There is a story that can be etched with a portrait, set of examples and, most especially, a historically rich and fulfilling lecture series.
On December 8th, 2014, my mother, Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal, gave the opening address for a conference on “Human Rights in the Pacific” at Massey University. The conference had reserved the first part of their programme for lectures on Her Late Majesty Queen Salote Tupou III, it was called “The Queen Salote Tupou III Lecture Series”. During this section of the conference, my mother shared her memories with her late grandmother; Her Majesty Queen Salote. It was with the memories of her late grandmother did my mother demonstrate the diligence and initiative taken by the people in the Kingdom of Tonga to be informed about Human Rights while working with development partners and the global community.
It is in these rare moments that I cherish the time I have with my mother. A woman who was taught by the richest cloth and wrapped in the deepest love of culture, country and humanity. After reading my mother’s speech at Massey University, it was clear that her connection to her late grandmother was alive and well.
It could be said that to talk with my mother is to walk with her late grandmother.
The following are excerpts from my mother’s speech at Massey University:
“I admit that one of the reasons that encouraged me to attend your conference this morning was the realization that Massey University would host the inaugural Queen Salote Tupou III lecture series. You may say that I have a personal reason for seeing that the lecture series is launched successfully. The next series is named after Her Majesty Queen Salote Tupou III of the Kingdom of Tonga. Her Majesty was well known throughout the reign as a respected leader in her own right particularly during the two world wars, post war reconstruction, establishment of trading regimes, establishment of a regional identity and helping to put the Pacific on the world map with her characteristic disarming charm and humility.
Who could forget that rainy London day in 1953 during the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain when Queen Salote rode in an open carriage to show her respect to the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth? During the time that my husband was posted as Tonga’s High Commissioner to the U.K. I came across many people who stood on the streets in London and witnessed that event. I was also told that many baby girls were named Charlotte in her honour.
This is also how her Late Majesty is remembered by her Tongan people.
What can one say about ones’ grandmother who happened to be the country’s monarch and one’s role model? One of my earliest memories was walking down the palace stairs beside her and just before we entered a room full of people she paused, smiled at me and said, “look at me and do what I do”. I was told a few years later that I was 4 years old and it was Her Majesty’s New Year Reception for Government minister’s, nobility and diplomatic corps. Her Majesty took me everywhere she went in Tonga. I even remember her women’s group meetings in church called “crusade” or “Kaluseti”. My favourite was listening to her compose and watching her hands develop a “haka”.
Tongans remember her as a monarch who led Tonga through turbulent times not only because of international crises but also because of regional difficulties such as decolonization and national challenges. For example, Tonga was able to take great transformative steps forward in areas such as education when more and more Tongans began to attain higher educational qualifications at overseas institutions.
Tongans also remember Her Late Majesty fondly for the affectionate way in which she was able to relate to everyone. She was most adept in reinforcing relationships between people as a means to resolving challenges.
She was also a doyenne of Tongan culture. Her Majesty is acknowledged as Tonga’s greatest poet.
I believe it is most appropriate to locate the Lecture Series in Auckland: Queen Salote was educated in Auckland Diocesan in Epsom, she lived here for long periods of time and sadly her passing took place here as well in 1965.
So this is an appropriate location to host the Lecture series which is named after her.
In conclusion, it gives me much pleasure to launch the inaugural Queen Salote Tupou III annual lecture series and to declare the Human Rights in the Pacific Conference open.”
After reading my mother’s opening address, it occurred to me that my mother’s view of her late grandmother, Queen Salote III, is the same as how I view her, my mother. Then it began to make sense why I felt affection for a great lady whose time had passed long before I was born because with the words and kind acts by my mother, the teachings of my late grandmother walks strong and stands tall.
In the traditional aristocratic way, the child rearing in chiefly families is very unique and, at times, particularly detailed for excellence, refinement and decorum. It was made especially clear in our household. Our mother was not able to be as hands-on like most mother’s with child rearing due to the unique nature of our family and our role in society. When my sisters and I were born, it was our grandmothers, aunts and relatives that stepped in to help raise us. My mother and my fathers’ mother were at the top of the pyramid to delegate the tasks to each appropriate relative. There was a person for each task, from who was to feed and carry us, doing our washing to who would be post like a human baby monitor as we slept or played with our toys. The responsibility that was made available for our mother was our nursing while our father’s mother, the late Baroness Fatafehi Lapaha Tuita, would step in to burp and sooth us to sleep. Even into our early 20’s, we were deeply loved and looked after by our aunts and grandmothers.
With my mother’s speech, I realized that it was not until my teenage years that my eyes were made open to the greatness of my mother as well as for the women who joined together to raise my siblings and I. It took that moment, of reading my mother’s words of affection and nostalgia, that I realized I had underestimated the wealth of knowledge and care that surrounded me. The story that my mother shared, “look at me and do what I do”, reminded me of my great aunt Paluvava’u as she would tell me the same thing except instead of Queen Salote and my mother, my aunt would tell me to watch how my mother acted and to do as she did. Now, as an adult, I realize that Tongans teach their children by setting the best example they could, even in the most difficult and uncomfortable of times. For it is the example that will stand true to endure all the odds, even to provide a humble warmth of leadership on a cold, rainy London day in 1953.
The integrity and future of the Tongan people laid the priorities for our family and the dynamic personalities that I was raised with. Growing up in this environment made it easier for me to connect with people from all backgrounds and appreciate the time I have to visit and hear their stories. It is by the example of my mother that I know the value in connecting with people from all walks of life. My mother does this with the greatest of ease as did her late grandmother, Queen Salote. With our duty to the people of Tonga, a bridge was built between my mother and I – a bridge that connects our service to our country and a blossoming relationship between a mother who teaches her daughter by example and a daughter who loves her mother with every lesson learned.
As I come to a close about my mother’s example, a fond memory comes to mind. In the Royal Palace in Nuku’alofa, at the top of the grand staircase is a very large portrait of Queen Salote. The stories that my mother shared of her late grandmother in her speech at Massey University is just a glimpse to the volumes my cousins and I would hear growing up. It was from these stories, told by my mother and family members, was the memory of Queen Salote so vivid and grand that feelings of deep respect for her were ingrained in my cousins and I. Like any children do, they play. As children growing up in the palace, my cousin, HRH Princess Angelika and I would play and I remember her telling me that after playing a few tricks on the staff at the palace she would go and apologize to Queen Salote’s portrait. Though it has been generations since Queen Salote walked the same halls we played in, as children, we knew that our footsteps trail a path that is indebted to a leader that lifted a country from within our humble palace walls and who loved her people so deeply that she engraved a place for our family in every Tongans’ heart. Forever.
Special thanks to Massey University for their commitment to excellence and dedication to honor a magnificent woman and undeniable visionary; who lead her country by sharing her heart – one lesson at a time.
Article Written By: Hon. Frederica Filipe