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Date: 11 Sep 2012 07:57:29
Title: A Tongan Feast

A week last Sunday we went to a traditional Tongan Feast in the tiny village of Utelei, which is just around the corner from the main harbour of Neiafu in the Vavau group in Tonga. We'd heard them advertising on the local radio net that happens each morning and we were all keen to see what it involved and maybe even tolerate a bit of culture!!

It was a fantastic and very memorable evening. They picked us up from a wharf in town, and took us to their village, where literally the whole village was waiting to welcome us as we stepped of the boat! (that's about 60 people) There are other feasts put on for tourists around the Vavau group, but this was the first time this village had tried it and it was clear that they had gone to a huge effort to make it special so that the word will spread about the new feast in Utelei being the best of all the islands!

Our host was a very interesting and welcoming lady called Tubou, who was adopted when she was very young by a New Zealand couple who lived in a big house in Utelei. She and her step sister (a New Zealander) lived there until their parents died and they were sent away to school in the USA. Tubou then took on a life of helping others and worked for the U.N for a number of years. Now she has returned to the place where she grew up and is helping the people of Utelei try and increase their income, repair their houses, improve their health and re-learn the old handicraft methods that have been lost as generations of people have moved to NZ. A large number of Tongans are dependent on money being sent home by relatives who live in NZ. But now they are trying to earn something themselves. Tubou seems to have been a real life-saver in this village, and the villagers clearly have the utmost respect for her and what she's doing.

Anyway, our evening of Tongan culture consisted of learning about the infamous Kava drink, the legend of where it came from, the process of weaving Pandanus mats, making coconut milk, and walking around the village. There are pigs here like there are stray dogs in India! We then had an enormous dinner, with all kinds of local food which with only a few exceptions was really delicious. After dinner the locals put on some traditional music and dancing, in various groups ranging from adults right down to a gorgeous but completely flumoxxed group of 3 year olds! They looked very cute in their traditional costumes completely shell shocked and too scared to move! It is Tongan tradition that if you like the dancing, you must go and put some money on the arms or body of the dancers - just a $1 or $2 note, and their bodies are coated with coconut oil so that the money sticks to them and by the end of the dance they are covered in cash! Maybe we should try this....

Tubou's house in Utelei - rebuilt 3 times after cyclones have destroyed it (the same house she grew up in)

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The men playing guitars, banjo's and ukelele's round the Kava bowl

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Suse is presented with the Kava - you have to clap and say your name if you want some!

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Archie gives it a try - it tastes like muddy water with a tiny bit of spice!

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The women show us how they make their handicrafts

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A young boy shows how it's done (in a skirt!)

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The dancing

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A gorgeous little girl in her traditional costume

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The terrified 3 year olds!

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