Thousands of years of tradition and culture can be lost in translation when language changes and the audience as well as the rest of the world, have assimilated. However, it would be culturally negligent for thewhatitdo.com (TWID) to bypass the cultural protocol of elucidating and honoring the respect due to the genealogy of the bloodlines that have given life and sustained the Tongan culture. To that end, it is an overwhelming honor that insight and knowledge has been shared with all Pacific people through the words of HRH Princess Angelika Latufuipeka Halaevalu Mata’aho Napua ‘Okalani Tuku’aho about the emerging leadership in the Islands that is focused on sustaining a sacred culture in an ever-changing global community.
It isn’t a surprise that with an honorable bestowment of such a title, that her experiences, relationships, and dignity are charged to her role as the current official High Commissioner of the Kingdom of Tonga to the Commonwealth of Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Independent State of Papua New Guinea, and the Republic of Singapore. HRH Princess Angelika is also the Official Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Tonga to the Republic of Indonesia, Kingdom of Thailand, The United Arab Emirates, and the Republic of the Philippines. Concurrently, and most relevant to this exchange, she serves as a member of the Young Tongan Traditional Leaders (YTTL) and also serves as the patron of Tonga National Leadership Development Forum (TNLDF), the governing body of the YTTL.
As a caretaker of the Tongan culture, HRH Princess Angelika shares with TWID the significant role that members of the royal family and nobility play, through YTTL, in perpetuating Tongan culture while expanding service that adjust to the needs of the people. YTTL implements a model of collaboration through grassroots community interests of families that make up the villages that are the foundation of the Tongan community. HRH Princess Angelika sheds light on the innovation and foresight that emerging leadership in Tonga is exploring in order to thread historic and cultural knowledge through the decisions that are made by nobility that behest Tonga’s progress into the current global community.
TWID: What is YTTL and what does it stand for?
Princess Angelika Mata’aho Tuku’aho: YTTL stands for Young Tongan Traditional Leaders. Young Tongan Traditional leaders is comprised of registered members who are children of Nobility and Matāpule Ma’utofi’a (Ceremonial attendants with estates) across Tonga, both residing in Tonga and overseas. YTTL currently has members who represent the Ha’a Ma’afu, Ha’a Talafale, Ha’a Ngata, Ha’a Havea, Ha’a Takalaua, Ha’a Falefisi, Fokololo ‘o e Hau, Faleha’akili, Kau Nimatapu and the Ha’a Tufunga. Thus most of the Ha’a’s are represented and hopefully we will be able to get the whole Kingdom’s future traditional leaders participating in YTTL. We also have a YTTL committee (whom the members have selected) and this committee is responsible for bringing us together.
TWID: What is your role in YTTL?
Princess Angelika Mata’aho Tuku’aho: I am only a member of YTTL, but at the same time I am also the patron of Tonga National Leadership Development Forum (TNLDF) which governs YTTL. TNLDF was established with the objective of supporting effective leadership development and building a sense of ownership over the program at the national level. It is a forum which promotes, encourages, partners and enables different types of leadership activities and groups to adhere to the Tonga National Leadership Code. For instance, with District and Town Officers, Prefect Association, Sea Safety and Training, Leadership Week, Volunteer work, Separation of Rubbish, and much more. As a result of this, YTTL came into form. As one of the “older” members, I like to encourage members not to be afraid of being judged, criticized and making mistakes and to exercise and practice good leadership responsibilities.
TWID: What does the YTTL do and what are it’s long term objectives?
Princess Angelika Mata’aho Tuku’aho: YTTL’s vision is to give life to Tongan Culture through collaboration, leadership and strengthening ties with the Tongan people, land and the environment as a response to change with the influence of Custodians. Our mission as young leaders is to exert a positive difference and create value with and for Tonga.
We hope to make a difference in leading by example for our people at the village level as that is where our authority lies. To name a few, as young leaders we want to be able to work together as a Ha’a and as Custodians of the land to improve the lives of the people who are under our responsibilities through: promoting a healthy lifestyle by having health talks and fitness programs; encouraging tree planting and cleaning up (fakama’a kolo) to deal with environmental concerns; support disable people through volunteer work; revive traditional Tongan sports, dances (faiva) and preserving village landmarks (mātanga fakakolo); documentation of village history; and in the future we would like to expand YTTL to include the children of the main Ha’a Tauhifonua (Younger brothers of title holders), Ha’a Matāpule (Ceremonial attendants), Kau Nimatapu (Sacred hands) and Ha’a Tufunga (Undertakers).
TWID: What motivates a Princess like yourself daily?
Princess Angelika Mata’aho Tuku’aho: The world is my classroom and everyday there are lessons to learn through life’s experiences. It is not about my journey as a person who wears many hats but journeying together with those around me. As the old adage goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” In my current capacity as a diplomat, the art of diplomacy is about cultivating and nurturing relationships between Governments and States, so I am motivated by ensuring that relations are maintained, which I integrate to both my professional and personal journeys.
TWID: Whilst abroad and away from Tonga, what things do you do that you feel best represent what it means to be Tongan, particularly with respect to the manner in which you conduct yourself personally and professionally?
Princess Angelika Mata’aho Tuku’aho: My Grandfather, The late King His Majesty King Tupou IV once told me that “The best aspect of our country is none other than its people.” Our values make us Tongan and our culture defines us. For example, our staunchly strong faith system (Tui Fakakalisitiane); the tightly knitted extended family units (Nofo ‘a kainga); taking pride in our attires and national dress codes such as adorning our ta’ovala’s (waist mats) with much pride; how much we value the ceremonies of kava and so forth. Tongans were always proud people, known for their humbleness, honesty and industriousness. A historical example of this was when the late Queen Salote rode in the rain waving at people on the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953.
TWID: With this YTTL retreat/conference, how do you empower and inspire them to continue to love, strengthen, and tend to the needs of their kainga/people?
Princess Angelika Mata’aho Tuku’aho: YTTL in itself is a body, an umbrella of the sort to encompass our visions and to realise our values. It is a platform and a support system where we can voice our concerns, assist each other, implement our goals, practice our authority, and grow together as a young group with many responsibilities. We have retreats, attend conferences and workshops (among other activities) and we are unified by our common interests. Most of our members are related through the Ha’a or blood lines, bound together with the common aspirations along those tribal lines. We may be “young” as a group but our leadership capacities have compelled us to affirm our objectives through practical team work and take to heart that “Leaders are not born, they are made”. We each have leadership roles to play in the village, island and at the national level and at the same time we look up to TNLDF for guidance and direction as it was TNLDF which brought about our formation in the first place. It is easier for people to point and criticize but we support each other by positively moulding ourselves to serve our people – serving our people is paramount to YTTL’s cause.
TWID: What is one characteristic you believe that every leader should possess?
Princess Angelika Mata’aho Tuku’aho: I do not believe that a leader should possess one characteristic; a leader is able to lead because of various leadership qualities. The ability to lead is an important characteristic – a person can be given a title but what is necessary is the ability to exercise leadership under that title. Leadership is also leading by example, the practicing of leadership through practical demonstrations through one’s professional and personal developments.
TWID: What would be any last advice you would give for aspiring Polynesian leaders?
Princess Angelika Mata’aho Tuku’aho: Our Polynesian cultures have evolved over time, our roles as leaders have also evolved too as a response to evolving challenges. Leading today ought to be responsive to the changes of time such as identity and cultural crises, climate change, and the transfer of knowledge to name a few. Responsible responses to the pressing priorities of the day (whether global or local) are our leadership aspirations. As Ralph Emerson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
TWID: Why do you think the Tongan traditional young leaders program is important to the future of Tonga? In the kingdom and abroad?
Princess Angelika Mata’aho Tuku’aho: Every generation endeavours to create a better future for the world they were born into. We did not choose to be born into leadership positions but we are utilising the opportunity to make positive practical differences. I envision for YTTL members to think globally and act locally. The support we receive from our families and relatives is empowering and making our journey an educational one. We are inspired by participative leadership which necessitates that leadership is practiced through involvements and commitments at the village level. I believe that a better Tonga is built through participatory commitments beginning at the basic levels of our society.
Interview By: Elizabeth Lavulo