if I had forgotten to put on some essential item of clothing. When the ordeal of introductions was over, we all sat down on the uncomfortable straight-backed chairs that lined the room and a frightened-looking little Tongan girl handed around cups of weak tea and plates of flaccid eggs sandwiches. After a few comments on the state of the weather, Mr. Pauson bent toward me, coughed slightly and said, "We welcome you to this mission field and to the work we are doing for Jesus Christ." I managed to mumble thanks, but I could not feel that his welcome was sincere. Not did I feel that the other people in the room had any friendlier feelings although they had all begun to talk very spiritedly about Christian fellowship.
Encouraged by the topic, I asked whether there were not any Tongans on the mission staff.
I have learned over the years that it is a convenient article of missionary faith that - although Tongans rejoice in expressing their friendly feelings by offering feasts to white missionaries, it never occurs to them that the meals might be reciprocated. Already I sympathised with the Tongans. I, too, felt uncomfortable in the Mission House. Talk lapsed into what I was later to come to know as standard island small-talk - grumbles against the government and against house-girls, complaints about the difficulties of procuring European foodstuffs, grievances against the weather - all laced with a liberal supply of local gossip.
When I began to e uncomfortably aqware that I should be contributing something to the conversation, I asked questions about Vava'u and the college there. I was surprised to discover that although Vava'u is only 170 miles north of Tongatapu, only a few of the missionaries had been there. Apparently they had been content to take Mrl Pauson's word that it as dull "outback" or "bush" country. From the reading I had done in New Zealand I knew better. With, perhaps, more enthusiasm than politeness, I said, "I'll be lad to be here whatever it's like. I want to meet my teaches and get started at the college."
It was not long before there was a knock and the door was opened. The dark room and the drab missionaries with their pale faced, dowdy wives receded into the background as I looked up and saw a tall, handsome Tongan woman in her late twenties in the doorway. Garbed in a simple dress and long vala skirt made of some thin lavender cloth that made her brown skin glow golden, with a finely woven ta'o vaka (mat) tied neatly about her waist, she stood erect, proud, and perfectly still as if she were some chiefly women from the distant Polynesian past surveying a group of commoners. Then, as if she suddenly remembered where she was, she lowered her head ever so slightly and, giving Mr. Pauson the polite form of address, asked "Tangata eiki, you sent for me?"
"Yes, here," and he pointed to the floor beside him as if he were calling a dog to heel. If she was offended by his manner, she gave no sign that she was even aware of it. With regal grace, she moved across the room and stood in front of me. Mr. Pauson introduced us, gave Tu'ifua some senseless admonition about her duty to me and, to my great relief, moved away to talk to someone on the other side of the room. The brown eyes that stared down at me were the largest and most beautiful I had eve seen in a mortal - and stare they did, relentlessly, as if they were trying to look into the depths of my being and discover what manner of person I was. Embarrassed by such a scrutiny, I began to talk. "We shall be working together in Vava'u. I'll need lots of help from you. There are so many things about Tonga that I don't know!"
Both literally and figuratively, she looked down on him. I found myself being delighted because, although she treated him with the utmost politeness, there was yet a hint of arrogance which perfumed her relations with him as subtly as the sandalwood oil which she wore scented the room.
Lying in my bunk that night as the Matua rolled her way gently up to Vava'u, I tried to sort out my reactions to my first day in Tonga. They were extremely mixed. When I thought of Mr. Pauson and the slow hours spent in his stuffy parlour with the other members of the mission staff, I shuddered and wondered whether, with such colleagues, I could ever last out the year. Until that day I had never actually met a missionary. I had been prepared for them to be, in their religious views, narrow, but I had expected them to be also the most sincere of people, fired by a love of human-kind and desiring to call all men "brother". Mr. Pauson and his staff had brought speedy disillusionment. It seemed that they knew nothing of love and that the last thing in the world they would do would be to consider a Tongan as a brother. Lest it seem that I arrived too quickly at my judgement, I feel compelled to say that twenty additional years of observing missionaries and listening to their talk has reinforced rather than altered my original opinion.
Had I had nothing but missionaries to think of it would have been a glum night indeed, but every now and then thoughts of those drab people wee pushed aside by a bright memory of the deck passengers who talked and sang the night away and by the merry crowd that met the ship at the wharf. And now and again, I once more saw, in my mind's eye the tall serious Tu'ifua. I did not know then, of course, that in her I had encountered the first of my important people, but our brief talk had been long enough for me to realise I had met an unusual and complex person. I knew that working with her would be a challenge. And so I drifted off to sleep. It seemed only a few minutes later that the stewardess was shaking me. "Get up," she said, "or you'll be blaming me for missing the harbour."
Half-asleep, I mumbled a protest, but she was not to be gainsaid. She switched on the light above my head to make a return to sleep impossible and set a cup of steaming tea on the table beside my bed. I got up and dressed and by the time I had scorched my insides with the burning drink, I was wide awake. When I got up on deck, we had already entered Vava'u harbour. gone were the Pacific swells which had rocked us all night. Here the water was calm with only the white foam passage made by the Matua to ripple its surface. The rain clouds which had greyed Nuku'alaofa and travelled north with us, but the morning had transformed them. As the sun rose, it burnished their undersides so that they hung above us - great reflectors casting a shining golden light over the ship and the sea and over the interlocked islands with their tangle of green bush lands.
Sometimes we passed so close to the shore that when we came to a place where the gush had been cleared to make way for a village, we could hear the shouts of the children who ran out of their thatched houses and raced along the beach waving at us. Sometimes the land opened giving glimpses of twisting waterways going off like side paths from the great sea road we were travelling. Then our way was blocked by a high-rising island. It seemed the ship would sail into the very centre of it, but suddenly there was a jungle of bells and we made a sharp turn, leading into the inner harbour. Off to the right, there was a village whose houses straggled down a steep hill to a curved white beach. Behind the beach, just at the foot of the green hill, was a big old-fashioned white house with wide verandas. As I looked at it, a gentle rain began to fall, each drop a whirling round of light as bright as a Christmas ball.
That day, he was Dr. Matheson to me, but soon - along with the rest of the community, I was calling him simply "Toketa". When the college started I was responsible for over a hundred girls and I was most grateful when he offered to check them over at morning sick call. Most often when he had finished, we shared a cup of morning tea before he went on up to the hospital and I returned to classes. Before long he became Farquhar. In mid-May he became my husband. Queen Salote used to say that rain brought good luck. I know that, as Farquhar and I walked down the gangway and onto the wharf on that first of all my Vava'u mornings, the golden rain which had followed the ship up the harbour, fell upon us. The luck it brought was very good. I had found the second of my important people. On my first two days in Tonga, I found the first two of my own people. I had to wait for the other other two.
After Farquhar and I were married, the village of 'Utulei took us to its heart at once and it accepted Tui'ifua as a helpful older sister, but when a year had passed, the villagers began to murmur that we were something less than a household. A proper household has children and we had none. The women spoke openly of the lack and frequently suggested that it was high time that we "began to make a baby". By the time the second year had passed, the women no longer spoke to us of having a child of our own, but said with disarming frankness as they shrugged their shoulders, "Probably they're too old".
In the evenings we sat together on the front veranda and watched the village children playing amphibious games - now running along the beach, now plunging into the water. Against the setting sun, they made the gayest, most animated of silhouettes and their shouts and laughter rising up to us were a symphony of joy. "What a wonderful place to be a child!" Farquhar would claim. "If ever I'm incarnated, I want to be a Tongan." But neither Farquhar nor i believed in reincarnation and in the third year, as we watched the sunset children, thee was a touch of wistfulness in us that soon grew into a longing for a child of our own who could know the wonderful freedom of a Tongan childhood.
At the beginning of the fourth year, I had "puke lelei" - the good sickness. That euphemism for pregnancy is a significant indication of the way Tongans look on children. As soon as the villagers became aware of my condition which, in this land of little privacy, they did very soon there was great rejoicing. "Now you won't be lonely", they told us. "Now you'll have someone to love you when you're old". Their rejoicing was accompanied by a vast amount of both curiosity and pride. After all, "Utulei had never before had a papalangi baby and they intended to make the most of it. One after another, the village women came by to conduct an endless seminar in pregnancy - its joys and its hazards. All such meetings ended in congratulations on the fact that my husband was a doctor.
"How lucky you are," they said, "he can do everything at home. You won't even have to go to the hospital."
Farquhar did not share their feelings. with the usual reluctance of doctors everywhere to take care of their own families, he had arranged with the CMO in Nuku'alofa that I would go there for my confinement. I was to travel down not on the dirty, rolling old Hifofua, but on one of the big copra boats that offered clean, comfortable quarters and a smooth trip. However, just a few months before I was due to go, the rhinoceros beetle was discovered in Vava'u. This almost fist-sized insect with a head that is a replica of the animal for which it is named threatened to destroy the whole way of life of every Vava'u man, woman, and child. In this one-crop country, the coconut provides bread and butter, clothes and shelter, education and amusement. By eating the new growth out of the centre of a tree, the rhinoceros beetle destroys it and with it, its owner's livelihood. naturally enough, the rest of the kingdom did not want the beetle to spread. Against the pest that infected Vava'u, numerous restrictions arose. Everything that was shipped out had to go into a fumigation shed for twenty-four hours before sailing time. All private shipping between Vava'u and the rest of the kingdom was banned. That meant that not only would the many small boats which used to ply between the groups be forbidden to come to Vava'u, but also that the copra boats, once they had touched here, could visit no other. Tongan port. If I wanted to go to Nuku'alofa, I had no choice of transport except the government owned Hifofua or the Aoniu.
I very much did not want to go to Nuku'alofa. The eighth month of pregnancy is not, under any conditions, the ideal time to travel. The mere thought of the Hifofua or the Aonia made me shudder. I suppose, too, I had listened to the village women long enough to absorb their ideas about the convenience of home deliveries. I had, too, been spoiled by having a doctor on the premises. Farquhar, however, insisted that he aid not want to go on being my doctor. When i told Anaise, the old woman who did our laundry, that I would probably have to go to Nuku'alofa for the baby's birth, she asked me why. I explained that it was Farquhar's wish.
"Doesn't he know how to do babies?" she asked, and, without waiting for an answer, volunteered, "If he doesn't, I do. I'll do the baby for you!"
Our village cemetery is full of little graves that have been filled by village midwives working with nasty scissors and unclean bandages, so I was not prepared to accept her offer. But, I did want to stay in Vava'u. Poor Farquhar had little peace! I bombarded him with lurid pictures of the dangers of slipping and falling on the Hifofua's filthy rolling decks. I pointed to the sunset children and reminded him that they had all been here in 'Utalei. I talked of Lutui, the capable MO in charge of the Vava'u hospital who could assist him. In the end, he gave in. One stormy night in September, Lutui and a Tongan nurse came to 'Utulei, but it was Farquhar himself who delivered our daughter and Tu'ifua who looked at once to see that she had the right number of fingers and toes. We named her Tu'ifua for our friend and Ann for Farquhar's favourite sister and having done so, called her Tami, the third of my important people.
Although I was not aware of it at the time, my fourth important person arrived in 'Utulei just three weeks after Tami did. She was bon up the hill and her parents were Soko and Felemi. She was their third child and first daughter. They called her Tupoutu'a which usually gets shortened to Tupou. At the time Tami was born, I had refused old Anaise's services as a midwife, but she must have been fated to bring us a daughter. Once Monday when Tami was to years old - a time at which she had just begun to suspect that for the making of mud pies, sinking fingers caressingly into the depths of old Lassie's fur, collecting all the hibiscus looms within her reach and similar activities, there might be more understanding companions than any of their three parents (three, for Tu'ifua was her third parent from the very beginning of her life). Anaise came down as usual to do the wash. With her she brought her grandniece, a tiny scrap of Tongan femininity called Tupou. She had bright, shoe-button eyes, straight hair pulled up into a knot and tied by a red ribbon and soft brown baby skin. It did not occur to either Farquhar or me to make any closer observation of her that day. Tami, however, sat opposite her on the wash house floor, eyeing and being eyed for half the morning. Apparently they passed the reciprocal test. long before lunch time, they were playing happily together and had entered into the most wonderful of all life's experiences, sharing things and ideas.
Without anything being said on either side, "Tupou soon became a daily fact of life. Most days she came before breakfast and stayed until dark. As the years went by, all the children in the village found their way into the garden and into the house until there were times when the whole place seemed to be one vast playground, but always, no matter who or how many came, Tupou was the one who stayed when the others had gone home to talk over the day with Tami. Tami knew her for a sister the fist day she came. Gradually Farquhar and I came to realise we had two daughters. Anaise had been a good midwife after all. She brought our second daughter.
by Patricia Ledyard