Language   In The Strange South Seas



Tonga is a miniature Kingdom, made up of a group of 170 islands, 45 of which are inhabited. They form a necklace just west of the International Dateline. The main island of Tongatapu in the south is the home of the Kingdom's capital, Nuku'alofa. North lies the Ha'apai group, a chain of low lying atolls surrounded by clear turquoise waters. Beyond Ha'apai lies the Vava'u group, a paradise of lush tropical landscapes, a deep water harbour, rock islands and limestone caves.


Nuku'alofa is the capital and home for the Royal Palace. Other major centres are Eua Island, an ideal retreat for hikers, adventurers and naturalists, and Vava'u island which has two beautiful beaches on the main island and a scenic drive around the west coast with stunning views of Port of Refuge Harbour and the numerous outer islands

Ha'apai village is a favourite with visitors who are invited to stay in the village and participate in all aspects of village life from 'kava' ceremonies, feasting and dancing to  hunting 'feke' octopus with village fisherman in outrigger canoes.


The majority of Tonga's 96,000 people live on Tongatapu. Polynesian by race they speak Tongan and English.


Archaeologists claim Tonga has been inhabited since the 5th century BC. It was first discovered by two Dutch navigators in 1616. They were followed by Tasman, Wallis, Captain Cook, Bligh of the Bounty whose sailors mutinied in Tongan waters, and the missionaries. Today the Kingdom of Tonga is ruled by King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV who reigns as a constitutional monarch. Formerly a British protectorate, Tonga gained its independence in 1970 and is now part of the British Commonwealth..


Vegetation is typically South Pacific with masses of hibiscus and frangipani, coconut groves, pandanus palms and banana plantations.
Not far from Nuku'alofa hundreds of flying foxes cling to high trees at Kolovai. Frigate birds are common, as are the Pacific golden plover, the Pacific black duck, swiftlets (Pacific swallows) and the blue crowned lorikeet. Tonga was the first Pacific Island country to create marine parks or sanctuaries. Four such parks now exist, rich in fish, coral and marine life.


There are miles of white, sandy beaches fronting clear lagoons which hold some of the most beautiful and varied reefs in the world. The rocky terraced coastline at Houma features one of the South Pacific's most impressive natural spectacles. Huge waves crash onto the coral rock sending water spouts 60ft or more into the air. At the lagoon edge are the villages of Mu'a and Lapaha with several fascinating historical sites such as the Langi tombs at Lapaha.


On Tongatapu, Vava'u and Eua the main forms of transport are bus, taxi, rental cars and passenger ferries.


A visit to the Tongan National Centre is recommended for their feasts and entertainment. Most hotels and resorts also provide Tongan feasts and traditional dancing at least once a week. Nuku'alofa the capital, has several authentic restaurants including French, German, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Italian.


Tongans play rugby, soccer, cricket, netball, volleyball, basketball, golf, tennis and traditional indigenous games. Water-based activities include diving, fishing, snorkelling, yachting, kayaking, and whale watching.


Tongan handicrafts are some of the best to be found in the South Pacific. The best retail outlets are the Langa Fonua, the Friendly Islands Marketing Co-operative, the Talamahu Market and the Tongan National Centre.


Pristine and even undived reefs are not difficult to find in Tonga since 125 of its islands are uninhabited.Access to the islands is through the southern island Tongatapu, where Royal Sunset Scuba Diving on Atata Island show off the rich coral reefs. However the best diving is found in the central Ha'apai and northern Vava'u groups. Port of Refuge in Vava'u is a deep sheltered harbour extending well inland. Two imperators, Beluga Diving and Dolphin Diving take visitors to currentless shallow dives in the harbour or to spectacular walls and reefs outside the entrance on the loaf shaped islands that herald the open ocean. The Glen McWilliams lies at the bottom of the harbour not far from the main wharf. Intact, upright and covered in marine life it is a spectacular introduction to wreck diving.

Beds of yellow sea fans can be found at Tuangasika Island along with an extensive bommie coated with anemones and their associated down fish. In places the reef wall is riddled with lobster filled caves, some containing air bubbles in the roof large enough to surface into, such as the one at Mariners Cove. During winter and spring divers can be assured to at least hear, if not see, humpback whales that make the clear waters their calving and mating grounds.

Night diving is very special. Slipper lobsters abound, juvenile Lion Fish with their beautiful livery are found nestled in the coral, and the shy Flashlight Fish with their luminous light organ below the eye, drift about.





Tongan is one of the many languages in the Polynesian branch of the Austronesian languages, along with Hawaiian, Maori, Samoan and Tahitian, for example. Together with Niuean, it forms the Tongic subgroup of Polynesian. By comparing Tongic to the other subgroup, Nuclear Polynesian, it is possible to reconstruct the phonology of Proto-Polynesian the theoretical source of the Polynesian languages. Tongan is unusual among Polynesian languages in that it has a so-called definitive accent. Like all Polynesian languages, Tongan has adapted the phonological system of proto-Polynesian























Kui tangata


Kui fefine


Fa'e tangata (Mom's Brother)












'Api ako




Pule ako

Class Room

Loki ako

School Uniform

Teunga Ako






Tohi Tapu











Bed Room

Loki mohe

Rest Room

Fale malolo







Need Help

Fiema'u e Tokoni


Taimi ni


'a nai ange



















Post Office

Positi 'Ofisi


Fale tohi





  Malo e Lelei

Good Morning 

  Malo tau ma'u e pongipongi ni.

Good Afternoon 

  Malo tau ma'u e ho'ata ni.

Good Evening 

  Malo tau ma'u e efiafi ni.

Good Night 

  Po'uli a or Mohe a

Good bye 

  Nofo a or 'Alu a


  Ko fe?


  Ko e ha?

What is your name?

  Ko hai ho hingoa?

Where do you come from? 

  Ko ho'o ha'u mei fe?

How old are you? 

  Ko ho ta'u fiha eni?

Have you been here before? 

  Na'ake 'i heni kimu'a.

This is my first time here.

  Ko hoku fuofua taimi 'eni heni.



What is the time? 

  Koe fiha 'eni

Follow me 

  Mui mui mai 'ia au



Come here 

  Ha'u ki heni

Let's go 

  Ta o (two people) or Tau o (if more than two)

Stay here 

  Nofo heni

Sit down 

  Nofo ki lalo

Stand up 

  Tu'u ki 'olunga

Can you sing? 

  Teke lava 'o hiva?

You sleep here tonight? 

  Teke mohe heni he poo ni?

I love you 

  'Oku ou 'ofa 'ia koe

You are so beautiful 

  'Oku ke fu'u faka'ofo'ofa 'aupito

Do you work ? 

  'Oku ke ngaue?



     In The Strange South Seas

Some weeks afterwards after a round of three thousand miles I found myself in Tonga, better known as the Friendly Islands. The distance from the Cook Group was only one thousand or less, as the crow flies, but the steamers flew down to Auckland, and then back again, which naturally added to the journey. Pacific travel is a series of compromises. The British Resident of Niue, which is only three hundred miles from Tonga, wanted to get to the latter place about that time, and when I met him at Nukualofa, the Tongan capital, he had had to travel two thousand four hundred miles to reach it! But no one is ever in a hurry, under the shade of the cocoanut tree.

Who has heard of Tongatabu? who knows where the "Friendly Islands" are? You will not find them very readily in the map, but they are to be found nevertheless, about one thousand miles to the north-east of New Zealand. And if you take the steamer that runs every month from Auckland to Sydney, touching at the "Friendly" or Tongan Group, on the way, you will find yourself, in four days, set down on the wharf of Nukualofa, the capital of the island of Tongatabu, and the seat of the oddest, most comic-opera-like monarchy that the world ever knew. Thirty years ago - even twenty - the Great South Seas were scattered over with independent island states, ruled by monarchs who displayed every degree of civilisation, from the bloodthirsty monster, Thakombau of Fiji and Jibberik, the half-crazy tyrant of Majuro, up to such Elizabeths of the Pacific as Liluokalani of Hawaii, and Queen Pomare of Tahiti. Now there is but one island kingdom left; but one native sovereign, who still sits on his throne unembarrassed by the presence of a British resident, who is ruler in all but name. Hawaii has fallen to America; France has taken the Marquesas and Tahiti; England has annexed the Cook Islands and dethroned the famous Queen Makea; Germany and America have partitioned Samoa between them; the rich archipelago of Fiji has been added to the British Colonies. This accounts for almost all of the larger and richer island groups, distinguished by a certain amount of original civilisation, and leaves only one unseized - Tonga, or the Friendly Islands, over which England has maintained a protectorate since 1900.

The Tongan Archipelago was discovered by Captain Cook in 1777, and by him named the "Friendly Islands," on account of the apparently friendly disposition of the natives. He sailed away from the group unaware that beneath their seemingly genial reception, the Tongans had been maturing a plot to murder him and seize his ship. Treachery, it is true, has never been an essential part of the Tongan character; but they are, and always have been, the most warlike of all Pacific races, and it is probable that they thought the character of the deed excused by the necessities of a military race who feared injury from a superior power. After cook's visit the world head very little of Tonga until 1816, when Mariner's "Tonga Islands," the history of a young sailor's captivity among he natives of the group, fairly took the reading world by storm. It is still a classic among works of travel and adventure. Since the islands were converted to Christianity their history has been uneventful. One king - George Tubou I - reigned for seventy years, and only died at last, aged ninety-seven, of a chill contracted from his invariable custom of bathing in the sea at dawn! His great-grandson, George Tubou II, succeeded, inheriting through his mother's side, as the Tongan succession follows the matriarchal plan. It is this king - aged thirty-four, six fee four in height, and about twenty-seven stone weight - who now sits upon the last throne of the Island Kings, and rules over the only independent state left in the Pacific.

The Tongans are a Christianised and partially civilised, if a coloured, race, numbering about 20,000. They are of a warm brown in hue, with dense black, wry hair (usually dyed golden red with lime juice), tall, well-made frames, and immense muscular development. As a nation, they are handsome, with intelligent faces, and a dignity of pose and movement that is sometimes unkindly called the "Tongan swagger." In education, many of them would compare favourably with the average white man, so far as mere attainments go; although a course of instruction at the local schools and colleges, amounting to very nearly the standard of an English "matriculations" does not prevent its recipient from believing firmly in the holiness of the sacred Tongan bats, feeding himself with his fingers and walking about his native village naked as Adam, save for a cotton kilt.

There is not only a King in Tonga, but a real palace, guards of honour, a Parliament, a Prime Minister, a Chancellor of the Exchequer, and a large number of public officials. All these are Tongan natives. the king's guards are apt to make an especially vivid impression upon the newcomer, as he walks up the wharf, and sees the scarlet-coated sentry pacing up and down opposite the guard-room, with his fellows, also smartly uniformed, lounging inside. If the stranger, however, could have witnessed the scene on the wharf as soon as the steamer was signalled - the sudden running up of a dozen or two of guards who had been amusing themselves about the town in undress uniform (navy-blue kilt, red sash, buff singlet), the scrambling and dressing coram pubilico on the grass, getting into trousers, boots, shirt tunic, forage cap, and the hurried scuffle to get ready in time, and make a fine appearance to the st4eamer folk - he might think rather less of Tonga's military discipline.


Tonga is very seldom visited by travellers, except for an hour or two during he steamer's stay in port and discover that any English lady had ever made a stay there, except myself, and the wife of a local Church dignitary. There are, of course, a few Colonial residents. But the 'English traveller leaves Tonga out altogether, which is really a pity - for his sake. As for the island, they can do very well without tourists, and would not be the better for them. There was no hotel save a plain and simple public-house, at the time of my stay, though I understand this defect has been remedied. I had therefore to set up housekeeping on my own account. the tiny bungalow ai took for my stay of four weeks in the island, was a real South Sea home. It stood almost on the white coral sand of the beach, and close to the cool green waters of the lagoon; it was shaded by palms and scarlet-blossomed "flamboyant" trees, and it was nearly all door and window and verandah. Its carpets were plaited pandanus-leaf mats; the ornaments in the sitting-room were foot-long fluted clam-shells off the beach, filled with wild red and yellow hibiscus flowers, poignantly perfumed frangipani stars, and the sweet pink blossoms of the South Sea oleander. The back kitchen had generally a bunch of bananas hanging from the roof, a pile of green cocoanuts for drinking, under the window, a mound of yellow papaw, or tree-melons, in a corner, some custard-apples and mangoes, and a bi basket of pineapples, bought at the door for fourteen a shilling, or picked by myself during a drive through the bush.


The beautiful and interesting sea-caves---some swarming with birds, others celebrated for their lovely colouring and formation - which are found in the windward side of the island, I was unable to see, owing to the bad weather of the rainy season, during which my visit was made. A "Chief" kava-party, however, got up for my benefit, consoled me for the loss of the caves. Kava is the great national drink of Tonga, a s of many other South Sea islands. It is made from the hard wooly root of the Piper methysticum and is exhilarating and cooling, but not actually intoxicating. In taste, it is extremely unpleasant till one gets used to it, being peppery, soapy, and dishwatery as to flavour. I had drunk kava before, however, and learned to recognise its pleasanter properties; also, the old custom of chewing the kava-root, before infusing it, which still obtains in some parts of Samoa, has been quite given up on Tonga and the pounding is done with stones. The scene was weird and strange in the last degree. I was the only white person present. We all squatted on the mats in the chief's house, the natives in their valas and loose short gowns, with white scented flowers in their hair; I in a smart demi-toilette evening dress, because I was the special guest, and the chief's family would expect me to honour them by "dressing the part". The only light was a ship's hurricane lantern, placed on the floor, where if threw the most Rembrandtesque of shadows upon the rapt ecstatic countenances of the kava-makers, as they went through all the details of what was evidently an ancient religions ceremony, very savage, very native, and not at all "missionary." despite the church membership of all the performers. threw were loud sonorous chants and responses, elaborate gymnastics, with the great twist of hibiscus fibre that was used to strain the kava after it was pounded, and water poured on; something very like incantations, and finally, a wild religious ecstasy on the part of the kava-maker, who worked himself almost into a fit, and at last sank back utterly exhausted, with the bowl of prepared kava before him. this bowl was a standing vessel as big as a round sponge bath, carved, legs and all, from one block of a huge forest tree-trunk, and exquisitely polished and enamelled by many years of kava-holding. Its value was beyond price.


If the Cave of he Swallows were situated on say European coast, it would be as tourist-ridden a spot as the blue Grotto of Capri, or any other of the thousand famous caves through which holiday-making travellers are dragged each summer season - and would consequently be despoiled of half its loveliness. but it is very far away, in the South Sea Islands and though a passenger steamer does visit Vavau once a month there are usually no tourists - only a missionary and a trader or two. So the lovely place lies undisturbed almost all the time, and you shall not find, when you row across the harbour to see it, that you have to wait your turn in a crowd of other boats, full of romping and larking trippers, with the guide of every party keeping a sharp look-out to see that no one takes longer than he ought going over the "sight" - so long as his charges remain outside. Instead of this, we glide silently under a noble archway some fifty feet high, and enter a great, still, ocean sanctuary, that looks as if no wandering oar had ever profaned its peace, since first the white man came to these far-off isles. Outside, the water to Prussian blue in colour, and over a thousand feet deep, but within the arch of the cave the bottom shoots up till it is within a hundred feet of the glass-clear surface on which we float, hanging above the silver-coloured coral reefs of the deep sea-bed, like birds hanging in air. The roof and walls of the cave are brilliant verdigris green, the water-floor, that curves so closely in and out of he numerous arches and recesses, where mysterious shadows creep, is sapphire shot with fire. As one side of the cave there is a dark winding corridor leading to depths unknown. We glide down this a little way, and there before us opens out - surely, a temple and a shrine! The water-floor spreads and broadens here into the carpet of a high, still, secret inner cave, in the centre of which springs up a splintered pedestal - shattered, one fancies, by the blow that broke the image that must surely once have stood in this strange sea-shrine. From an unseen rift in the roof, far above, a white ray of sun strikes down into the cave, and falls like a blast from an offended heaven upon the broken pedestal.


Mariner, who was interested in the ancient tale, succeeded in reaching the cave himself, and found it as represented. He surmised that there was an air supply, passing through invisible cracks in the rock above, for the air seemed to keep fresh. There was something like a rough couch of stone at one end, where the imprisoned girl had made her bed. No light whatever penetrated the cavern. Since Mariner's time, very few Europeans have succeeded in entering the cave, which is extremely difficult to get into, owing to the length of the passage under water, and the currents of the tides. About thirty years ago, Captain Luce, of H.M.S. Esk, succeeded in entering the cave, but rose too soon on going out, and lacerated his back so badly against the coral spears under water, that he died in a few days. Since then, I heard that one white man had gone safely in and returned., but no one seemed to know who, or when. None of our party, at all events felt tempted to make the trial. The steamer was ready to start when we got back, so we hurried on board, and started away for Samoa. there was much more to see in Vavau, but the only way of seeing it as to stop over for a month and remain in the village. For this no one had time. I was giving a month to each group of islands, which is little enough in the Pacific - but I knew very well that, unless I had had a vessel of my own, or a year or two extra to spend, it was impossible to see all that could be seen.

Tofoa, for instance, one of the Tongan Group, which is an active volcano, and, naturally, not inhabited, - what could be ore interesting than a call there? But uninhabited volcanoes do not furnish cargo for steamship companies, so all we could see was a smear of smoke in the far distance, as we steamed on our way to Apia, the capital of the "Navigators" Group, better known, sine the days of Stevenson, as Samoa.




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