The arrival at Fua'amotu airport allows us to foresee a final destinationquirky, to say the least.
The building's scenic balcony is packed with weeping families waving and shouting at their returnees. The men who descend with weight and pomp the stairs of the plane wear tupenus traditional ones – long twill skirts – that go with colorful shirts or t-shirts, invariably XL, XXL or XXXL. Adult Tongan weighing less than 90 kilos is rare.
Women, these, manage, in a creative way, the combination kofu-tupenu. Sometimes they use innovative colors and cuts that respect tradition.
The concentrated happiness typical of timed returns can be seen in those present.
Inside the building, the tourism stand appears to have been abandoned for decades. We didn't find any bands playing welcome tunes or occasional hosts offering fragrant flower necklaces or the Polynesian national greeting. malo and read.
In other third world countries, tourists have to put up with veritable sieges and near abductions by taxi drivers, taxi commissioners. guesthouses etc etc. Upon arrival in Tonga, they are literally ignored for being no more than outsiders, characters on the sidelines of the current of emotions generated by the reunions.
After Education, the Tonga Diaspora to the world
Tongatapu – the sacred island of the south – is home to around 71.000 inhabitants. They are 70% of the total population of the Tonga archipelago. Here, as on the other islands, it is rare for a family that has not sacrificed itself to the diaspora. This is one of the prices Tonga continues to pay for its sovereignty and consequent ethnic and cultural preservation.
As many as residents of the archipelago, the emigrants dispersed to the suburbs of the Australia, New Zealand and United States. There they form heavy and longing colonies.
The Diminishing and Sui Generis Capital of Nuku'alofa
Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa, quickly disappoints anyone looking for yet another tropical paradise.
Uncharacteristic in urban and architectural terms – despite some notorious buildings, such as the Royal Palace – the city sprawls between the vastness of the South Pacific and the mangroves of the Fanga' Uta lagoon.
Somewhat dusty and worn, Nuku'alofa (Residence of Love) in Tongan – it has genuine people and its main calling card.
Among the numbers that classify Tonga, 98% of the national literacy rate stand out. Tonga's educational action rests on a solid religious foundation. It is very evident in the number of uniforms with unmistakable cuts and colors that distinguish the training entities, almost all of them traditionalists.
In school yards, at bus stops, at roadside shops, wherever you happen to be, the spontaneous groupings of costumes repeat themselves and leap into view. They are considered in such a way that their production is, for girls, an obligatory academic practice. Like almost everything else in Tonga, communal.
The importance of learning goes back a long way. The Kingdom was never ruled by a western country.
And yet, when the first missionaries arrived, in the XNUMXth century, mistrust gave way to a venerable respect that shaped the current culture and imposed Christianity in different expressions.
The majority of Tongans (about 38%) are Wesleyan Methodists.
Among the various other religions adopted by the population, Mormon, Catholicism and the Free Church of Tonga stand out.
In the evenings and on weekends, Tongans meet in their churches.
They participate in long and intense musical and ceremonial rehearsals that deepen the bonds between believers and an unconditional faith in divine grace.
The Royal Misrule of Tonga
Any attentive and interested visitor quickly realizes that, despite the historic reverence for the monarchy above them, the Tongans have been able to trust no one else.
By scooter or by car, you can get around Tongatapu in less than two hours, despite the fact that local rent-a-cars deliver vehicles with almost empty tanks and the maximum speed allowed is 40 km/h.
Between dense coconut groves and cultivated fields, the side of the roads reveals quiet villages that group small housing farms, vegetable gardens and gardens patrolled by dogs and cats, chickens and pigs that contribute to the often problematic self-subsistence of households.
The national economy has a vast non-monetary component. It depends on the remittances of dollars guaranteed by the emigrants.
The monetary sector – starting with telecommunications and satellites, both vital for a country spread across the ocean – is in the hands of the royal family and other nobles.
And while the Tonga kings once ruled the surrounding Pacific and became famous for their ambition and courage, more recently, Tāufaʻāhau and his government (but not only) have done little more than tarnish the monarchy's image.
The Royal Disaster of the Monarchy of Tonga
They stunned their Australian and New Zealand neighbors first – then the entire Pacific – with a series of immature investments and schemes that compromised future foreign aid to the country.
Among the controversial measures – all taken with the aim of obtaining an easy return – were the plans to turn Tonga into a nuclear dump; to sell Tongan passports (and their nationality) to foreigners, some with serious problems with the justices of other countries…
…allow the registration of vessels under the Tonga flag, many of which would turn out to be involved in illegal operations including the supply of al Qaeda;
… the one-year shipping of a Boeing 757 later left inoperative at Auckland airport, which would later cause the bankruptcy of Royal Tongan Airlines;
the claim of a geo-orbital satellite slot for Princess exclusive profit; the construction of an airport hotel and casino with a wanted criminal by Interpol; the approval of a cigarette factory for export to the China, despite the disapproval of medical authorities and against decades of public health promotion.
To close this prodigious list, it is also necessary to point out the almost blind trust in several “miraculous” speculators who promised worlds and funds, with emphasis on Jesse Bogdanov, who publicly proclaimed himself the jester of Tonga and was responsible for part of the 26 million US dollars meanwhile lost by the monarch of Tonga.
These erroneous procedures and several others involving freedom of the press and expression reinforced the action of the pro-democracy movement in Tonga and the nation's contestation. Frustration only increased when Siaosi Tupou V came to power and immediately postponed fulfilling promises of political openness made by his father.
This postponement would, moreover, have serious consequences.
The Tongan Livelihood Law
During an evening stroll through the famous Mapu'a Vaca blowholes – holes in the rocks that project huge jets of water when hit by waves – and along the Piha Passage, we once again unravel the dependence on nature in which most Tongans live.
As the tide ebbs, a platoon of natives armed with knives and machetes combs the reef. They collect all the fish and molluscs that have been trapped by the retreat of the water.
Next door, fishermen return from their work in artisanal boats where they risk their lives to ensure food for their families.
With few exceptions, the concentration of Tonga's national wealth in the royal family and the aggravation of social imbalance have deprived the humblest Tongans of any possibility of entrepreneurship. Even the most insignificant deals arise in the hands of foreigners.
Distributed by Tongatapu like small colorful prisons, the grocery stores are all Chinese. They succeed each other on the side of the roads, sometimes separated by a few tens of meters.
The only owner who gives in to explain to us the reason for being of the bars, does so in a fearful way.
At one point he regrets it: “the Tongans don't want us here, they hate us and we don't want anything to do with them either …” … in 2006 they robbed all our stores … they took everything …”
We had to find Bob, an elderly Dutch expatriate, to understand an act that seemed to go against the apparent inexhaustible patience of the locals. “This was due to yet another of the tricks of royalty” explains Bob.
“After allowing the Chinese to enter under the passports sale, the king did not resist the bribes and allowed the entry of containers from the China by symbolic values. Furthermore, the promise of openness to democracy was once again postponed ad eternum … The people here respect the monarchy. Unfortunately, the monarchy has not respected them back! …“
Tongans give heart and soul to their faith and passions. They are ways of forgetting the betrayals of which they are victims. And to spiritually enrich their lives. In some cases, not only.
Alternative Solutions for Tonga: Rugby and Tourism
Rugby was introduced to the island by British settlers, missionaries and merchants. The brilliance of sport in the neighbors Australia e New Zealand, quickly infected the islands closest to the Pacific. Tonga was no exception.
Like society itself, local rugby was organized around small villages.
In Tongatapu, from five in the afternoon, the boys and younger men flock to the picturesque and poorly maintained fields of their villages.
They are irregular. They don't have any markings. The grass sometimes reaches the practitioners' knees. These, despite being aware of the best conditions in the West, do not complain.
They take care of mowing the lawns and other ancillary tasks themselves.
Spurred on by such dedication, Tonga continues to have one of the fiercest and most respected rugby teams in the world.
However, behind the delivery, there are dreams of international success, already made reality by powerful and renowned players who proved to be exponents of the All Black Jonah lomu and the wallabie Toutai Kefu.
Tourism, on the other hand, is the eternal postponed solution to all the kingdom's ills.
In terms of potential, the biggest probabilities come from the Vava'u side, a group of northern islanders with the right characteristics to attract investors, host resorts, attract sun and beach tourists on charter flights and make an immediate income.
Tongatapu seems to have reserved the role of logistical and cultural outpost. Even that remains to be prepared.
While political and economic conditions remain to be met, the capital Nuku' alofa is rehearsing its role with some idyllic small islands offshore: Pangaimotu, Fa and Atafa and on each of the rare occasions when international cruises dock at the port.
Until then, if the royals don't adhere to new tricks, the Talamahu market will remain the capital's biggest commercial expression.
Tonga's main sources of income will continue to come from remittances from emigrants, the export of coconuts, vanilla, bananas and coffee and food roots such as cassava, taro and cassava.
For all intents and purposes, the Tongans have already lost patience once.
They eagerly await the often forgotten parliamentary representation, aware that, once achieved, democracy and progress will hardly escape them.