The Tongan ‘kilt’

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Thu 13 Sep 2018 01:56

Tonga is an independent and modern state. It is a constitutional monarchy, like Britain, with a democratic government. It has affordable 4G internet available in the towns and many of the villages yet the people have retained their values and many wear traditional clothing.

I was keen to get some photos, particularly of the mens’ dress, a kind of ‘kilt’, called a ‘tupeno’, often worn with a woven Pandanus mat wrapped over the top, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. My preferred gambit was along the lines of:

“You look very handsome in your ‘kilt’, would you mind if I took your photo?” 

Unfortunately prior experience has taught me that men are men, whichever the country and that such an opening can lead to complications.

Franco pointed out that Haniteli was wearing a tupeno. He was right! I practically hadn’t noticed, it is amazing how quickly one becomes used to different customs in a new country.


Haniteli looking for birds, barefoot and wearing a tupeno

In Neiafu, most women wear leggings or skirts and just a few wear the woven mats. 

On our return from the botanical gardens, we stopped off at the bank ATM to get some cash and the woman in the queue behind me was wearing a very large Pandanus mat, a ‘ta’avala’ and a ‘kekié’, made from the mulberry tree.

I asked her if she would be willing to pose for a photo with me because I wanted to show the clothing on our blog.

She told me: “In Tonga, you are allowed to wear this garment only when someone has died.”

How lacking in tact I had been, she was in mourning, but I didn’t know. Luckily, she didn’t seem to be offended.


The woman wearing the mourners ta’avala and kekié (the fringes)