Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Whitsunday in Halano

Last weekend we moved from Halano, a suburb on the western edge of Nuku'alofa, to Fasi, an area just east of the city's centre. Located inland from Sopu, or Soap, a suburb that got its name because Taufa'ahau, Tonga's first modern king, liked to bathe beside its now-vanished beach, Halano was an uninhabited swamp until Nuku'alofa's population began to grow in the decades after World War Two. Unable to secure plots of dry land, new arrivals from the countryside poured millions of pieces of crushed coral onto the reeds and stagnant water, and created a series of precarious islands, which they covered with small houses and pig and chicken pens, and connected with rough paths that eventually swelled into roads.

Water and earth still compete for hegemony in Halano, and when we arrived last February days of rain had drowned the roads and arked the iron-roved houses and huts. As pigs wallowed delightedly in vast black pools where food scraps floated like rotten lilies, many Halanoans were holing up in the Wesleyan and Catholic churches which rise, fort-like, in the heart of their community.

Even when the rainy season ends, and the sagging motorbikes and windowscreenless utes that go up and down Halano's roads stir up dust rather than dirty water, there are reminders of the suburb's past. Over the past few months my wife has covered Aneirin with litres of foul-smelling insect repellent, laid wire grilles across our downstairs windows, so that they look like pages in a child's maths exercise book, and kept a silk net hanging like a great soft spider from the ceiling of our bedroom. Despite all these efforts, mosquito swarms as thickly dark as coal smoke have periodically invaded our house, tormenting her and also covering our cheerfully oblivious son with bites. Our neighbours, who seem to have acquired immunity to the beasts, have sometimes asked whether Aneirin has chicken pox, because of the red raised spots on his arms, legs, and - if the invaders have been particularly successful - face. It was the mosquito menace as well as a cheaper rent which lured us east to the upstairs section of 'Opeti Taliai's home in an older and reliably dry part of Nuku'alofa.

We will miss Halano. The place seemed more like a village than the suburb of a capital city, and we were quickly absorbed into the intricate and ornate system of ritual exchanges that is the bedrock of Tongan traditional life. Neighbours would introduce themselves with baskets of breadfruit and plates of corned beef wrapped in taro leaves and soaked with coconut juice, and all the children of the suburb soon learned our child's strange Celtic name.

A couple of weeks ago Louisa, who lived across the road from us in Halano, invited us to Whitsunday, an old English festival which commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on Christ's disciples in the aftermath of his ascent to heaven. Whitsunday is largely obsolete in Britain, but in Tonga it sees thousands of Free Wesleyan children donning white tupenu and white jackets, tying little ta'ovala to their waists, and heading down to their local church, where they gather near the pulpit and read passages from the Bible. The photos at the top of this post shows Aneirin dressed up in the tupenu, jacket and ta'ovala that Louisa made for him, and wandering, confusedly but fearlessly, towards the pulpit of Halano's Free Wesleyan Church. The first photo shows Aneirin in the grip of another of our neighbours, an 'Atenisi graduate and Anglican Minister with the typically Tongan name of Sekatoa, or Sector. Sekatoa's daughter Miriam got in on the act.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Anonymous Nathan said...

Great pix.
Interesting... Pentecost for all of Protestantism that I am aware of is this weekend, May 20th. Why do they do it a week early? Are they trying to forge a middle path between Pentecost and Beltane, or is it a mark of ecclesial independance?
Sounds like a sensible move! Community is a precious gift though.

Respect N

9:11 pm  
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