SEA GEM LOG
THE KINGDOM OF TONGA
task for entering any county is to clear through customs and immigration.
World Cruising has made arrangements for all the officials to come
to the anchorage at the Royal Sunset. The Tongan
are quite strict about their rules; no one can leave the boat until
cleared and no visiting between boats. We had no problems
since we were cleared the morning of our arrival but for those who
had to wait over the weekend it was difficult. One of the
yachts had a visitor from another boat and was severely reprimaded.
The officials were quite nice to us and seemed pleased when I asked
to take a photo. We later noticed that one was a band member
and we saw others again also. Tonga is not a large place and
almost everything is personal.
We went to church Sunday morning in the nearby village. We walked (only way) down the
winding dirt path and part of our group went to one church and part to another. In our church the service was all in Tongan, except for a brief and halting welcome in English to
those of us from the Millennium Rally. The church was small with open windows. We did not realize when we entered, shedding our shoes at the door, that it is traditional for women
to sit on one side of the isle and men on the other but Tongans are very accepting and no one frowned on us. There were numerous children in the congregation who were called to
the front for a sermon addressed to them. They were extremely quiet and well behaved. The Tongans are quiet, soft spoken people quite polite and modest. Their dress is quite modest
and traditional. Men wear the wrap around skirt with a shirt and for more formal occasions a jacket and tie. They wear the straw mat around their waists. Sandals are usually worn and
many places it is customary to take your shoes off before entering. Charlie suspects this is because of the profusion of pigs running loose everywhere and the abundant pig droppings.
We leave our shoes in the aft cockpit after going on shore- just a precaution.
The women in Tonga are always well covered and they also wear the traditional straw mat
around their waists tied with a belt. There are many kinds of mats, the rougher or courser material is for funerals and that one is seen primarily now for many Tongans are still mourning
the April death of the King's younger brother. The mats are a sign of respect both to yourself and others. One explanation I read of how the custom started: When early Tongan
sailors returned from a long voyage they cut the straw sails into pieces and tied them around their waists to hide their nakedness as a sign of respect and from that early custom the
practice has been preserved to present time.
The Tongan church service was about on hour long and singing comprised a good part of the service. The church that we went to was Methodist, which is the predominant
denomination in Tonga but many denominations are represented. The Mormon faith is coming on strong in Tonga and they have a well maintained facility in Nuku'alofa with a
school attached. Many of the churches have schools.
Education is important in Tonga and we were told that over ninety eight percent of the
population is literate. Children must attend school until they are fifteen or sixteen and many continue into higher education. I have the impression that the thoughtful Tongans want to
gain the benefits of improved education but are trying hard to preserve the old ways. Hopefully their mores are well established and their peaceful islands can stand the onslaught
of the twenty first century which will dawn first in the Kingdom of Tonga. Tongans are making plans to promote and absorb the tremendous influx of tourists for the New Millennium
Celebration which, by geographical position, will officially begin in the Kingdom of Tonga. Until later...