I‘m handing the flight ticket together with my passport to the uniformed staff. With the routine look, she scanned the ticket to find my final destination.
Obviously, she had already found it because she raised her eyebrows and curiously asked me: “Hmm, are you going to Tonga? Wow, interesting!
Yes, I am heading to the territory of a unique kingdom in the South Pacific that has never been colonized. I can’t say that there hadn’t been any attempts and that the country hadn’t lost much of its territory thanks to the European explorers, but it has preserved the status of monarchy until today.
People love their king here. As well as God, the ocean and the sun above their heads. The capital, Nuku’alofa, is located on the largest island of Tongatapu, and immediately after landing, I knew that time perception was a bit different. But the real adventure was waiting for me, on the more distant Ha’apai group of islands.
The population of the whole kingdom is very similar to the Banská Bystrica region, so when I said that I was from a small country with only 5.5 million inhabitants, the locals laughed at me. They all agreed that “my island” is very large. It was a very interesting experience for me because the vast majority of these people never left their country. Therefore, whenever they wanted to say something about Slovakia, they did not use the word “country” but “island.”
There is not a single university in the whole kingdom. If someone wants to study at university, they must travel to neighboring Fiji. But this is also an island that was once administered by Tonga. The same was Samoa and other small countries around, which already claim independence, however, it is not necessary to research very intensively, and it is clear that the colonization of Europeans has dramatically affected their history.
The locals take it as there was no other option. Ana, with whom I spent a lot of time, told me a lot: You know, when the first people from the far world came, we welcomed them friendly. Apparently, therefore, our islands were given the name “Friendly Islands.” We can’t say that about the coming people. They wanted our land, our forests, our ocean… They had weapons, and we only had stones and simple wooden tools. So we gave up a large part of the country. But we kept Tonga. This is ours, God has left it to us after he agreed with our first king!
At the sign of gratitude and reverence to God, the King committed himself that every Sunday, his nation would not work, but relax and pray. Therefore, even today, this tradition continues, and on Sunday there is nothing but absolutely nothing to do! If someone broke it, he would not only make angry the king but also the God. And he could put some misfortune on us. Nobody wants to risk it. After all, it is also in the law, and the violation is punished.
That’s why we go with Ana to Mass on Sunday morning. I am not among those who go to church, but here I do not want to miss it. Despite the small population, there are plenty of religious groups for my taste. I’m not even talking about churches.
Being a foreigner in this part of the world is an amazing experience. Sometimes, when I notice how the locals look at me, I cannot resist spontaneous laughter. They look at me probably as people looked at Ibrahim Maiga when he first walked through the streets of Bratislava. But they all smile at me. Not that polite smile. It was a sincere smile that can be seen from a long distance. It didn’t matter if I passed by men or women, young or old people. They all smiled, greeted, or waved in greeting.
The tradition of local men is to wear a long skirt with pockets. On top of it there is one more made of local plant’s leaves. Women wear live flowers in their hair. Together with a beautiful tanned, brown skin, without makeup, women are as beautiful as the whole country!
And how does Tonga taste? Great! Well, at least I enjoyed it. The traditional Tongan dish, prepared from fresh vegetables, herbs and coconut milk with raw fish pieces, it was the best I have tasted.
Text a photo: Aleš Tvrdý