One aspect of Tonga that causes us to be a little different from our neighboring islands are core values that are the pillars of Tongan society – Love (‘Ofa), Respect (Faka’apa’apa), Humility (Anga fakato ki lalo) and Tauhi Va. Tauhi Va doesn’t have an immediate translation but can be summed up as Gratitude. All core values are the Kavei Koula ‘e Fa or the Four Golden Themes, which are expected to be upheld in everyday activities in Tongan society and performed in their element during traditional ceremonies.
Faka’apa’apa is one core value I find to be most complicated to today’s Tongan way of life. I prefer to use the term faka’apa’apa and not the english word respect because of the weight and ideals behind what defines faka’apa’apa for Tongans. There are numerous types: faka’apa’apa the general public give their sovereign, the respect the King and/or Queen gives the people, the faka’apa’apa between an individual and his or her in-laws, the faka’apa’apa children give their elders, and most importantly, the faka’apa’apa between a brother and his sister.
Quite a few of our traditions and beliefs are complicated but have the most basic reasoning behind it.
One could say the faka’apa’apa between brothers and sisters is the motive behind certain Tongan traditions and systems of hierarchy, such as, our fahu system. The Fahu is most superior, the highest ranking person in a family, and is usually the mehekitanga. To instill and prevent unwanted relations between a brother and sister, a creation of a tapu or sacredness around a sister through traditions and rituals is practiced, thus the ideal of faka’apa’apa would not be lost. The faka’apa’apa relationship children would have with their mehekitanga, the father’s older sister(s), preserves the distance between a brother and sister.
The focus on faka’apa’apa intensifies over the years because of the way it branches out to different Tongan traditions that are in practice by Tongan families. In many aspects, faka’apa’apa is for some more of a reason of entitlement rather than what the whole Tongan culture is based on – exchange.
Faka’apa’apa is given as well as it is received. It applies to all Tongans regardless of a person’s rank, status, nationally or within the family. The Fahu at any traditional event must give those she is superior to cultural goods, just as those she is fahu over must present her with goods at events. One of the most ideal people in my life who have taught us this side of faka’apa’apa is our grandmother, the Queen Mother. There hasn’t been an event, both for the family or the Kingdom, where she hasn’t contributed something. Our mother Princess Pilolevu is also the same. Their actions have taught my sisters, cousins, and me the greater one’s rank is, the greater is one’s duty to the people. Their capacity to give is endless. Also, this teaches me our role is to give and not expect much in return. And above all things, not to be a burden to the people.
“‘Oua te mou fakakavenga’i pe fakahela’i e kakai”
These teachings are only to us, otherwise it isn’t appropriate to talk of what one loses for an event, whether it be money, cultural goods like tapa cloth or even energy. To mention how much of one’s own energy or money spent is ta’efaka’apa’apa (disrespectful). Why would one go out of their way in the first place?
These Tongan values are simple as may sound, they can be somewhat difficult to perform on a daily basis today. Most of today’s youth in the Kingdom are driven to succeed and would gladly take a break from the traditional beliefs so that they may be successful in achieving their goals. I am part of a generation and gender in Tonga that prioritizes work and social goals, as well as, the needs of our immediate family before taking a step back and thinking whether our actions are abiding by the rules we are brought up with.
Women are held in high esteem through faka’apa’apa, but being put on a pedestal limits one’s freedom of expression and actions. With our parents and grandparents generation still alive and strong, most cultural values are safely kept by them, but when I see how my generation are motivated, I fear future generations won’t be surrounded by the tranquility in the Kingdom that was perpetuated by our grandparents and parents who upheld the four golden themes in everyday life.
The idea of faka’apa’apa and the different types of it are clearly defined when it comes to different levels of Tongan society. I don’t blame the rigidly strategized organization of our society on our core beliefs, but I do think they influence society’s state of mind.
If the value of faka’apa’apa is what in some cases holds us back, then ‘ofa is what will take us all forward. Values keep the peace in our society, but it is ‘ofa that will unite us and let everyone receive equal opportunities without bias. Our greatest Tongan and Polynesian Leaders were lead by their hearts. The road is paved for the people and it is now up to us to use it.
My duty is to enlighten others, so there is equal opportunity for all, a goal that will take time, but is worth it. There is an old Tongan Proverb “Si’i pe kae hā” meaning though we are a small island, we are still great. Tonga’s future is a great one with our Tongan values in our hearts and an open mind. The potential to be a united and successful people is certain.
Article Written By: Hon. Frederica Tuita