One of the most unique features of Tongan culture and society is that Tonga is the last remaining Polynesian kingdom. Tonga was one of the few island nations that was never colonized. Therefore the monarchy was able to remain intact throughout the 20th century when many other countries adopted new government structures. Although there have been many governmental reforms recently, such as the very first democratically elected government, the royal family still retains power and respect in Tonga.
Last weekend, one of the princesses was in Vava'u on a visit. Before the band from my school went to Australia last year, she wrote a letter on their behalf requesting that their visas were granted. As a thank you to her for this favor our band took a trip over to the hotel where she was staying to put on a performance. Many of the teachers from the school also attended with gifts of food and mats. After a very formal ceremony where a kava stick was presented, leaders from the school addressed the princess, prayers were said, and hymns were sung, the band began their performance. Some of the other teachers began to get up and ta'alunga ( perform the Tongan style of dancing). During one of the songs, Ashley and I were encouraged to get up and dance, too. Although I was extremely nervous to attempt Tongan dancing in front of the princess, I begrudgingly got up and started dancing with Ashley. Unfortunately, the princess requested that we move up to the front where she could see us better. Ashley was able to bust out some stellar dance moves, but I basically stood and clapped the entire time. Regardless, all the Tongans were very appreciative of our efforts and we did get a good amount of pa'anga as well!
The following day was one of the best days I have spent in Tonga thus far. I was very fortunate to be able to take a trip to Eu'eiki, one of the small, outer islands. Vava'u has one main island called Vava'u lahi, and many smaller islands that are part of the entire island group. Living on the main island is great because I am close to all the restuarants and shops, but the outer islands have white sand beaches, great snorkeling and diving, and lots of peace and quiet. This island in particular has a great beach adjacent to a resort comprised of traditional Tongan fales (huts). We spent a lovely day sailing there and had a great afternoon visiting, relaxing on the beach, and eating some wonderful food. Another highlight was sailing back into the harbor at night. We were able to lay out on the deck and look at the stars as we returned home. It was an awesome way to end the day.
Yesterday, I went to the wharf to pick up a chair that I bought in December in Nuku'alofa. Honestly, I was dreading my return to the wharf. If I could give the wharf a nickname it would be "home of the world's deadliest forklift drivers". You have to be extra alert at the wharf or you could easily end up with a half ton crate of supplies dropped on your head. It's rather terrifying. Luckily I survived and was able to retrieve my chair, which is now a wonderful addition to my living room.