Tongan tradition grates for some

By Angela Gregory

NUKU'ALOFA - A Tongan village has woven thousands of dollars worth of fine mats, donated cash for a pig and will provide baskets of food for the funeral of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV.

The villagers' generosity is born of tradition, but not all are happy about it.

Saane Masila, a mother of eight, says it actually makes her sick.

"It is too expensive. The younger people ... we feel sick to do that."

Funeral preparations are in full swing for King Tupou, who died in Auckland on Sunday.

His body is now lying in state at the royal palace in Nuku'alofa until the funeral on Tuesday.

At Fahefa, in the northwest of Tongatapu Island, the local women have spent weeks weaving valuable fine mats and making tapa cloths as gifts which will be presented at the palace by their village noble for the late King.

Mrs Masila, 38, says she has no idea what will happen to the mats, hundreds of which will be gifted from around the kingdom.

While she says she loved the King she is unimpressed that the mats will go the "rich royal family" when her village could do with the money they could be sold for.

In the village hall, where there are no locks on the doors or windows, her cousin Mele Vasike proudly shows the Herald the mats she helped to make.

One is a 30m tapa cloth which would be worth about T$5000 ($3846). Another is a finely woven fihu (decorative weaving) which took 10 women two weeks to make and is worth about T$1500.

In all, the gifts from the village of just 50 families would total about T$15,000, not to mention the T$1500 their noble asked them to raise to buy a fat pig for the funeral feast. One family alone was also asked to supply 50 baskets of food.

Mrs Vasike, aged 63, says she does not mind the gift-giving as that is the Tongan way.

But Mrs Masila is furious. "We can't do what we want because we follow the traditional way ... That's why we want democracy."

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