You don’t have to be in Tonga many minutes to understand exactly why Captain Cook named these ‘The Friendly Islands’. The welcome of the Tongan people is warm, genuine and loving from the moment you step foot on the land.
Today our cruise ship docked in Nuku’Alofa, one of two Tongan islands we will visit during our Polynesian crossing.
One thing I had already learnt from one of our onboard lectures is that Polynesian prayer is not based on asking for things but in expressing gratitude. As someone who successfully practices Law of Attraction based solely on expressing gratitude this struck a huge chord with me before I even left the ship.
The people of Tonga are genuinely grateful that you have taken the time to visit their Islands and they graciously share this along with their friendship, deep faith and love. These are islands were their entire culture and philosophy is based on love.
Today our excursion was to the Oholei Beach and Hina Caves, an area of land which is privately owned having been passed down through several generations of one family. The current owner and his family warmly welcomed us with blessings, stories and music.
We were then invited to join him on the beach where the traditional ‘Umu’ oven is opened and guests sit down to share in a home cooked feast together whilst being served drinks by the local villagers.
At this stage, one of the young local men climbs up a palm tree and throws open a coconut, symbolising that it is time to eat!
After lunch we were guided into the Hina caves where we were treated to a traditional Tongan show and were immersed in music and dance from a culture which has remained virtually unchanged since Captain Cook first visited these friendly isles back in the 1700’s
What has touched me most today however is that on our way back to the coach our tour guide shared with us his life story which touched my heart. He is a young man of 29, still single – but not because he is waiting for the right woman, but because he is waiting to be the right man.
This young man was born with asthma, pneumonia and other respiratory & heart problems, he was so poorly that the doctors told his parents he would not live to be 3 months old – but he is still here; thriving, healthy and so blessed and grateful for his life. He was raised in complete poverty though, his father would fish to try and feed the family, but the reason he himself was born with so many health problems was because whilst his mother was pregnant with him at the age of just 18 she would get up at 4am and walk up and down the streets looking for bottles to sell, she would even swim in the dirty lagoons desperate to try and find old bottles or anything else she could sell.
His mother would be almost the same age as me – when I was 18 I was going out with friends to pubs and clubs without a single care in the world. It was hard to imagine another young girl living this life as a parallel. My guide was born when his Mum was 18 and his Dad was 60 ! His father passed away in 2012 leaving him and his two younger siblings living at home with their Mum. The love, respect and gratitude they had for one another was evident, despite still living in conditions of poverty and at times this man was clearly choked when he spoke of his family. He has the greatest faith in Jesus and has been away for two years to work as a missionary and now works back in Tonga as a voluntary chaplain as well as a part time tour guide. I was so inspired by this man and don’t mind admitting I gave him the biggest tip I have even given any tour guide. Not because he span a sob story, but because I saw a man who was clearly poor in monetary terms and yet so rich in love, rich in faith and rich in gratitude. I took away many of his riches today and just made a small exchange with mine.
The poverty around Tonga is evident, as you drive around you see very run down houses and cars which look barely road worthy. Yet as were were driven around the island, everyone we drove past stopped and waved – school children, builders, people sitting in their gardens, even the policemen. The men and women on the dockside stood waving a frantic goodbye as we sailed away.
Tonga relies heavily on tourism and yet gets nothing like the number of visitors that the Caribbean receive or even neighbouring Fiji.
We were told that we would all take a little bit of Tonga away with us today, I certainly did just that and I hope I left a little piece of my heart their with them too.
If you ever get the opportunity to visit Tonga then I would highly recommend it – these beautiful friendly isles and their people may just change you forever.