My adventure in the Kingdom of Tonga was briskly ignited when I signed up for the Pacific Literature Study Tour organized by the University of Adelaide. When I received the email confirming that my application had been approved, it took me a few days to believe it, I had to pinch myself a few times over to believe that I was going to the pacific Island of Tonga. The objective of the study tour was to allow students to learn and study Pacific literature through a range of literary contexts in a contemporary Pacific environment.
The tour was made of many people from various backgrounds, people who I became really fond of after the tour. The first thing that captured my senses when I set foot on the tropical oasis was the air, a swift cool breeze that gently caressed my face, closing my eyes I breathed in deeply, trying as hard as I could to bottle in all the goodness of the pacific, this was when I knew I was in for an epic pacific adventure. For the next two weeks Liku’ alofa Beach Resort was our new home, an exotic piece of heaven, carefully crafted and placed on earth. It was a sight for many leisure activities; a lot of time was spent in the sea pool, especially when the tide was high, as it filled the pool up to maximum capacity!
There was so much to see and do that we didn’t even have time to study! Our first outing was at the local market in town. The markets are the places where travelers experience authentic Tonga Arts and culture close up. Almost all the souvenirs, Jewelry and precious cultural artifacts were either hand crafted or made using natural sources such as whale, shark and cow bones, wood, Grass, coconut shell/husk, seashells and clams. The food, I will just say was out of this world! Resort staff freshly prepared everything for us, from breakfast, lunch to dinner! The Tongan style banquets organized on Friday nights were just jaw dropping. We stuffed our selves full with yams, taro’s, plantanes, sweet potatoes, chicken, swordfish, salmon and many other exquisite Tongan dishes. Tongans have a magnanimous love for pork, during every banquet a whole pig was roasted on a spit or in an Umu, (underground oven covered with banana leaves). I don’t have a big appetite for pork but I had to be polite and tried everything offered to me.
On day 8, we boarded a small commercial aircraft to Eua Island (at 10 minutes flight time it is the shortest commercial flight in the world) and returned to Tonga’tapu after 3 days by ferry. The vast vegetation and wildlife of Eua provides magical sights. Wolfgang, an unusually adventurous German man who lived on Eua Island was our guide and the owner of the Uvava Tree Resort we lodged in. He took us on many tours of the island, hiking and riding on the back of carts through dense jungle, caving (The Rat Hole) through dark caves with narrow openings that opened onto the ocean, climbing to the top of The ‘Natural Arch way’, a visit to the ‘Sink Hole’, tours of beaches scattered with impeccably beautiful shells and electricity blue waters infested with sharp corals.
The texts studied during the tour enhanced my understandings of the pacific and various historical periods, in particular the colonial and neocolonial histories. Epeli Hau’ofa’s collection of stories in ‘Tales of the Tikongs’ and Sia Figiel’s novel, ‘where we once belonged’, for example gave voice to a number of pacific groups and presented an authentic appreciation of pacific culture, history, traditions and languages. The works of other writers who focused on the Pacific/Polynesian region, such as Louise Beck, Robert Louise Stevenson and Albert Wendt were also studied. For poetic research the works of Pacific and non-pacific poets such as Karlo Mila were discussed and as a part of the Pacific film and art study an assessment of various films, for example The Orator( Tusi Tamasese) and Rain( Lewis Milestone) was conducted in order to engage with certain debates asserted with various representation of the pacific.
If anyone asked me many years from now what my most treasured experience of being in Tonga was, I would definitely say that it was being apart of the homestay. During my home stay I got the opportunity to live with a family of four and immerse myself in the ‘Tongan way of life’. Visiting many historical sites with my host family, for example cooks landing and wearing the traditional costumes to church on Sunday gave me a chance to reflect on the differences and striking similarities between Tongan culture and my own Sudanese culture.