January 3, 2004 - Personal Web Page: Thoughts and Impressions of Tonga written by RPCV Lolo Masi

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tonga: Peace Corps Tonga : The Peace Corps in Tonga: January 3, 2004 - Personal Web Page: Thoughts and Impressions of Tonga written by RPCV Lolo Masi

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Thoughts and Impressions of Tonga written by RPCV Lolo Masi

Thoughts and Impressions of Tonga written by RPCV Lolo Masi

Thoughts and Impressions of Tonga written by Lolo Masi

ON "TIME" in Tonga

?@Time, as an independent idea, did not exist in Tonga. Some people say it doesn't exist today either. They say, "There is no tomorrow in Tonga." The Tongan word for time, taimi , comes from the English word. Before European contact and the introduction of clocks, watches, and reading (1831), daily events were used. For example, aa puaka , meaning the waking up of the pigs, is that time, about 4 or 5 a.m., when the pigs wake up; hopo e la aa , the rising of the sun, is the time of sunrise; etc.

ON "RUSHING" or "being in a hurry" in Tonga

Rushing in Tongareally stands out. Everyone notices and looks with some wonder at the person who is in a hurry. It often results in laughter. The heavier and more distinguished Tongans usually move or walk slowly and with an air of dignity. Rushing is not really considered impolite, usually just foolish; unless, of course, there is a good reason for it, such as running from a fire or playing rugby. Anyway, this is one thing that Tonga can teach us. Relax ! There'stime !?


Ancient feelings or attitudes can be very strong and even 'take over' our behavior sometimes. It is said that Tonga is nearly 99% Christian and there are about 8 different sects or denominations. It is also said that there are more churches than any other building in Tonga. It is officially against the law to work or play on Sundays. Most people spend their Sundays going to church, eating or feasting in large groups, singing hymns, sleeping, going to church again, etc. Even during the week the church bells ring, and three or four choir practice sessions per week is not uncommon. Their singing is beautiful and religion is a very social affair. But late one night in the latter 1970s, there was a very big earthquake (7.1), and the islands shook terribly. Lolo, an American by birth, ran out of his house fearing it would collapse. Then, he heard a lot of noise. People all over his neighborhood were hitting their tin roofs or rain water tanks with sticks, etc., and making as much noise as they could, in any way they could. Asking his neighbors why all the noise, he came to learn that the ancient belief for the cause of earthquakes was this: an ancient underground god was having a bad dream, rolling around in his sleep and shaking the earth. The making of noise was to wake him up, to stop the frightening earthquake ! How deep, Lolo wondered, does religion go?


The Tongan word for right or correct, is totonu . But after living in Tonga for some years and learning their language and customs, one finds that the meaning attached to this idea is different than that of the West. The western idea of correctness or rightness has a much more narrow meaning than the Tongan view. In the West, it's like a thin line, and if you are not on that narrow, thin line, then you are not correct or right. But in Tonga, it means within the bounds, and often wide bounds; totonu generally means that anything within the wide road of 'correctness,' anything that is not very wrong, anything that is acceptable by someone, is O.K., and therefore right !


In ancient Greece, a person who committed a rather serious crime was literally branded with a mark, or stigma, burned into their skin for life so that everyone could see that mark an know he or she was a criminal. In Tonga this is not so, and people are quite willing to forgive and forget over time. Even prisoners, from Tolitoli Prison on Tonga's main island, can be seen in their brown uniforms with a blue police truck nearby, tidying up around the downtown market or cleaning the streets during the daytime, and occasionally laughing and joking with passers by.

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