Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Welcome to the Kingdom of Tonga!

Tonga is a very flat country compared to where we have been.
The Kingdom of Tonga is similar and different from Nuie in several ways. It is similar in that the land rises directly out of the water with no real beaches. The cliffs are straight up and there are some caves to explore by diving underwater and coming up inside them.

The Aquarium: the WARC hangout above the anchorage.
It is different in the size of the main community and the people, and that the island are flat plateaus on the top rather than mountainous. This place is not full of New Zealanders; it is more native. It is also a group of islands rather than just a single island.

Tonga is the only kingdom in the southern hemisphere and has the reputation of being “the friendly islands.” Indeed they are! Tonga is a monarchy and the King’s birthday is celebrated on July 4th. This year he will celebrate it here in Neiafu, Vava’u so the people are busy preparing for the event.

Beautiful sunsets to the west.
The King lives in the capital Nuka’alofa, Tongatapu over 150 miles south. That doesn’t seem far to us with cars and drive twice that distance to our cottages up north, but it is a long way by boat!
There are three different island groups that make up the Kingdom of Tonga that stretch over 500 miles from north to south. There are 170 islands of which 50 are inhabited. The island chain lies along the Tonga Trench where the Pacific Plate, the Tonga Plate and the Australian Plate grind into each other. This action gives rise to a lot of underwater volcanic activity!

St. Joseph's Catholic Church
Dressed in traditional Sunday best!
We visited Vava’u, the group to the north that is considered best for diving and snorkeling and, of course, cruising. Others are known for fishing and their remoteness, except for the capital island in the south. 

Here in Neiafu, you can see that this country is less developed than French Polynesia. The churches have great power over the people and many criticize the money put into the churches when the people are so poor. Religion is very strong and highly influences the people.
We attended Mass at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church near the harbor. The singing during Mass was beautiful. You can hear the singing from all of the churches daily even when we are on the boat in the mooring field.

Young girls in their Sunday best.
Traditional men's wear.
It was interesting to see the Sunday dress for church. Everyone wore the traditional ancient pandanus overskirt of some type – men, women and children. These are worn as a sign of loyalty to the monarch. They are hand woven and some have intricate detailing. The men's version is more like a woven mat wrapped around their waist like a sarong. Some women wore something similar, but many work what looks like woven flowers hanging from the waistband like on the girls in the photo.

Students on the way to school from church. Each school
has different colors. Notice the wrap worn by the boys.
This is common in many island counties.
We were amazed at the power the missionaries have had over these people for many years. As one native told us: we don’t know our history before the missionaries came as they wiped it all out. The people still have their kava ceremonies, dances and music, but they just don’t know what it was like all those years before the missionaries arrive.
Same view as above, but in the morning.
Tonga is a religious country so no work by anyone is done on Sunday! Dress is influenced by the churches as well. The children all wear uniforms to schools. It appears that different schools wear different colors. Women do not wear shorts or pants, although it is becoming more westernized in the “urban” areas, such as Neiafu. The men wear the traditional cloth “skirt” with the pandanus overskirt. It appears to be required dress if you work for the government.

We were first told not to wear shorts and tank tops and that men could be fined for being bare chested. Here in Neiafu where they depend on the yachties for much of their income, this didn’t seem to be a problem. As explained in one of the shops, they realize they need to accept what the rest of the world is doing. Even the locals are wearing tank tops, but everyone is still respectful - especially on Sundays.

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