What it was like growing up in Tonga in the '30s

Tonga is a group of 150 islands set in the Pacific Ocean where it is the first place to see the sun each day.

Only 50 islands are inhabited and have the finest soil that can grow anything.

We collected rainwater in concrete tanks for drinking and cooking.

Everyone knew one another and all were well and happy.

Captain Cook, who visited Tonga in 1767, called the place the Friendly Island and King George Tupou 1 placed us in the hand of God with the motto "God and Tonga are my Heritage". Tonga is the only monarchy left in the South Pacific.

There are three main island groups, Tonga Tapu, where the capital Nuku'alofa is and the Royal family live, in the south, the Ha'apai group where I was brought up is in the middle and the Va'vau group in the north.

I'm number seven in a family of four girls and nine boys.

Our parents had three blocks of land of about two or three acres each.

Our island of Foa is only 7km wide and 17km long.

My grandfather had a two-bedroom European-type house with a hall in the middle and a veranda where we ate and a lean-to at the back where we kept the cast iron cooking gear and vegetables.

My family had three Tongan houses with rounded ends. The one nearest the sea has bamboo walls and an iron roof.

At the back were two covered areas where we cooked our umu (underground oven), mostly on Sundays.

 

We also had an open fire with two railway bars (I don't know where they came from) where we would stand the cast iron pots and a kettle with a tap.

I remember it very well as I often burnt my fingers.

We had to use a piece of hessian to turn the tap.

We had to dig a new outside toilet every few months.

The boys did the cooking, gardening, fishing and building Tongan houses with timber frame and roof and walls out of coconut leaves, while the girls did the washing, weaving and made the tapa cloth.

One day I saw one of our horses which had a sore under where his collar had been and trying to be a big boy like my father I said "back , back" and when I touched his sore part, he bit me on my shoulder. I still have the scar to this day.

We had horse races on the sandy beach twice a year.

Foa is the biggest inhabited island out of the 12 in the Ha'apai group and has four villages.

My village, Lotofoa, hit saltwater when a bore was put down, but the other three villages have freshwater bores, so we had to bring freshwater to use for washing in 44-gallon drums, galvanised tubs or buckets from the next village 2km away in our horse and cart. We used leaves to stop the water spilling.

The vegetables we grew were yam, taro, kumara (sweet potato), kape (elephant ear), corn, pineapples, shallots and pele.

We could work on our own land, or in groups of six to 10 men, taking in turn working with others on their land for a half day each.

The church organised a garden competition where only four things were grown: yam, hopa (plantain, thicker than a banana) kape and crewing sugar cane that had stems as thick as a soft drink can and up to 12-feet tall.

At harvest this food was shared with representatives of the king and queen, and church and village leaders.

Pawpaw, custard apples, lemons, limes, oranges, breadfruit and mangoes grew wild in the bush.

Captain Cook left watermelon seeds on one of the islands and the watermelons still are coming up automatically every year.

I hope to able to tell you a little about my schooling and church in the future.


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