There is one thing every man and woman in the world has in common regardless of rank, ethnicity or background – the complicated issue of having a relationship. Historically in Tonga, relationships of nobility were aligned strategically. Courtship was merely for the sake of continuing a chiefly lineage or for the strengthening one’s kainga (extended family, villagers or clan). In Tonga, this concept has been passed from generation to generation. The notion of nobles and royals marrying for love is fairly new; a more common occurrence known only to the general public.
The concept of having a casual relationship for a member of the Tongan Royal family is frowned upon. Having a steady boyfriend or girlfriend is unheard of. For example, If I or one of my sisters were to date someone of acceptable rank, there would still be a formal courtship with our ever present female attendants. Privacy with a boyfriend is a privilege only for married couples. A public courtship protects a noble woman’s reputation. A bad reputation is not only undesirable, but it would affect our duties as a member of the Tongan Royal Family. The people will not respect a woman of scandal.
My sisters and I have always been told to put our education first especially before any dating or attempting to have a boyfriend (not that I ever had one). I used to think this was incredibly unfair as I’d see my foreign friends and tongan friends overseas go out with their boyfriends and socialize freely at the shopping centre or have lunch at St. Lukes Food court. I would also think that the belief of only dating or marrying someone of acceptable rank was extremely arrogant and only perpetuated the motive behind social climbers. The latter is still very much in existence. As I became older, I realized the significance of putting our education before having a relationship was our parents way of saying to put the needs of our people before our personal wants. Completing an education would assist us in our abilities to serve our people. The people are our top priority. It makes me recall the late Queen Salote’s regret of never being able to further her education, which is why, she was determined to give her sons the best education available.
Tongan people believe that the ability to lead is inherited and if one wants a good and fair leader, then one needs two appropriate leaders to unite and produce leaders.
When it comes to selecting a partner, we are expected to only “date” men that we would end up marrying. Having more than one boyfriend isn’t well received by our family and relatives. It is also more important for our older sisters and cousins, who are the only daughter, to marry a man of acceptable rank, a noble or noble’s son. The want for pairing up people of equal rank is just as much fueled by public opinion as much as that of the family. Tongan people believe that the ability to lead is inherited and if one wants a good and fair leader, then one needs two appropriate leaders to unite and produce leaders. It is also important to consider the duties that us girls have to our people. Will a man with no known rank be able to support me, my family life, and public responsibilities?
I count a few unions in my family as blessed from the start beginning with that of my grandparents, the late King Tupou IV and Queen Halaevalu Mata’aho. His late Majesty’s first encounter with Halaevalu Mata’aho was as close as you could get to love at first sight. She is the highest ranking woman in the Ha’a Ngata clan and the daughter of the late Noble ‘Ahome’e and Heuifanga ‘Ahome’e, but was not the first to be considered as Tupou IV’s bride. He first saw her taking Queen Salote’s afternoon tea – nobles daughters are expected to take time to do their duties to the Queen – and was immediately determined to make her his wife. Because of her personal rank and background she, with her family and kainga, were accustomed to performing duties to the Royal family and the people of Tonga. Any other lady he would have married would have been restricted in their actions due to their lower rank in status. But, they both acted, thought and loved each other and their people as royally as they are.
My character is quite different from all the girls in my family. Most of us [girls in the family] are very strong minded and liberal, but I believe because of my personality, I have more freedom. I am also very much aware and prepared for the consequences of my actions, but I know that my duties are to my people and family first. I am blessed to meet potential partners not of any noble rank who share the same priorities as myself. I have a different view from the traditional. I don’t believe that my abilities to live my life will be restricted by marrying a man that isn’t from the expected group of bachelors. The ancient idea of marrying to raise one’s status or replenish one’s blueblood has reached its peak and end. In my mind, the only way one can become more ‘Eiki (royal) is through their services to family and country. I am blessed with strong female role models such as my Grandmother, mother and eldest sister to be confident with my status, see myself as one of my people, and not fear nurturing a potential relationship with someone who lacks rank. I know who I am and what my duty is. “He” will not change that.
Written By: Hon. Frederica Tuita