The Kingdom of Tonga
Peter and Margie Benziger
Tue 11 Jan 2011 03:43
Position Report – 18:39.704S 173:59.035W
I have to admit, we did not spend enough time in The Kingdom of Tonga. (TKT) We were a few days behind the rest of the fleet and had to play catch-up so we did not have as much time in the beautiful cruising waters of these islands as the others did. The Moorings has a HUGE charter fleet here. I can certainly understand why….it’s absolutely gorgeous!
First, let me give you some background and then a few highlights…
The KINGDOM of Tonga (not to be confused with the African country known simply as Tonga) consists of 170 islands, mostly raised coral atolls, covering an area over 100,000 sq. miles. The amount of dry land, however, is only 269 sq. miles which is smaller than New York City. There are approximately 105,000 inhabitants living on 36 islands in three major island groups, Tongatapu, the main island and home to the capital of Nuku’alofa, Ha’apai, where Fletcher Christian led the mutiny on the Bounty and Vava’u, the sailor’s paradise where we spent our time.
TKT is an independent nation that has never been ruled by a Western power. The good news here is that Tonga has retained its Polynesian culture. The bad news is that it’s totally on its own and is the poorest nation in the region. Well, not EVERYONE is poor…the King and the 33 Noble Families (Nobles of the Realm) make up the privileged class. Everyone else is a commoner and this two-tier caste system has existed for generations with no possibility of upward mobility as all titles are inherited. The King owns all the land and the nobles each rule over a section of the country. (We were told that the King pays himself $10 million dollars a year but I’ve never seen anything published to back that up. But then, why would I? If I were the King, I’d keep that info strictly under wraps!)
Technically, the government is a constitutional monarchy although it is more like the King is the head of a family of Polynesian “Chiefs” with titles derived from the English. The 30 seats in the Legislature are almost all nobles with the King and his cabinet appointing all but 9, who are elected by the commoners.
That’s all going to change soon as they are holding elections in the fall to form a Parliament similar to what they have in England and the King (who has no heirs) will become a figurehead similar to Queen Elizabeth.
But, enough history, well…how about a little American history?
4th of July in The Kingdom of Tonga
It was “All Things American” on this beautiful 4th of July in Neiafu township. Out in the harbor, Pergrina hoisted her multi-colored signal flags from the top of the mast both fore and aft and red, white and blue attire was in fashion amongst most of the fleet members – even those who only begrudgingly accepted our rebellion against “the Crown.” What’s more, Steve from “Aspen,” the other American boat sailing with us, was born on the 4th of July so we had a double reason to celebrate. We had a great all-American party with hot dogs, hamburgers, watermelon and chocolate cake at this restaurant called the Giggling Whale. The owners are Canadian and they spend six months a year in Tonga and six months a year skiing up in Canada – really nice people. When Steve came in the restaurant, they had their IPOD all set up to play Bruce Springstein’s “Born in the USA” and Jimmy Hendricks’ immortal Woodstock version of “America”. It was pretty neat. The party went on until 1am when a neighboring restaurant called the cops because we were “disturbing the peace!” LOL
It’s 2PM…Do You Know Where Your Debit Card is?
The Tongan people are incredibly friendly and, as I would learn, very honest and helpful. I had an amazing incident that convinced me that my higher power was at work among them….
Earlier on this trip, I lost a small wallet with my driver’s license, Visa card, and a bank debit card. I still think it is somewhere on the boat because no one has made any charges or debits but we cannot find it.
Anyway…on our last day in Tonga, I was running around town doing lots of errands and checking the boat out of TKT with Customs while Peter was scuba diving. At one point I had to run to the ATM to get more cash with the one Bank of America debit card that I have left. I needed money to pay an immigration fee. I got the money, paid the immigration fee, stopped in the supermarket and started back to the boat to meet Peter and head off. For some reason, when I passed by a pharmacy, I just happened to look at the large window where there was a sign saying “If someone left a VISA debit card at the ANZ Bank around 2pm, please come in and show some identification so we can return it to you.” I just froze on the spot and reached in my pocket where I kept my card and it wasn’t there. YIKES!!! I went inside and sure enough she had my card and she said she just put the sign up two minutes before I walked by! THREE MINUTES earlier and I would probably have never realized the card was gone until after we had left TKT! The fact that she even bothered to put up a sign amazes me! The fact that I was on the right side of the street amazes me! The fact that I would be looking in the right direction to even SEE the sign amazes me! You gotta believe that someone was looking out for me that day! God works in amazing ways…
A “Tiplet” Turns 13 in Tonga!
July 2nd, was Charlie’s birthday…so we all dressed in pink!
Charlie, or Charlotte, as they will no doubt call her at boarding school next year, turned 13 today and, like the kids-at-heart that we are on the Blue Water Rally; we threw her a Pink Party with all the trimmings!
Pink bathing suits, pink sarongs, pink hats, pink t-shirts, pink shorts…even pink thongs (!) and that was Crazy Pete from Fai Tiri!
There were pink balloons, pink cakes and cupcakes and pink candles – not to mention the bounteous feast intended to herald the birthday of our little “Princess Charlie” no longer a “tween” but a beautiful young lady about to enter her teenage years.
We had anchored off a small island called Nuku in Tonga. Fourteen boats from the Blue Water Rally searching for a special place - a “Treasure Island” - where we could celebrate the birthday of one of the real “treasures” amongst this gallery of rogues sailing around the world together.
You see, Charlie and her sister, Annie and brother, Freddie from Miss Tippy - or The Tiplets as I call them - are our adolescent eyes on the world during this circumnavigation. They remind us of the sweet innocence of youth, the sheer joy of travel and the wide-eyed surprise and delight at every unexpected image or event at the next port-of-call. We have been privileged to have them traveling with us and to share a peek through their window on the world.
Luckily, we could not have found a more perfect spot for our Pink Party. As we landed onshore, replete with barbeque grills, beach blankets, lounge chairs and our birthday decorations, the white sand felt like cotton under our feet and the water was warm and crystal clear. Our Pink Brigade took over a triangular spit of pristine beach that was soon covered with towels and blankets as we spread out our birthday feast. A stand of Casuarina trees provided a little shade from the brilliant sun that sparkled on the sea and soon the grills were lit and the aromas of chicken, burgers and fresh fish wafted through the air. There were huge bowls filled with salad and vegetables and pasta passed around and we dined gloriously on this very special occasion.
As the day wore on and the sun simmered into the sea, we built a campfire and Charlie brought out her guitar and started singing in her soft, angelic voice. It was a so sweet and pure a moment that there were tears in most everyone’s eyes. I often say that, this year, we will ALL celebrate our birthday in someplace truly special. Peter’s was in Cook’s Bay, Moorea, mine in Taha’a but, this day, this moment, belonged to our little Charlie growing up right before our eyes.
Just as many of us have celebrated major “milestone” birthdays of 50, 55, and 60 with our Rally family, Charlie allowed us the opportunity re-visit the no less momentous, once-in-a- lifetime introduction to the teenage years and our collective imagination ran wild with the prospect of the wonderful life ahead of her. We all realized that this was one of those “priceless” moments that we could never repeat…but, rest assured, the memory will last forever. Happy Birthday, Miss Tiplet! We love you….