Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Golden Sceptre & Pig Offerings Welcome New King

Across 500 miles (800 kilometers) of warm South Pacific waters boasting 169 islands is the archipelago under the dominion of a newly annointed King of Tonga. Only 36 of the islands are inhabited with nearby neighbors to the South in Samoa. Closer still to Fiji, where a dictator has seized control. After the fall of Hawaii's Queen Liliuokalani, Tonga remains the only surviving monarchy in the Pacific islands. Like Ethiopia, Tonga is one of the few nations never to have been a colony of Empire-hungry western nations.

Tourists know them as the Friendly Islands because a colonizer, Captain James Cook, did make a stop there during the Tu'i Tonga's or chief's receipt of first fruits during the 'inasi festival. Nobody better to share the celebratory royal pig with as the celebrations continue with 1400 specially invited guests. It is easy to miss that the prior monarch made bad economic decisions, fueling an internal debate for a more democratic form of representation amidst the beauty of the island and gentle spirits of the people. Civil service strikes and protests have erupted outside the king's colorful gates at the resplendent palace, demanding democracy.

After the current king's abdication, the western educated Oxford scholar and Crown Prince will become their 23rd monarch, King George Tupou V, on 1 August. He is an avid Anglophile after sending much of his formative years in the United Kingdom, eschewing local tailors for the Savile Row set to show off during the festivities of rugby, parades, customary fireworks, coronation balls and a concert upon ascension to the throne. A number of members of dynastic European and Asian royalty shall attend. Not sure if they will be partaking of the drinks made with narcotics though.

The King is 60 years young as he wears traditional dress and participates in a royal kava ceremony to formally welcome him as Tu'i Kanokupolu.

At a Christian coronation ceremony on Friday, King George will swear before God to perform his duties as the king and will be formally enthroned. The throne itself, a handsome gilt chair made in China, arrived in the kingdom last week on a specially chartered DHL plane.

In Tongan culture, the presentation of kava to a person acknowledges his authority. The presentation to the king was a lavish choreographed ritual in which the kava roots were hacked off, pounded with stones, mixed with water and presented to him by a female member of the royal family. Offerings of tapa cloth and food were set before the monarch.
More than 70 pigs, which had been gutted and stuffed with banana leaves, were laid out on wooden biers. Ceremonial provisions of yam, taro and tinned food were put on the grass in containers woven from leaves and later distributed to local people.

A feature of the ceremony is its flaunting of strict protocol. Because no Tongan may walk in front of a king he was accompanied by an elaborately dressed Fijian guard who wielded a spear to drive off evil spirits. There was also an arranged dispute between his two principal ceremonial assistants. And after one of the pigs had been ceremonially cut up, a Japanese diplomat who is a friend of the king presented him with the flesh as no Tongan may touch the monarch's food.

Tonga culture is fascinating. The monocle wearing King is pledging to not to have absolute
control by gingerly moving towards a more democratic and representative government. We shall see.

For the traveler, Samoan Islands & Tonga from Paul Smitz gets one up to speed quickly on the local customs and rich cultural kava history.

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