Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Rest easy, Gregory

I was upset to read about Gregory Reynolds, who flew from Nu'u Sila to Tongatapu for a short holiday, went for a walk in the 'uta of the Hihifo peninsula, lost his way amidst the elephant grass and pandanus trees, and died just a few metres from his resort. Now Reynolds has been buried in Telekava, the fa'itoka on the western edge of Nuku'alofa where not only Tongans but palangi guests of Tonga have been laid to rest for more than a century.

Telekava borders the campus of my old employer the 'Atenisi Institute, and I would often walk through it on my way to give a lecture or drink kava. Many Tongans believe that the dead remain somehow alive in their graves, and can hear each other as well as the living (Barbara McGrath's meticulous and sometimes eerie essay 'A View from the Other Side: the Place of Spirits in the Tongan Social Field' tries to make this notion comprehensible to palangi), and I would sometimes see a widow or son talking excitedly at a mound of sand decorated with beer bottles, or at one of the glossy billboards many Tongans nowadays raise over the graves of their loved ones. I learned to say 'Kataki, fakamolemole' - 'please, excuse me' - as I walked through the kolo of the dead. I often gazed at the grave of Futa Helu, the philosopher and pro-democracy activist who founded 'Atenisi, and wondered whether he was entertaining or irritating his neighbours with monologues about Socrates or the failings of Tonga's monarchy.
In the northwestern corner of Telekava, close to a dirt road patrolled by puaka and kuli, the cemetery's palangi inhabitants are gathered. An early Chinese inhabitant of Nuku'alofa lies under an imitation pagoda; black marble pillars gnawed by moss and bombed by coconut trees announce the presence of missionaries from Yorkshire; and tourists and aid workers have their more modest memorials. I hope you're comfortable, Gregory. I'll visit you the next time I'm in Nuku'alofa.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


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