Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Cradle of Polynesia

I haven't written about this yet so thought I should write some of the history I've learned since being here. We are living in the cradle of Polynesia here in Ha'apai, there's evidence suggesting that our little island of Lifuka was the beginning of it all. They think life on this island dates back to 3000 years and has been inhabited since then. There is lapita pottery dated back to then, but sadly it's sitting on old shelves in a corner getting dusty in the run-down museum here, hopefully that will change soon. Lifuka and Ha'apai have a lot of other historical significances within Tonga as well.

The first outsiders to come to Tonga were Dutch explorers in the 1600's, then it was Captain Cook who named Tonga the Friendly Islands based on an experience he had right here in Ha'apai (although in reality the people he met were planning on eating him!). On our island of Lifuka, right near the airport, is where the Port au Prince massacre happened. It was a European ship that stopped here for supplies, but the native Tongans attacked them having not seen white people or guns before. William Mariner was on that ship and survived, and was adopted by a local chief, later he wrote about these experiences. The Mutiny on the Bounty also occured right here, between Lifuka and the volcanic island of Tofua. There have also been numerous shipwrecks here in the shallow reef systems, some of them Spanish/European ships full of gold and treasure. In fact there was one excavated this century, all the divers and people involved had to sign a form to secrecy. And, most importantly in Tongan history, the royal line of the current King of Tonga comes from Ha'apai. The island groups were divided, and a local chief of Ha'apai (Tauafa'hau, who later became King George Tupou I) united and conquered all the island groups of Tonga.

(Above - one of the historical sites, an old quarry)
There are a lot of historical sites here, but mostly they're forgotten and off the beaten path. There are ancient royal tombs, an old fortress that was the location of the first victory for King Tupou I, sites of massacres, pigeon mounds (part of an old royal sport), and more. There are also people still living here who are descendents of Europeans from these ships, or from missionaries and locals who first converted the King and Tonga to Christianity (one of whom I have worked with here). It's also interesting to hear some of the many ancient legends from the locals here, I think I've written some of them already on the blog here.
Being in such an isolated corner of the earth many missionaries are still sent here. Most Tongans are Christian, so the missionaries that come here now are Morman, Scientologists and other types of such religions. What makes me mad is that when the Scientologists come here they are very sneaky and not up-front about themselves. They tell the locals that they want to do workshops or seminars on learning and higher education, which of course the Tongans would want. But then the seminars are all about the Scientologists' religion. And they've gone into many schools and other places doing this, taking advantage of the fact that many Tongans don't know yet what Scientology is and even that it's a religion. Many of the religions that come here try to bribe Tongans into joining - such as offering their kids scholarships and chances to move overseas, or free medical care overseas if someone in their family is sick. I could write a lot more about religion but I won't here.

Well I'll be learning more about the history and sites to see here as I continue to work on the new website for tourism in Ha'apai. Brett has been teaching sports this week at school to get ready for sports day again - this time netball, rugby, and co-ed soccer. We have plans for Halloween on Saturday - a bonfire on the beach by the graveyard and costume party.

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