Tonga is the last of the Pacific monarchies. Tahiti sold out to the French, "protectors" took care of other Polynesian kingdoms - and we Americans did the dirty deed to the last queen of Hawaii. But King George Tupou V of Tonga still owns it all. Coroneted just last August; he already has faced riots and burnings in the capital city. His aloof style and harebrained economic schemes have a large part of the otherwise proud and happy population acting very un-Tongan. Dissent and calls for democracy are openly voiced - if an interested tourist should ask. I do.
Elected representatives fill only nine of the national offices, all the rest are appointed by the King. Population has swelled and half of the Tongans are now living elsewhere. Much of the economy is simply the funds sent back home. The king has dreams of royal grandeur and expensive tastes - very un-Tongan traits.
These are loyal but proud people who still honor the Sabbath - no fishing or swimming or business of any kind. They still all gather early each Sunday to sing the roofs off their numerous churches - while a family feast slow cooks in anticipation of the weekly family reunion.
There are those who wish to build big resorts here and bring in outsiders to motivate and cross-pollinate the most ethnically pure people in all of Polynesia. I suggest that they be careful what they wish for. The harmony of their choirs across the water might be drown out by the drone of a disco. They may get the new roads and big hotels, but when they turn on the streetlights, I fear they will no longer be able to see their stars.
The King has been hoodwinked by investment scams and even tried selling citizenship - leading to some unsavory additions to the neighborhoods. Just as problematic are the returning gang-bangers from our big cities - just out of US jails and deported to a land they left as infants. They bring their urban skills to a land devoid of any such crime, violence, and greed.
I meet with one such young/old man. He is tending to some pineapple plants near his grass shack overlooking a billion dollar view. His tattoos, speech, his mannerisms and downcast darting eyes are pure jailbird - totally un-Tongan. He fears those "looking for him" and asks not to be in our pictures. He also asks us for help in getting trained people to show his kind how to deal with becoming Tongan again. More like him are coming back every year. Fallen angles from paradise, so sad.
Tonga IS a paradise - with few taxes, no hunger, no need to lie cheat or steal to live - Tongans seldom die for reasons unrelated to old age. But this 3000-year old culture has no answer for the outside problems and revolutionary ideas that are knocking at the palace gate. Something painful, I fear, is to come to this paradise. Birth pangs or death peals - time will tell.
- Revolutionary Rod