Volume 33 1924 > Volume 33, No. 132 > Euro-American acculturation in Tonga, by Edward Winslow Gifford, p 281-292
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THE Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga, a British protectorate, lies about a thousand miles north of New Zealand, four hundred south of Samoa, and two hundred east of Fiji. The population of Tonga in April, 1921, was 24,935, of which 23,759 were Tongans, 235 were other Pacific Islanders, 706 were other foreigners (chiefly Europeans), and 235 were half castes. The Tongan population of to-day is probably nearly as numerous as it was in Captain Cook's day.

There is no European colonization in progress, for foreigners are prohibited from acquiring land except by lease. The Tongans are Christians. The most important church is the Free Church of Tonga, an offshoot of the Wesleyan-Methodist Church. 1 Two-thirds of the population belong to it. Next in numerical importance are the Wesleyan-Methodists and the Roman Catholics, each holding about a sixth of the population. Then follow the Mormons, the Seventh Day Adventists, and the Episcopalians. Religious rivalry is keen.

With unimpaired population, with no Caucasian conqueror in the land, and with its instiutions functioning almost entirely through Tongans (except for friendly British financial direction), the kingdom of Tonga offers something of a parallel in Euro-American acculturation to the empire of Japan.

It is the aim of the writer to present a number of examples, to make clear the manner in which acculturation is proceeding.

Tonga is now a constitutional monarchy with a legislative assembly composed of ministers, nobles, and elected representatives of the people. The present monarch is Queen - 282 Charlotte Tupou who ascended the throne in 1918 following the death of her father, King George II. Tupou. The present ruler is from a line of chiefs that sprang into prominence in the 17th century as lords of the western portion of Tongatapu Island. The installation of each chief of this line in the office of Tui Kanokupolu (which title the present ruler of all Tonga still bears) took place under an ancient koka tree (Bischoffia javanica) against which the nominee sat. The new situation has been met by inlaying the back of the modern throne with a piece of wood from the installation tree.

At the coronation of Queen Charlotte Tupou in 1918, both European and Tongan ceremonies were conducted. The essence of the latter was the calling of the monarch's new title when kava, the ceremonial beverage of Polynesia, was served. One of the names assumed by the modern Christian Tongan monarchs is Taliai Tupou 2, the name of the patron deity of their forefathers.

Anciently the greatest honours were paid to the Tui Tonga, the highest of the Tongan chiefs and reputed descendant of the sky-god Tangaloa Eitumatupua. The office of Tui Tonga has not been filled since the death of Laufilitonga, the last incumbent, in 1865. The honours accorded him were transferred to the reigning Tui Kanokupolu, George I. Tupou, who thus became supreme ruler of Tonga.

The last Tui Tonga died a Roman Catholic. His old capital is to-day a stronghold of Catholicism and the chief who is heir to the office of Tui Tonga is a Catholic. To the Catholic Tongans the Pope is the Tui Tapu or Sacred King.

The head of the Free Church of Tonga, the aged Reverend J. B. Watkins, is the object of much respect and reverence. When the writer was on the island of Lifuka, in Haapai, the middle province of Tonga, in 1920, Mr. Watkins came there while engaged in his annual tour of the kingdom. At the beach a delegation of black-frocked Tongan ministers lifted him, boat and all, from the water and carried him inland. For two days people streamed to the erstwhile residence of Mr. Watkins with offerings of food. I say “offerings” instead of “presents” because that term seems better - 283 to indicate the attitude of mind of the church members. Needless to say the case has its heathen parallels.

Although the worship of the ancient deities is dead, nevertheless there was living in Tongatapu Island in 1921, one Kautai, who had only a few months before been installed as priest of the shark-god Taufa. Though the worship of Taufa has perished and his sanctuary is no more, still the title of his priest lives, each patrilinear successor having the title conferred on him by the reigning monarch. The present Kautai is a good Roman Catohlic. This perpetuation of ancient titles is common in Tonga. Ancient powerful chiefs are represented to-day by individuals bearing the same titles, but utterly shorn of power.

Three ancient deities still manifest themselves. One is Fehuluni, a disembodied human spirit, who sometimes appears as a male, sometimes as a female, and usually in a siren role. A native fired at a feminine manifestation of this deity with a shot gun, only to find a dead lizard at the spot where the apparition was seen.

Another deity much feared is the lizard god Tui Haa Fakafanua. His headquarters in Tongatabu are within Catholic precincts, where was formerly his sacred pool. Convent girls shun the spot, for the evil reputation of the god for causing feminine ills still lives.

Seketoa, a fish god of Niuatoputapu Island, has been much in evidence in recent years. His incarnation is a great fish which follows boats near Niuatoputapu. His presence in those waters is unimpeachably attested by both Tongan and European observers.

The royal tombs of Tonga are truncated, terraced pyramids, anciently of enormous blocks of coral sandstone. In recent decades the material utilized has been concrete. Tongans will not walk over a royal tomb, no matter how ancient.

Graves of commoners are marked by little terraced mounds decorated with a mosaic of small stones of different colours. To-day the designs are more intricate than anciently, the coloured linoleum and title advertisements of magazines having furnished ideas for new geometric designs.

Ghosts now and then manifest themselves as of old. In 1921, a Catholic girl, gathering shellfish with women on - 284 a reef at low tide, suddenly fell down with some sort of seizure. She was removed to the hospital. She declared that the ghost of her mother's brother had struck her violently across the face.

Exorcism for the driving out of spirits from possessed persons is still sometimes practised.

In the central province, Haapai, a man severed his connection with the Free Church and became a Mormon. His friends and relatives who were Free Church members, declared there would be no rest for his soul. In a few months he died. His widow and a relative were haunted by his ghost, which would rudely awaken them from sleep by shaking them. The nuisance was abated only when they resorted to his grave and broke up his skeleton. His visitations were thought to be a divine punishment for his disloyalty to the Free Church.

On the night following the excavation of some ancient burials on Kao Island the natives who were encamped a hundred yards from the tomb, said they heard wailing at the tomb. It was the “blood” of the deceased ancients bemoaning the removal of their bones.

Anciently the apparition of an illuminated native sailing vessel—a ghost ship—forboded the death of a chief. Today European type vessels and even steamers appear as ghost-ships portending death.

In one of the more remote Haapai Islands is at least one Christian minister who places effective tabus on growing crops to prevent the inroads of pigs and rats. The writer has himself seen plantations guarded by both barbed wire and tabu badges. The latter were observed in two forms. One was a small package of pulverized herbs to cause illness in the trespasser. The other was a cocoanut leaf bound on the trunk of a tree as the emblem of Taufa the shark god. This bore with it the prayer that the trespasser might be bitten by a shark when next he bathed in the sea.

Christianity with its Sabbath and various “shalt nots” has found a ready ally in ancient heathen tabu. The tabu idea has simply been transferred to another set of concepts. For the same reason quarantines (tabus) against various islands or groups of islands are readily enforced by the medical authorities to-day. The game laws, too, are heeded - 285 as are the ordinances against allowing domestic animals to stray into public thoroughfares. Blue laws prohibiting work and play on the Sabbath are observed scrupulously by the Tongans and diligently enforced among Europeans by the Tongan police.

So thoroughly saturated is the Tongan with what might be called “tabuism” that his attitude at times becomes intolerant and even persecuting. A well-educated Tongan one day remarked to me concerning Sunday picnics of European residents, “Well, what can you expect from ignorant foreigners?” On another occasion I observed a helmsman on a church-owned passenger vessel severely rebuked for not joining in a hymn. When the schism occurred in the Methodist ranks in Tonga and resulted in the establishment of the Free Church, there was much downright physical suffering administered to Tongans who preferred the old faith. A number of these displayed the true martyr spirit. Others became Roman Catholics rather than join the new church and still others yielded reluctantly to the call of the new church.

It should be noted that many Tongans have entered the ranks of missionary workers and taken an important part in Christianizing Melanesia and New Guinea.

Some Catholic churches in Tonga still use the booming of the huge wooden native drums (lali) to summon their congregations. The Protestant churches seem largely to have adopted the less inspiring bell. I have noted, too, Catholic congregations seated cross-legged on the floor. Protestant congregations seem more generally to use benches.

A feast for the minister after his Sunday sermon seems to be the established Methodist practice in Tonga. Apparently we have here a good old Methodist custom which fits “hand-in-glove” with the feasting of the priest at the time of inspiration in pagan days.

Christianity has been a powerful democratizing factor in Tonga. Through it the arbitrary powers of the chiefs have been curbed and conversely the status of the commoner has been bettered. Anciently commoners were supposed to have perishable souls. To-day their souls are imperishable like a chief's. In addition to bringing about more of a balance between these two extremes of Tongan society, the - 286 new religion has resulted in the development of a numerous native clergy who vie with the chiefs in the amount of influence they wield. It seems unlikely that the ancient heathen priesthood was anywhere near so powerful a social factor as the modern clergy. The police, too, constitute a new factor in Tongan society.

Although the power of the chiefs is much diminished, nevertheless Tongan written law recognises their superior status. A commoner may not appear before a chief of rank without wearing a ragged mat about his waist. The situation has been somewhat ameliorated in recent years by making a belt a legal substitute for the ragged mat. In travelling with the Governor of Haapai, I noted that all individuals, even chiefs of rank, wore ragged mats in his presence, for he was the viceroy of the Queen and as such entitled to the respect of all, no matter how exalted their station.

Umbrellas must be lowered and neither turbans nor lime worn on the head in the presence of chiefs. I knew of one chief who horse-whipped two young men for smoking cigarettes as they passed his house. This is obviously a new form of disrespect resulting from the introduction of tobacco. Commoners on horseback dismount in passing a chief on foot. Anciently commoners are said to have crouched by the roadside while a chief was passing. No one rides in front of the queen's palace; he leads his horse. As automobiles become commoner among the Tongans it will be of interest to see what scheme is adopted for showing proper reverence for chiefly blood. The freedom which chiefs formerly showed with regard to the young women among their dependents seems to have waned very appreciably. Lastly, I have heard it whispered that chiefs are never brought to book in the modern courts of law.

Formerly, under the old feudal tenure of Tonga, people furnished produce to their chiefs or landlords, more especially first fruits and the first catch of certain fishes. To-day, although these may be voluntarily furnished, the chief obligation of the tenant is to pay his annual rental (one dollar a year for eight and one-quarter acres) to his landlord. In many cases the landlord is now the government, the lands formerly held by the Tui Kanokupolu having been turned over to the government and a salary accepted by the Tui Kanokupolu, as monarch, in lieu of rentals.

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Tongan landed chiefs are land hungry. The old practice was to claim as much as possible of the neighbouring lord's territory upon his death. Careful surveys now being made by the government are fixing permanently the boundaries of hereditary lands, so that expansion of one's holdings at the expense of some minor heir who is unfamiliar with his inheritance will soon be no longer possible. It is of interest to note that the chief who would be Tui Tonga, if that office had not been abolished, has by legal procedure in recent years secured the return of lands improperly claimed by others.

Euro-American culture has had a hand in transforming the Tongan population from a rural one to a village-dwelling one. The transformation had its beginning at the end of the eighteenth century when civil war forced the people to leave their farms and seek refuge in fortresses. Thus village life seems to have begun. Then came the missionary and a great wave of religious enthusiasm which served to reinforce the new village ties rather than to dissipate them. The copra trade and the scant attention required for the coconut trees doubtless, in a negative way, has helped to perpetuate the village life. The result is that modern Tonga is a country of villages. The farms surround the villages at varying distances and the villager makes periodic excursions to his eight-acres of farm land. All of this has not been beneficial to agriculture. Much land once cultivated intensively has become bush. There are signs, however, of revival. A prominent chief is inducing his people to give up village life and dwell on their farms. Recently introduced agricultural fairs seem also to offer a much-needed stimulus. It seems likely that the next few decades will see a return to the intensive cultivation of heathen days. The series of food plants has been much enlarged by introductions.

Tracts of farm land are sometimes given the names of foreign lands with which the Tongan has become acquainted in school. More frequently, however, tracts within the villages are given such names. The Tongan seems to have a considerable interest in geography and he likes to travel. His geographic poems amply attest this. This love of travel and of topography is still rife. The monthly steamers and the sailing passenger boats carry many Tongans from one part of the archipelago to another or to more distant Samoa and Fiji. Modern vessels continue to cater to the Tongans' - 288 wanderlust as did the ancient double-boat. The old sea chants of the Tongan seafarers are now largely replaced by Christian hymns, but the essential idea of song in connection with sea travel still remains.

Although the ancient sailing vessels of the Tongans have all yielded before the European-type vessels, the small dugout canoe with outrigger still remains in considerable force.

The composition of poetry and its chanting or singing by a chorus of singers is still a very popular pastime. The composers turn out their product on quite short notice. On one occasion the writer attended a picnic after the examination of a great stone vault tomb. The bard in charge of the singers had composed and taught them a song that fitted the occasion and referred to the visit to the tomb on the top of a neighbouring island.

To a slight extent woman is appearing as the theme in modern Tongan poems, thus in small measure usurping the place held by the scenery. This seems to be the result of English example. The brass band is in some degree crowding out the native bard. Friday night band concerts by native musicians are a regular thing in Nukualofa, the capital of Tonga.

The Tongan government doctors, all Caucasians, have adopted a practice which conforms with the traditional ideas of the natives. This practice is supercision, an operation related to circumcision. When performed by a European doctor, instead of a native, the operation usually takes place at one of the government hospitals to which the patient returns periodically for treatment. The operation in Hebrew style (fakahebelu) is at times requested by the boys of to-day.

Telephones have recently been installed in Nukualofa, and, though primarily for the use of European residents, will doubtless in time become adjuncts of the homes of upper class Tongans. For some years past the Tongans in the capital have been reading daily wireless dispatches type-written in Tongan and posted at the post office.

Motion pictures have entered Tonga and become permanently established in Nukualofa, where there are two theatres. The outward attitude of the Tongan audience seems about the same as that of an audience in a small - 289 American town. The police, perhaps, have a busier time restraining playful young Tonga in the front rows.

Typewriters are coming into use. The writer encountered one enterprising Tongan who took dictation in Tongan direct on his typewriter. The same man was a good photographer.

Writing, introduced by the missionaries, has done much to preserve Tongan mythology and genealogy. As early as 1844 the Tamaha, the highest and most sacred Tongan dignitary, the sororal niece of the Tui Tonga, set down in writing some of the ancient lore. Many others have followed her example. If writing and reading have been the means of preserving much old Tongan material, so too, have they been the introducers of many foreign ideas. To-day one can collect Tongan versions of Cinderella and Dick Whittington's cat. Moreover, many a Tongan's clear conception of the affairs of his nation in the first decade and a half of the 19th century is due to his reading Mariner's “Tongan Islands” translated into Tongan.

Although no accurate data are at hand, it is nevertheless the writer's impression that the great majority of Tongans are literate. Tongan orthography has offered a peg upon which to hang a controversy with a religious back ground. The Catholics use the symbol “p” to represent the sound in Tongan which is really intermediate between “b” and “p.” It is a sound quite similar to French “p.” Inasmuch as the early Catholic missionaries were French, they naturally represented the intermediate Tongan sound with “p.” The Protestants, however, used both “b” and “p,” or again “b” alone. The latter course is preferable, because after all but a single sound is being dealt with. Being intermediate this sound sometimes strikes an English ear as “b,” sometimes as “p.” As a result of this rivalry of “b” and “p,” an actual phonetic difference has arisen through the teaching of the mission schools. A single sound has now evolved into two sounds. Which is used depends upon the church affiliations of the speaker. A somewhat similar case is to be found in “s” and “j,” the former now having almost completely replaced the latter in everyday conversation. Although “s” is sponsored by the Catholics it has come into general use and the “j” of the Protestants is fast sinking into oblivion.

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Native grown tobacco is smoked in Tonga rolled in pieces of dried banana leaf. These cigarettes seem to be relished more than imported ready-made cigarettes. Tongan school children are thoroughly grounded in the fact that smoking is an American-Indian invention. Its transmission to Tonga and the rest of the world they associate with the name of Christopher Columbus.

Not every foreign trait in modern Tongan culture has been absorbed with as little harm as tobacco. Cricket is one in point. With such fervor was cricket playing undertaken that it became necessary some decades ago to pass laws restricting the playing of the game to certain days of the week.

Horse racing, too, is a favourite pastime and even some remote islands now have race courses.

The dynamiting of fish became so prevalent some years ago that it was necessary to prohibit the use of the explosive for this purpose. Fishing has fallen somewhat into abeyance in certain localities and it is not uncommon for Tongans to buy fish from enterprising Japanese and Caucasian fishermen.

The introduction of cloth has given rise to two new feminine occupations; sewing, often with a machine; and washing. Tapa, the native substitute for cloth, is unwashable. Clothes washing was given a further impulse by the enactment of a law compelling all individuals to wear shirts in public. The lower garment is still the vala or rectangular cloth worn as a skirt. To-day it is of textile material. Shoes are not worn except by the well-to-do.

The police costume is of interest; barefeet, white vala, blue or white coat, and broad-brimmed felt hat.

Speaking of the vala or rectangular cloth wound about the waist as a skirt, it should be noted that the proper length for a gentleman is half-way between the knee and ankle. Shorter valas are worn by cooks. In Samoa valas are worn short. I once heard a Tongan chief remark derisively of the Samoans that “they wear their valas like cooks.” I have also heard the Samoans spoken of as barbarians because they have no water closets, which in Tonga are required by law.

Tongans eat with their fingers seated cross-legged on mats with the food before them on other mats. Europeans - 291 at Tongan feasts do the same. The combination of European dress and fingers for knives, forks and spoons seems strikingly incongruous to one new to the custom. At the end of the meal a basin of water is passed around, so that each one may wash his hands.

Perfumes are much appreciated by the Tongans and traders say that they 0discriminate between the cheaper and the better grades. This is clearly but a transferal of their old interest in perfumed coconut oil, with which they still freely anoint themselves.

European alcoholic drinks are called kava papalangi (foreign kava). They are permitted only to the land-holding chiefs, in a limited quantity, and to foreigners. Commoners must go without.

Stone, bone, and shell implements have been supplanted long since by metal implements. Contact with Euro-American culture has resulted, however, in the rise of a new stone implement. This is the slab of stone and the stone pounder for preparing kava root. Formerly this was chewed to prepare the brew; now, owing to Caucasian influence, it is pounded.

The former narrow roads that traversed the various Tongan islands have now all been replaced by roads of standard width for wheeled vehicles. The commonest vehicle is a two-wheeled cart imported from New Zealand. The Tongan usually dispenses with the board seat and sits crosslegged on the bed of the cart. In the two large islands of Tongatabu and Vavau automobiles have made their appearance. They are the more numerous in the former island where the levelness of the country makes for ease in driving. The majority of cars are driven by Caucasians, but the Tongans are fast learning. Many Tongans have been familiar for years with gasoline launches.

Vehicles keep to the left in Tonga.

Many Tongan houses show a hybridism in construction. Often the roof will be of corrugated iron instead of the regular thatch. Or again, the sides and rounded ends will be of boards instead of cane. These innovations usually do not affect the shape of the house. Many churches are in native architecture, which employs sinnet cord instead of nails.

Appreciation of money is naturally developing in Tonga and is undoubtedly an important factor in the process of acculturation. National feeling, though probably existent - 292 in Tonga in pre-Caucasian days, is strong to-day. The limited outlook of heathen days has been replaced with an appreciation of the position of Tonga as a recognized nation of the world, one with which the great powers have entered into treaty.

That Tonga will adopt Euro-American culture to the total exclusion of her own is not to be expected. On the contrary it is to be anticipated that the hybrid culture of to-day will maintain its distinctiveness. Certainly, it will never become absolutely identical with any other culture.

Euro-American acculturation appears to have made greatest headway in religion. Material culture has also been considerably modified, though the underlying economic basis of life remains the same as in heathen days. Society has been altered least. Some of the extreme developments, such as the arbitrary power of chiefs, polygyny, and the office of Tamaha (held by the sororal niece of the Tui Tonga) have been discontinued, but the fundamental organisation of society remains the same. It is in this department of culture that the greatest incongruity with Euro-American culture appears. We see the speech tabu between brother and sister and the vasu or right of the nephew to seize his mother's brother's possessions flourishing side by side with Christianity and daily wireless news.

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Apron, Maru, (Auckland Museum)
Photos by W. Revell-Reynolds. Kilt, Piupiu. (Buck Collection)
1   A majority of the Free Church and the Wesleyan-Methodists have this year, 1924, re-united.—Ed.
2   Tupou, not Taliai Tupou, is the royal name, and seems to be ancient as a name of the Tui Kanokupolu.—Ed.