Comment by KALAFI MOALA*

Quite understandably,

would crawl and throw himself at the feet of the King of Tonga as an act of humility. He does not have a choice. His father is a matapule to the King, the equivalent of a Samoan talking chief.

One day Mr Barron-Afeaki will take his place by crawling at the feet of the King, sitting cross-legged for hours at a time and making the customary speeches at public functions on behalf of the King.


I hope, however, that he comes to grips with real Tongan culture, forgetting the fantasy cultural notion he enunciated in his article.

First, he needs to get his facts right. Taimi'o Tonga is a Tongan newspaper founded in Tonga on April 13, 1989, published by Tongans and registered in Tonga. It is still staffed by Tongans, published in the Tongan language and read by Tongans.

We operate within Tonga's jurisdiction. We have sued and been sued. I was jailed under Tongan jurisdiction in 1996 for contempt of Parliament, later freed by the court, and successfully sued for wrongful imprisonment.

Apart from one fortnightly, politically based newspaper, Taimi'o Tonga is the only Tongan news source independent of the Government and thus the sole distributor of general news to the kingdom's population.

Following the court-ruled lifting of the Government-imposed ban, the first issue sold out in two hours. Our doubling of copies to Tonga for the second issue was fortunate. The paper sold out in one day.

My American citizenship is something of which I am proud. I am a Tongan American. As a result of holding an American passport, I have not required visas to enter most countries I have visited.

Being Tongan is not a citizenship but an ethnicity. More than half of the people in Tongan communities in New Zealand, Australia and the United States theoretically would not be considered Tongans because they carry passports of those countries.

I was born, raised and educated in Tonga. Tongan is still my first language. My parents were Tongans and I can trace my ancestry back many generations.

Mr Barron-Afeaki tries to paint a pretty picture of Tonga, and is, at the same time, ethnocentric in attitude. He judges others, in this case New Zealand's Western culture, based on his perception of Tongan values and culture.

For example, he says: "United Nations figures on education state that Tonga has the world's highest number of tertiary graduates." How he comes up with these figures is questionable. Tuvaluans, Palauans, Niueans and others may challenge this.

Yes, we have a high literacy rate, but we also have potentially explosive social problems with teenage pregnancy, youth suicides, alcohol and drug abuse, high unemployment and high divorce rates.

Admittedly, one of the fundamental difficulties in bringing reform to Tonga is the fact that for too long the Tongan people have embraced oppression by the monarchy and the aristocracy as a right.

The oppressor believes he has the divine right to do with his subjects whatever he wants. The oppressed believe it is okay to be abused. It sounds like the story of the battered wife who believes it must have been her fault to be beaten up by the husband and he has a right to be upset and beat her.

The late Catholic Bishop of Tonga and Niue, Patelesio Finau, said in a 1991 article: "One day our grandchildren will laugh at how foolish we are. If our King and nobles were palangis [foreigners], we would not let this happen, but we have been fooled because they are Tongans, our own people."

We did not need foreigners to oppress us; we got it from our own leaders. Tongan history reveals that oppression, abuse, even the persecution of our people after the acceptance of the constitution of 1875, was meted out by Tonga's rulers, not foreigners.

Whenever foreigners express criticism of a socio-political nature, they are told by the Government: "Do not interfere with us". Unfortunately, the New Zealand and Australia Governments often comply.

We talk about independence, yet we are totally dependent on goodwill and aid from countries such as New Zealand. If we reject New Zealand, we will become dependent on some other country.

The World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund are institutions to which we are greatly indebted. We take their money to fund so-called development, including reform of Government services. They are Tonga's major creditors.

If we have such good health care in Tonga, as Mr Barron-Afeaki contends, why is it that the King travels out of Tonga every three months for a check-up in New Zealand or the United States? Why not use the Tongan health services?

Why is it that when nobles or the elite become ill, they fly to New Zealand? Tonga's Vaiola Hospital has become a place for the poor and those who cannot afford to go abroad for treatment.

And most of the funds Tongans overseas send back to their homeland comes from those countries that our Government urges to "stop interfering".

I do not see Tongans in foreign lands breaking their necks to get back to Tonga. I do see many Tongans taking great risks to flee Tonga to reach those very countries we do not want to interfere with us.

I agree with Mr Barron-Afeaki on one issue - "that Tonga will make changes in its own time". That time is now. The people must reject the notion they are better oppressed than free. They must insist on accountability and integrity in government.

* Kalafi Moala is the publisher of Taimi'o Tonga. He responds to Kahungunu Barron-Afeaki's view that Tonga is perfectly capable of sorting out its own constitutional issues.