THE KING’S VISIT: A TIME OF SONG, DANCE, MUSICAL COMPETITIONS AND FESTIVAL
23 July 2019
Sharon Lockhart & Ian Steele
22-23 July 2019
The villages are busy at work, preparing the festival grounds with handmade entrance arches, greeting banners and palm- lined paths and booths to display agricultural products, handicrafts, and fishing catches intended to demonstrate the productivity and sustainability of this island to its King and Queen of Tonga who arrive on Wednesday.
On the evening before his arrival, there is a musical competition between the villages in which groups of men sit on the stage floor (in the school gymnasium) while singing and playing musical instruments, telling a story in song, while a beautifully-costumed woman stands before them acting out their story in the traditional hula-like dance form.
We “boaters” from the harbor are invited, and we set out walking at 7pm up the beach road toward the school. It is dark and traffic is “heavy” with cars filled with participants, however it is not long before we are picked up, tightly squeezed in and driven to the competition.
Inside the school, our group, again the only Caucasians in the audience, are seated on folding chairs in a place of honor near the front as many locals sit on the floor in back, often standing and dancing playfully to the music during intermissions, entertaining the spectators. A side treat was watching our little 2 ½ year old fellow boater interact with the local children sitting on the sidelines, exchanging toys, laughing and sitting on their laps- a lovely reminder of the innocence of children where language barriers and cultural boundaries do not exist- a powerful lesson for us adults the world over.
We watch as each village group performs a comparable routine while 3 official judges sitting in front grade their performance a la “America’s got Talent” style. The function is conducted in native Tongan, though the MC thoughtfully describes the process very briefly in English for our benefit. The performing group from Hihifo village includes Palavi, our police friend and his brother, the choir director, whose group eventually turns out to be the winner of the competition (deservedly so, in our opinion).
After a fun evening, we head out, walking along the now pitch- black road as full cars pass by headed home. After walking for a while, we are finally picked up in small groups and returned to the wharf, where we fumble back into our dinghies in the dark and return to our floating homes for a much-needed night of sleep.
The following morning, we 10 boaters again head out to the wharf, dock our dinghies together and start walking toward the festival grounds, but are quickly picked up by passing locals and dropped off at the festival grounds. We walk around and tour the many booths proudly displaying their bountiful catches from the sea, including large and small fish of every color and variety, along with many eels, octopi, shell fish, lobster and coconut crabs (see attached pics). The variety and color is astounding.
While we await the King’s arrival we mill around and talk to the school children who will soon perform for the King. They are very curious and hover around us, enjoying asking questions and having their pictures taken. They learn English at school, but their vocabulary is quite limited, so we exchange names and teach each other English and Tongan words for colors and various objects, with them laughing delightedly at my mispronunciations.
At last the King Tupou V1 and Queen Nanasipau’u arrive amid honor guards and proceed to their red velvet chairs on their makeshift palm-lined covered stage. The children gather in the grass and sit patiently in the bright sun, waiting through the long formal speeches until it is their turn to sing their choreographed performances.
The King presents various awards and commends the winners of the musical competition. After several more traditional dance performances, the King and Queen then walk around the entire perimeter, viewing the many display booths laden with agricultural products, the massive fish displays and beautiful woven mats and handiwork, reflecting the pride and productivity of this small island community.
After they depart, the products are offered for sale to the audience, and people rush up to buy fruits, vegetables and fish.
We boaties step up to purchase replacements for out dwindling boat supplies, but many of the locals refuse our money and insist that we take woven basketsful of bananas, papayas, peppers, melons and limes. We depart, laden with more than we can carry, eventually finding a ride back to the dock as we crawl up onto the back of an open-bedded utility truck filled with baskets of fish and locals also seeking a ride home—the ultimate island experience.
A fascinating day, another one-of-a-kind, lifelong island memory for our history books as we explore a lifestyle, light years away from modern western suburbia.