In Tongan traditions, receiving your parents’ blessings for marriage is the first step towards a happy and successful marriage. Receiving these blessings mean that both families will protect, support, and guide your marriage to the best of their ability. It is this sharing in each family’s commitment to the newly-formed family that creates a culture of marrying an entire family rather than marrying an individual. As such, the way we approached letting our parents know, who are the gatekeepers to the rest of the family, had to be done with care. The first people we told were Johnny’s parents and a few close friends and family. We didn’t tell my parents right away because we knew that our approach determined whether their blessing would be given or not, and their blessing was of the utmost importance to us.
Members of the Tongan royal family almost never receive the blessings of their parents or the King to marry the person they choose to love. Traditionally, a royal marriage is arranged and approved by the King, a tradition that is written into the country’s constitution. Our union wasn’t arranged, and another difficulty was that Johnny was a commoner and not of noble blood. I knew Johnny wasn’t as prepared as I was; he was being thrown into the deep end with me. Given these circumstances, we are perhaps the first couple in my family, after a very long time, to receive my family’s blessings to marry. Don’t be mistaken, we are certainly not the first couple in my family to have attempted this; we are just the first in a very long time to have been given blessings to marry.
I reiterate the significance of our union because this is typically a taboo subject to discuss, especially about my family. Generations of men and women in my family have accepted an arranged marriage over marrying someone they love and therefore living out the tradition of talangofua. In contrast, some have married the person they love, as opposed to a royal arrangement, and gotten punished for it. This tradition of being talangofua, or obedient, has always been strictly enforced in my family as a means of maintaining the sanctity of the bloodline for the purpose of reinforcing nobility’s duties to its people. Succumbing to the man or woman selected for the bride or groom is being talangofua and in doing so, it is believed the couple will be blessed abundantly. Couples that are talangofua usually gain a stronger following with their kainga, are taken care of by their kainga, and gain and maintain a level of love and prestige that allows them to reciprocate care for their kainga in their duties.
Asking for my parents’ blessings for our union was the heaviest part of my joy in accepting Johnny’s proposal. It was during a trip my family and I made to China when I took the opportunity to ask them. I asked them if they had time to discuss something and they agreed. Later that evening my parents and I sat down together and I asked them for their permission to marry John Filipe. Straight away my father said, “If you both want to marry each other and you’re both prepared for everything that your marriage entails, then by all means, get married! I’m not going to stop you.” I wanted to jump for joy after my father’s answer but I was stopped by a heavy feeling on my chest and an ache in my throat as I waited to hear what my mother had to say. I looked at my mother with uncertainty. She turned to me and spoke in Tongan, “I don’t care if you girls marry a prince, a noble’s son, a businessman, or whatever! It is a mother’s right to be concerned for her daughter’s well-being regardless of who she wants to marry.” The ache in my throat started to grow bigger and it was harder for me to swallow. I looked down at my feet then glanced back up at her while she continued, “I won’t hold anything against you or Sione because it would be unfair not to trust you based on what others have done in the past. Your father and I trust you’re making the right decision. You have our blessing.” I felt as though a burden had been lifted off my shoulders and I sat upright with my shoulders back. Humbly, and with joy, I gave them my thanks and a hug, exited their room, and ran straight to my room. I called Johnny right away and told him the good news. At that moment, we both vowed that the only people whose opinions will ever matter to us are our parents and that we would do everything in our abilities to become and remain independent so we can help them. It is this strength that my parents recognized and were committing to nourish and support.
Article Written By: Hon. Frederica Filipe