There’s an old Tongan proverb; “Tā sino’i vai”, that translates into, “the impact of a body of water” which describes the ongoing ebb and flow of water and the impact it has on its surrounding environment. Such as the constant current of the ocean forging a path for my country and our people, my grandmother, the Queen Mother, too created a path for her children out of love and kindness.
The love and devotion my siblings and I share for our elders is quite comparable to the love many grandchildren have for their grandparents. However, being the granddaughter to the Queen required that I respect her as such first. Of course my siblings and I adored our grandmother but because of the duties she held to King and Country, we carried out the same social courtesies that our nation practiced when around royalty. We only used formal speech when talking to and about Her Majesty and made sure to keep at a certain distance as a way to honor her.
I remember the first time having to publicly uphold these social principles that had been taught to me growing up. It was the funeral of our grandmother’s son, the late Prince Ma’atu and she was sitting in a room reserved only for her and her son (King George V). As I entered the room, I sat next to my mother’s brother (now King Tupou VI) on the floor facing our Uncle Prince Ma’atu’s casket with the rest of our family.
“Go to your grandmother!” My mom urgently whispered to me from across the room. That day was full of mourning so for me to respond in bewilderment may have irritated my mother so rather than further avoiding her request, I remained quiet and obeyed her command.
I got up from the floor and silently moved across the room with my head bowed while whispering “tulou (excuse me), tulou, tulou”. Although I received hisses from my family who all wondered where I was going, I knew the mission would be much easier without giving reasonable explanation to all who queried.
I could hear the cry of a broken mother the closer I drew to my grandmother. A lump formed in my throat as my legs got heavier trudging forward. As I approached Her Majesty, I questioned why my mother thought I could help our grandmother. The rest of my older cousins were there who would have been more appropriate for the task. I was still young and relied on my older siblings to step into our family roles when it came to special events. But my mother’s order was directed at me and no one else.
When I reached my grandmother, she and her son King George V were the only two seated on chairs. She sat in regalty, leaning onto one side crying into one hand while the other rested on the arm rest. Even the King of our country could not help but express sorrow and empathy for the broken hearted.
I could not help but feel out of place. I sat beside my grandmothers feet as my ta’ovala scraped the floor. My presence startled my grandmother.
“What are you doing here?” She asked as she looked down at me.
My head bowed once again, I clasped my hands as a million thoughts raced through my mind. Tears streamed down my face out of overwhelming embarrassment, although everyone probably thought I too was mourning.
With a broken voice I spoke, “Oh … I just wanted to see if you were alright and if you needed anything.”
Her response was unfiltered. My grandmother laughed and then looked at her son, the King, and pointed at me. Normally I would have felt humiliated if anyone laughed at me like that, but I could feel the weight on my chest dissolve as a smile formed on all our faces. My company stopped my grandmother from crying and momentarily allowed her to come out of her grief.
It was then that I realized why my mother chose me. My older siblings and cousins who knew what our grandmother needed would do it without question without awkwardly inserting themselves at her feet or cry in shame. My mother knew what my steps would be before I acted them out, which she knew would be an opportunity to bring relief to our grieving Queen. After enjoying some laughter on my behalf, my grandmother’s attention was directed at making sure everything was in order and that friends, family and the kainga in attendance were fed and comfortable.
This story serves a truth that our love for our grandmother is expressed with restraint and channeled into action. Small things that speak volumes and consistency is what she holds in high regard. The discipline we were taught to have within our family is a lesson we try to apply in every aspect of our lives; restraint, thoughtfulness and patience. Our grandmother is an exemplary leader and is the same lady you see in public as she is at home with us. Her life is her crown.
Article by: Hon. Frederica Filipe