The jewel of my memories of our grandparents, their late majesties King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV and Queen Halaevalu Mata’aho, is the spectacularly normal display of love shared by two extraordinary people held to majesty by their small island Kingdom and culture. It was a relationship of care that I witnessed during an ordinary lunch at their residence in New Zealand. Our late grandfather, who was 85 then and on a strict diet due to his ailing health, decided to have one more deliciously grilled sausage, much to the protest of our late grandmother. “You aren’t allowed to each that much,” she lovingly reminded him, “you will regret it later.” In his soft voice, filled with decades of diplomatic wisdom, he pleaded “just one more.” These small flickering moments were the bright and pointed stars that made up their galaxy; and also mine.
Such love was not limited to their lone exchanges but radiated outward over their people and shared through their unrelenting drive and energy to serve them. I remember being plucked out of school as a child to accompany them to their committed visits to the remote islands and villages of Tonga. Whether it was by plane, boat, or on foot, they made sure they visited with the people to ensure that their needs were met. I can still feel, in affectionate memories, the soft sprays of sea breeze washing over me during a visit to some of the remote islands of Ha’apai with our grandparents. Villagers from other small islands approached the Tongan Navy ship carrying us, with fragrant Tongan songs rising from their small fishing boats as they offered gifts representing their love for their monarch. Whether it was an extended trip to Ha’apai, Vava’u, ‘Eua, or one of the Niuas, our grandparents were content to spend the night in their camping tent if it meant that they get to reach and embrace their people for a longer period of time. In their latter years, as age and mobility became a challenge, they leaned in faith on their children and grandchildren to express and extend the love and care they carried in their hearts for the families of Tonga.
Our late grandmother, the late Queen Mother of Tonga, became the paragon for love of heritage for our family’s rising generation. Ironically, it wasn’t a destiny that her family saw for her in her youth. As customary for daughters of nobility, then, Halaevalu Mata’aho ‘Ahome’e, tended to Her late Majesty Queen Salote Tupou III by accompanying and assisting her to stately events and cultural occasions. The roles played by nobles’ daughters extended beyond their primary duties of serving the monarch to teaching grandchildren of the monarch about culture and heritage; as was the case in my own upbringing whenever I was in the palace. It was in one of these occasions that our late grandmother’s presence in the palace beheld our grandfather’s affection. He astonished his mother, Her late Majesty Queen Salote Tupou III, when he told her that if he couldn’t marry Mata’aho, he wouldn’t ever marry at all. His wish was granted when he married his beloved in a double wedding with his younger brother, the late Prince Fatafehi Tu’ipelehake.
As fairytales go, so does this story of love. Our late grandmother embraced her new role as Crown Princess with dutiful poise and elegance. She learned the proper etiquette and protocol required of her role; both domestically and globally. As Tonga was entering into greater visibility in the world, she embraced her role, both, in upholding her status as Tonga’s next queen, and as an expression of her respect and love for her husband, the Crown Prince of Tonga. Our late grandmother shared an early memory of the reciprocity of care and dignity she shared with our grandfather. They were steps away from entering her first stately event where she would meet her husband’s foreign acquaintances and dignitaries. Before they walked in, and sensing her anxiety, our late grandfather turned to her and told her to just watch what he does and says, and follow as she ordains fitting. In that first encounter, her natural humility, wit, and charm comforted and delighted their guests. As I heard this story, I was overwhelmed by the simplicity of the instruction; the same was given to my mother, Princess Royal Salote Pilolevu Tuita, by her late grandmother Queen Salote Tupou III. “Watch me and do as I do” were the only words needed to perpetuate the enormous task of displaying duty, love, and dignity. I imagine that as the Crown Princess, our late grandmother embraced each example given to her as her opportunity to learn to serve her people with utmost love and passion.
Our late grandmother was an empowering woman who loved her people understanding that she was the matriarch of her people. Her vision was to see that all women are treated fairly. She served as Patron for Tonga’s Girl Guides (Girl Scouts) and led the way with the Tonga Pan Pacific South East Asia Women’s Association. These are only two of the many roles she took part in and this is only on a national level. I imagine my grandmother diving headfirst into a sea of challenges in confidence knowing that whatever faced her, she would overcome and conquer for her people. Her fearlessness, which our grandfather supported, made her unstoppable and loved by her people.
Our late grandparents’ example of love, perpetuated by my late grandmother, inspired me to face many challenges head on by always remembering the charge to watch and do as she did. I remember the love they showed each other, the duty of love they ensured their people, and their commitment to teach us about that love. I am reminded that the love they taught me was always meant to be extended to our people; the same love that someone has for their betrothed; the same love that parents have for their children; and the same love a grandmother and mother has for the legacy she leaves for her children and grandchildren. It is a jewel that I hold to my core as I long for “just one more” indulgent moment with her.
Written By: Hon. Frederica Tuita Filipe