Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Taniela Vao and the art of time travel

It was a pleasure when Taniela Vao, political scientist, scholar of Tongan history, lay minister in the Free Wesleyan Church, pig breeder, and activist in his country's thriving Democratic Party, dropped into my son's second birthday recently. Taniela was near the end of a short visit to the chilly, traffic-snarled city of Auckland, and looking forward to getting back to the plantation and burgeoning piggery he maintains in the countryside outside the Tongan capital of Nuku'alofa.

Last year Taniela and I spent a lot of time drinking kava and talking about the history of his beloved home village of Pea, which sits about ten minutes' drive south of Nuku'alofa on the southwest shores of Fanga'uta lagoon and has a well-deserved reputation for rebellion. 

I persuaded Taniela to give me and some of the students in my sociology paper a guided tour of Pea that turned quickly into an exercise in time travel. As he walked us around the edges of a once-impregnable but now invisible fortress wall, stood proudly beside the piles of coral dust that were the only marker of the grave of a great warrior, and gestured at a fence where heads had once been impaled and displayed, Taniela recounted stories he had collected for decades in the kava houses of his village.

After talking with Taniela recently in Auckland I dug out these notes on Pea, which I had handed to my students before we visited the village.

Some notes on Pea, and some questions to consider
Today we will be shown around the ancient village of Pea by Taniela Vao, a graduate of ‘Atenisi and Victoria University, a former leader of the Tongan community in Wellington, and a lay minister. Taniela grew up in Pea, and is passionate about the history of his village.
In recent classes we have discussed the concept of the Other. We have seen how, in many societies, a minority group, which may be identified by its skin colour, sexuality, or lifestyle, is treated as both strange and dangerous by the majority of the population. This ‘Other’ group is often kept out of important social institutions, and is often stigmatised – that is, blamed for problems it did not create.
For centuries European societies treated Jews as an ‘Other’ group. One of the movies we watched argued that drug addicts were being treated as an ‘Other’ in contemporary America. In class we heard suggestions that, in present-day Tonga, fakalete have become an ‘Other’ group.
Today Taniela will argue that the people of the village of Pea have, for more than a century and a half, been marginalised and stigmatised by Tonga’s ruling elite and by the supporters of that elite. For Taniela, the marginalisation of Pea goes back to 1852, the year when Tupou I, Tonga’s first modern ruler, conquered the village and destroyed its fort and church.
Let’s try to put the events of 1852 into context, by considering the earlier history of Pea.
The history of Pea
Perhaps because of its location beside a sheltered stretch of Fanga’uta lagoon, Pea was one of the first places that the ancestors of Tongans, the ‘Lapita people’, settled when they arrived on Tongatapu roughly three thousand years ago. Archaeologists have found thousands of pieces of Lapita pottery under the soil of the village.
By the time Cook visited Tongatapu in the 1770s Pea had become an important regional centre. Shortly after Cook’s visit a series of civil wars began to disturb Tongan society, as members of the country’s three dynasties struggled for power. The introduction of modern firearms like muskets and canons intensified the violence, and by the early nineteenth century forts were being built all over Tongatapu, as villagers tried to protect themselves from raids. The people of Pea built a fort with high earth walls close to Fanga’uta lagoon.
After taking control of Vava’u and Ha’apai in the 1830s, Tupou I began to try to bring his authority and his Wesleyan religion to Tongatapu. Nuku’alofa’s waterfront fort was renamed Mount Zion, and became Tupou’s stronghold on Tongatapu. But many of the chiefs of Tongatapu resented and resisted Tuopu. They looked for authority not to Nuku’alofa, a place with little traditional importance, but to Mu’a, the ancient but decaying capital of the Tongan Empire, where descendants of the Tu’i Tonga line still amongst the monumental tombs of their ancestors. For most of the 1830s the rebellious Tongatapu chiefs maintained their pagan practices, visiting godhouses for advice from shaman-priests and staging elaborate semi-nude dances and boxing fights that upset Tupou I and his Wesleyan missionary advisors.
In the 1840s, after visits from French priests, many of the rebellious chiefs embraced Catholicism, a religion the Wesleyans considered little better than paganism. The Catholic priests, who were nicknamed ‘blackskirts’ because of their strange dress, were much more tolerant towards traditional dances and ceremonies than the Wesleyans. Perhaps more importantly, they told Tongatapu’s dissident chiefs that France would intervene on behalf of Tongan Catholics who clashed with Tupou I. When French warships visited Nuku’alofa’s harbour the prestige of Catholicism greatly increased.

Pea versus Tupou I
Pea, which sat between the emerging centre of power at Nuku’alofa and the old capital at Mu’a, became a centre of the conflict between Tupou I and the chiefs who resisted his rule and his religion. Pea had a history of rivalry with Nuku’alofa, and in the 1830s and ‘40s its leaders consistently opposed Tupou I and supported the Tu’i Tonga dynasty at Mu’a.
In 1837 and 1840 Tupou I made war on his enemies in Tongatapu. Complaining that his Wesleyan followers on the island were being beaten and driven from their homes by pagans, he descended from Ha’apai and Vava’u with thousands of warriors. In 1837, Tupou I stormed a series of fortified pagan villages and, encouraged by Wesleyan missionary advisors like the Reverend John Thomas, slaughtered the men, women, and children inside.
In 1840 Tupou’s army gathered at Nuku’alofa and marched to Pea. The pagan village was protected by its high earthen walls, a deep ditch filled with spears, and several cannons operated by a palangi named Jimmy the Devil. Unable to overcome these defences, Tupou I decided to surround Pea and starve its inhabitants into surrender.
The strange case of Captain Walter Croker
After hearing about the confrontation at Pea, the British government sent a small ship called the Favorite to Tonga. The favourite contained a few dozens armed men, who were commanded by Captain Walter Croker, a fervent Christian. Croker had been instructed to act as mediator between Tupou I and his enemies at Pea, but after visiting the church Tupou I had built on Mount Zion and hearing of the paganism of the Peans he decided that he would take Tupou I’s side in what he considered was a holy war. The historian Jane Sansom believes that Croker ‘had a hunger for martyrdom’. Sansom points out that Croker asked to be buried on Mount Zion if he fell in battle against the pagan enemy.
Instead of trying to calm the conflict between Tupou I and the pagans, Croker landed near the walls of Pea and marched his men towards the village’s walls. Waving a sword, Croker turned to his troops, shouted “Come, blue jackets, follow me!”, and began to charge at Jimmy the Devil and the other Pean defenders. He was gunned down almost immediately, along with one of his soldiers. Walter Croker was hailed for his gallantry in British newspapers, and was buried on Mount Zion. According to ‘Ilaisa Helu, a song still popular at Wesleyan kava circles praises Croker’s bravery.
Ironically, Walter Croker’s suicidal charge brought an end to the 1840 war between Tupou I and the pagans. Worried that the British would attack their village in revenge for the death of Croker, and tired by the siege that Tupou I had maintained, the Peans negotiated a ceasefire, and agreed to dismantle their fort. But Pea and many other villages on Tongatapu remained opposed to Tupou I.
The 1852 rebellion and the final defeat of Pea
In 1852 the villages of Pea and Houma once again declared their independence from Tupou I. Walls were raised around the villages, and Tupou gathered an army of 4,000 warriors, many of them imported from Ha’apai and Vava’u, at Nuku’alofa. By 1852 most of the pagans of Pea had become Catholics. A church had been built in the village, and some of the Catholics hoped that a French army would arrive to support them in their battle against Tupou I. The Peans remained loyal to the Tu’i Tonga, and continued to consider Mu’a rather than Nuku’alofa as the capital of Tonga, but the Tu’i Tonga remained neutral in the new conflict. Tupou I had threatened to kill him and destroy Mu’a if he supported the rebels.
In 1852 Tupou I was determined not to repeat the massacres of prisoners and civilians that had marked his 1837 campaign against the pagans of Tongatapu. He decided to surround Pea and Houma and wait for their defenders to surrender. He promised not to execute any rebels he took prisoner. Tupou I’s new policy may have been prompted less by humanitarianism than by fear of French intervention in Tonga. If the French heard that Tonga’s Catholic population was being slaughtered, then they might well decide to invade the country and make it part of the French Empire.
Tupou I built five forts within shooting distance of Pea and settled down to wait for the village to surrender. After several months Lavaka and Ma’afu, the two principal chiefs of Pea, went to Nuku’alofa to negotiate an end to their rebellion. While they were away Tupou I’s army made a sneak attack on Pea. The gate of the village’s fort had been left unguarded, and the royalist troops were able to pour inside and take the Peans by surprise.

Although they encountered virtually no resistance, and had promised not to damage the property of the defenders, Tupou’s soldiers burned the houses and the church of the village. Some of the village’s Catholics were deported to Ha’apai and Vava’u, where they were pressured to adopt the Wesleyan ways of the locals. Low-ranking inhabitants of the village were made into serfs for chiefs friendly to Tupou I. Catholicism was banned in the village for years. To punish the Peans for their rebellion, Tupou I confiscated a swathe of farmland from the village, and placed it under royal control.
The legacy of 1852
Today, according to Taniela Vao and Paul Van Der Grijp, a Dutch anthropologist who has written extensively about Tonga, the people of Pea have strong memories of the events of 1852. They resent Tupou I’s attack on their village, and they feel that Tupou I’s successors have continue to marginalise and stigmatise them.
Despite repeated requests, the villagers have never been able to regain the land Tupou I had taken. When some villagers made a request for the return of the land a few years ago, a senior member of the Tongan royal family reputedly suggested that the whole village make a ceremonial apology for the events of 1852. This suggestion was met with anger, because the Peans do not believe they have any reason to apologise to the Tongan monarchy and state.
Some Peans resent the way that the Free Wesleyans have built a very large church on their village’s main street. Because it sits on top of part of the site of the village’s fort, and because it overshadows the local Catholic church, the Wesleyan church is seen as a rude message to Pea from the Tongan establishment. The people of Pea feel that Tonga’s government neglects them when it spends money. They contrast the rutted dirt roads in their village with the smooth tar of Hihifo, a district closely associated with Tupou I and his descendants.

The Catholics of Pea and Tongatapu’s other villages have often complained of unfair treatment at the hands of Tonga’s Wesleyan majority. ‘Opeti Taliai grew up as a Catholic in the village of Folaha, and recalls the way members of the faith were criticised as impoverished, dirty, and rebellious.
Because they have felt excluded from power, Tonga’s Catholics have been some of the most enthusiastic supporters of the country’s pro-democracy movement. The Catholic church co-hosted the historic 1992 conference which brought together Tonga’s pro-democracy forces. Catholics vote overwhelmingly for Akilisi Pohiva’s Friendly Islands Democratic Party. During the riots of 2006, a royal residence was burnt down close to the ancient city of Mu’a, and Catholics from villages like Pea took some of the blame for the arsons that destroyed a third of downtown Nuku’alofa.
For Taniela Vao and many other Peans, the events of 1852 are not mere history: they have a painful importance today.
Some questions to consider

Can the people of Pea be considered an ‘Other’, according to the way we have defined the concept in class? Have they been marginalised and stigmatised by Tonga’s Wesleyan majority?
Can the Catholics of Tonga also be considered a marginalised and stigmatised group?
After watching a documentary about the kidnapping of Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army, we talked about how people can fantasise about changing themselves and the world through violent individual action. Do you think that Walter Croker might have been a victim of the same fantastic thinking as the SLA?
In the quotations supplied below, Sione Latukefu and Paul Van Der Grijp describe the capture of Pea in 1852 in very different ways. Both Van Der Grijp and Latukefu are respected for their writings on Tonga. How can we explain the great difference between their accounts of the same event?
Appendix: Two views of the treatment of Pea during the 1852 war
The Tongan historian Sione Latukefu believes that Pea was treated well by Tupou I and his army. This passage is taken from Latukefu’s essay ‘King George Tupou I of Tonga’, which was published in 1970 and offers a very favourable view of the monarch. (You may remember reading Sione Latukefu’s essay on the problems of doing oral history in Tonga during our Modern Pacific History paper earlier this year.)
…the Ha’a Havea chiefs decided to rebuild the fortresses of Pea and Houma, announced their complete independence from King George, and offered protection to those who opposed his rule. King George declared war on Pea and Houma on 1 March 1852. He besieged the fortresses and starved them into submission, taking care that the priests and their properties inside the fortress of Houma should not come to any harm. Houma surrendered in July, but Pea held out a little longer. In August it, too, surrendered, and on the following day the fortifications were levelled. Thus ended the civil war in Tonga, and the position of King George as the ruler of the whole of Tonga was firmly secured.
The Dutch sociologist Paul Van Der Grijp offers an account of the conflict of 1852 which highlights the damage that Tupou I’s forces did to the village of Pea. Van Der Grijp’s description of the destruction of the Catholic church in Pea contradicts Latukefu’s claim that Tupou I protected Catholic property.
With an army of 4,000 warriors Tupou I besieged Pea and Houma in 1852. In Pea, surrounded within shooting range by five Methodist forts, were 1500 men, women, and children. Among them were 600 fighters…Through the inattention of the defenders, maybe in anticipation of the results of the negotiations, the army of Tupou managed to attack the unguarded gate of the fortress of Pea, conquered the fortress, and burned it to the ground.
At that moment, the Pea chiefs Lavaka and Ma'afu were in Nuku'alofa for negotiations with Tupou…At their return, the next morning Pea was already taken. The houses and the Catholic church were completely destroyed, but the lives and personal belongings of the missionaries had been saved. There was one wounded in the mission, Pieplu, who received a bullet in his belly. Part of the inhabitants of Pea were taken to the northern Tongan islands of Ha'apai and Vava'u to let them change there their - religious - minds.
The Catholic missionaries too were (temporarily) banned...When the missionary Calinon some time later returned to the destroyed Pea, most of the chiefs had become Methodist and the commoners (the tu' a) were distributed as slaves, the wearing of rosaries was forbidden, and Catholicism was only practiced in Mu'a under the protection of the Tu'i Tonga…he inhabitants of Pea were forbidden to rebuild their fortress.
(taken from Paul Van Der Grijp, ‘Christian Confrontations in Paradise: Catholic Proselytizing of a Protestant Mission in Oceania’, published in 1993 in the journal Anthropos)

 [Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Long ago lived a Tu'i Ha'atakalaua named Moeakiola. He had a young brother named Kafoamatahau. As time went by Kafoamatahau was uncomfortable with duties given to him by his older brother which always lead to conflict. At the time Kafoamatahau was residing in Pangai, Ha'apai. One day the two brothers declared war on each other. Kafoamatahau did not have an army like his older brother for he had more power, except for a handful of warriors from Ha'apai. One day Kafoamatahau left to the Lau islands in Fiji for aid. He was welcomed by their paramount chief Koloilavaka (Koroirawaka) Tu'itupou. Koloilavaka offered to fight for Kafoamatahau with his Fijian warriors. This is where the name 'Piutau' originated. Piutau meaning, "recruiting for war". Before they left for Tonga, another Fijian high chief of offered to fight for Kafoamatahau aswell. His name was Tahifisi (Tacifiti). They were all from Tupou in the Lau islands. When they arrived in Tonga, they were not welcomed. Moeakiola lead his huge war party to ambush Kafoamatahau's warriors from Ha'apai and Fiji. His plan failed and Moeakiola and his men retreated. Kafoamatahau was then installed as Tu'i Ha'atakalaua. Koloilavaka and his men were given land in Hahake and named it Navutoka after his district in Fiji. As time went by Kafoamatahau noticed that their chied Tahifisi was not respecting his laws. Everynight when about to sleep he would single out a warrior weighed most and ordered for him to be executed and cooked in a umu pit for him to eat. Every night he would touch them saying in Fijian, "Ko uro"which in Tongan is "oku ke ngako". Kafoamatahau then left with his men and family to Pangai, Ha'apai to get away from the Fijians. The place on Pangai where they settled at was named "Ko uro" in memory of their Fijian counterparts who were cannibals. Today it is known as "Koulo". Koulo was also home to the great warrior, Liemalohi and Rugby legend, Jonah Lomu.
If not for Kafoamatahu, Lomu would have been a 'ko uro' hahaha

10:11 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of the land stolen from Pea is now the grounds of the mansion of Princess Pilolevu, the richest and most corrupt woman in Tonga. After 'Akilisi comes to power it should be seized, and Pilolevu should be made a commoner.

12:11 pm  

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