Blowing the conch shell
In the Kingdom of Tonga, though, newspapers are thriving. Tonga has a population of just one hundred thousand, but it boasts half a dozen weekly newspapers, and a number of rags published at less regular intervals. It isn't just the number of papers but the role they play in Tongan life which is impressive. The print media has become a poor relation of television news in the West, but in Tonga it is the newspapers which can make or break the career of a politician or entrepreneur. On outer islands untouched by television broadcasts newspapers are read as reverently as Bibles, even when they have arrived weeks late.
In his book The Island Kingdom Strikes Back Moala describes the battles he had throughout the '90s decade with Tonga's sclerotic aristocracy, which still held almost absolute political power. Moala's defence of freedom of speech saw him spend scores of hours in courtrooms, and at one point landed him in Hua'atolitoli prison, whose grey concrete walls and barred slit windows sit incongruously amongst the banana and coconut groves of central Tongatapu. Moala and Pohiva fell out after the riot that destroyed a third of downtown Nuku'alofa in 2006, and today Taimi o Tonga competes with a revived Ko e Kele'a for the attention of progressive Tongans.
Tongan Ark, Paul Janman's acclaimed documentary film about the Institute. Recently 'Ofa dropped into a kava evening at 'Atenisi, and helped the school's current students sing a few songs. In Tongan Ark 'Ofa is a comical figure, who wanders around giggling in a keffiyeh and talks about pinching books from the school's library; today, though, he seems an altogether different proposition. In between songs and cups of kava he talked passionately and precisely about the performance of Ko e Kele'a and the future of the Democratic Party it supports. When I lamented the fact that Akilisi's party had been prevented from forming a government, despite winning 70% of the vote at Tonga's 2010 election, the young activist told me not to worry. "We're aiming to get 100% of the vote next time", he told me.
'Ofa was even able to explain why his paper features a regular column discussing UFOs and extraterrestrials. The column is written in Tongan, and thus tends to defeat me, but I've noticed that it is often sprinkled with non-Tongan names and terms - 'Roswell', 'coverup', 'reptillians' - beloved of the sort of conspiracy theorists who think that ET is alive and well and living in the White House basement. "It's an issue of importance to our readers", 'Ofa told me, and I'm inclined to believe him, given the tremendous popularity of science fiction in the island kingdom.
I'm pleased to see that 'Atenisi has this week placed an advertisement in Ko e Kele'a. I can't seem to post the ad as an image, which is a pity, because it features a marvellous photo of the late Futa Helu, founder of 'Atensi and long-time advisor to the Democratic Party, wearing a powder-blue academic robe as well as a lei made out of dozens of small chocolate bars. Here, though, is the text of the advertisement:
Futa Helu’s Dream Keeps Coming True
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