The Tongans are Coming – Are They Really?

That the rulers of Tonga have had an interest in some form of dominion over Fiji will come as no surprise to students of Fiji – Tongan relations. Derrick , in his History of Fiji , notes relations existing between the two island dates as far back as the 13th century. Importantly in the 16th or 17th century the Tui Lakeba, a Lauan high chief, married the daughter of the thirteenth Tui Tonga thereby establishing a lineage known as the Fale Fisi (House of Fiji). (Derrick p120).

While trade with Fiji had been important, as Tonga lacked natural resources necessary for the construction of large sea-going canoes, wooden bowls and clay pots, it was the opportunity for rape and pillage that held the greatest attraction. Young Tongan warriors, keen to sharpened their fighting skills and escape from the constraints of their elders, regularly appearing in Fiji in order to participate in local wars or simply impose themselves on unwilling hosts.

Wesleyan missionaries sent from Tonga in 1835, exercised a degree of constraint over their converts but roving bands of mercenaries continued to involve themselves in Fijian affairs in what has been described as an overbearing and arrogant manner. . The Tongan involvement in Fijian affairs changed radically in 1848 with the arrival a member of the ruling family. Sent by King George 1 for political reasons the noble Ma’afu exercised iron control over the Tongans while at the same time exercising an astute role in expanding his influence throughout the country. Very much the diplomat Ma’afu left the terror tactics to his ‘general’ Wainiqolo. So successful were his tactics that as Derrick wrote ‘within five years he was master of all Lau, within ten years he challenged the supremacy of Cakobau and within fifteen years he had come near making Fiji a dependency of the Tongan Crown’ (ibid p. 75)

Of course a Tongan take-over was thwarted by Cakobau’s decision to play the cession card and the senior chiefs including Ma’afu were persuaded to accord. What persuaded Cakobau to change his mind so soon after deciding not to offer his kingdom to Britain is unclear and mattered little in the long run. For the next 96 years pax Britannica held sway with the only threat of invasion, by Japan, thwarted by the Battle of Midway.

The Tongan community in the Eastern Islands integrated seamlessly into colonial Fiji. Interestingly the two distinguished Fijian leaders who shaped Fijian history prior to and after independence in 1970, Ratu Sukuna and Ratu Mara, both enjoyed the title of Tui Lau, an honour bestowed initially on Ma’afu by the powerful Vuanirewa clan of Lakeba in Lau. It is not suggested that this title implied that the two most recent holders accorded particular benefits to the people of Lau but there would certainly have been pride in the connection it provided to the Tongan Royal family. It was not only the Tui Lau title that fostered the Tongan relationship as both were associated by ‘blood’ with Tongan royalty.

As Ratu Sukuna had no heirs to whom the title might pass Ratu Mara was a natural successor having followed his father as Tui Nayau, head of the clan Vunirewa,. Undoubtedly a father’s pride in his birthright would pass to his heirs so it is not surprising that when Ratu Mara’s younger son, Tevita, defected from the Fijian military where he had held the rank of lieutenant colonel, he would seek such family protection as offered the best options for retribution on those from whom he parted company.

While the reasons for Tevita Mara’s defection and the manner of his departure from Fiji, via a Tongan naval gunboat, are open to question there is no doubt as to the welcome he received from his Royal connections. Perhaps most significant was the rapid granting of Tongan citizenship that facilitated entry into nearby metropolitan countries something which, under previous circumstances, would have been firmly denied.

Since his defection Ratu Te, as he appears now to be known has preached avidly against the regime in which he had been a major player. An interesting transformation. Was the prospect of being stranded on Minerva Reef his ‘Road to Damascus’, his conversion from strong support of the regime to avid opponent. On the other hand was he a ‘sleeper’, an opponent of his military colleagues while all the time planning to ‘convert’ ? Given the warmth and seeming conniving of the Tongan authorities in his rescue was he seeking to follow his Tongan ancestors and lead his birth country on a path not achieved by Ma’afu? Aside from being embraced by Tonga he was welcomed by the vociferous opponents of the Fiji regime currently sheltering in Australia and new Zealand. It is interesting to conjecture just how far his ambitions coincide with the stated objectives of his various supporters. Perhaps financial needs require a cautious expression of personal ambitions which appear to favour more overt action against he former colleagues as indicated by his recent call to arms : ‘People of Fiji, the Viti Revolutionary Forces (VRF) have also started their campaign to remove the illegal military junta and to return freedom, democracy and the rule of law to Fiji. Lend your support.’

Perhaps the use of the Bauan word for he name of the country was carefully chose rather than the Tongan word – Fisi?

So where does all this get us – probably nowhere. In the immediate future Fiji is most likely to be faced with an increase in VRF inspired graffiti, more blog posturing by the regimes opponents, continuing calls for ‘an immediate return to democracy’ by certain international interests, and hopefully action to prepare rolls for the 2014 promised election. And what would our former esteemed leaders think of it all, the three late Tui Lau? Who knows and no-one is telling. And as to a Tongan invasion – no hope.


Somewhat confused said…
Are you confused?
Perhaps you meant the Samoans are coming? Which they certainly did, and well.
Anonymous said…
All this fear-mongering that the 'Tongans are Coming' can only be the work of a palagi (kai valagi) mind that is still rooted in the idea of the 'Yellow Peril' that gave rise to the 'White Australia' policy. Later, with the post WW2 communist threat, this idea morphed onto the 'Reds Are Coming' idea that tranxfixed Australia & NZ in the immediate post WW2 years and which formed the basis of their participation in the US-led 'Containment Policy'.

How on earth can one draw parralels with the Tongans viz a viz Fiji, is beyond comprehension. Is there some, as yet to be recognised, covert threat of Tongan imperialism?

I thought that idea went out in the 19th century. I thought that was settled when King George Tupou of Tonga sent his mercenaries to help Cakobau knock over the rebels in Kaba, that ultimately led to the Deed of Cession in 1874.

A threat from Tonga? Except for rugby, this is rather a silly proposition because Fijians and Tongans have nothing to fear from each other. They (well most of them) are blood-related anyway.

The escape of Roko Ului (silly fellow)is not an issue in Fiji. Throughout history members of the Tongan royalty and Fijian chiefly establishment have been exiling to each others countries, members of their respective heirarchy who have fallen fould of their incumbent rulers. History is replete with examples of those, especially Tui Kanokupolu clan took over leadership from the Tui Tonga. Members of the latter, many Roman Catholics under the previous Tui Tonga, who refused to join up to the Free Wesleyan Church (?) were exiled to Fiji.

Tongan custom too, saw many Tongan women of nobilty (eg the Tui Tonga Fa'feine)being married off to Fijian and Samoan chiefs. This helps explain the affinity between Tonga, Samoa and Fiji.

For many in Fiji, Roko Ului's escape was yet another example of history repeating itself. He sought refuge in the King's household...I understand anyone can do that. So no big deal really. It will not affect the close relationship between Fiji and Tonga because that relationship is greater than Roko Ului and his obviously political views. The King of Tonga has his perogatives and lets leave it that. No questions asked.

This idea that the 'Tongans are Coming' is a furphy and is scare-mongering at best. They are already here! Check out how many Fijians have Tongan connexions and vice versa!
Anonymous said…
Sobu anonymous loosen up bro -- remember the proverb ucuna mai duruqu!!


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