Friday, July 03, 2015

After the ta'e

Last month I posted the introduction to 'Pass the ta'e please', an essay about kava drinking and cultural revolution that I had written for the Aussie journal Overland. Now the rest of my ta'e has turned up on the Overland website, alongside some psychedelic kava leaves.

'Pass the ta'e' ends with an account of an exciting and infuriating evening in October 2013, when members of the avant-garde kava Seleka kava club visited the kava drinkers of 'Atenisi, the little university on the edge of Nuku'alofa where I taught for a year. 'Atenisi was founded by the late philosopher Futa Helu, and has long been a bastion of secularism and dissent in the Kingdom of Tonga.

For a couple of former students of 'Atenisi, though, the wild hair, amplified music, and Cubist paintings of the Seleka gang were an affront to Futa Helu, as much as to Tonga's churches and monarchy. The fact that Tevita Latu, the founder of Seleka, had been charged with treason in the aftermath of the riot that wrecked much of downtown Nuku'alofa in 2006 only made the club more suspect.

'Pass the ta'e' records my worry at the inability of some 'Atenisians to accept their visitors, as well as my belief that the Seleka Club, with its internationalism and creativity, is perpetuating rather than a betraying Futa Helu's project.
But I might have been worrying too much, in typical palangi style, when I wrote 'Pass the ta'e'. The Director of 'Atenisi, Futa Helu's daughter Sisi'uno, recently curated an exhibition that featured not only several important Niua Sila-based Tongan artists but Tevita Latu and his fellow Selekarian Taniela Potelo. Alas, I'll be arriving in Nuku'alofa a few days too late for the show!

My essay for Overland also describes 'Atenisi's battle for survival over the last decade or so. The school remains poor and under-attended, but over the last couple of months its staff and supporters have been buoyed by the news that three of its recent students have been awarded scholarships to undertake postgraduate studies overseas. One will go to the University of Northern Illinois, another to Warsaw University, and a third to the University of the Ryukus in Okinawa. I taught all three students in 2013, and am very excited for them. I hope that their success will encourage more young Tongans to knock on 'Atenisi's doors.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

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