Tonga as a country has always been very religious and very deep into their culture. In Tonga family is everything, along with religion. Tongan religion is mostly Methodist, Christian or Morman. The king and the majority of the royal family are members of the Free Wesleyan Church (Methodist) which claims some 40,000 adherents in the country. Church is a big commitment as it is a way to show respect to their country and how it was founded. The Tongans have devoted their whole day on Sundays to go to church. The harmonised singing and beat of the wooden drums are all familiar sounds to a Tongan on a Sunday. After a session of church has been held, all the members will be asked to go to a hall and celebrate their religion through song and dance. The performers rub baby oil on themselves so that other members of the church can stick money to them to support the family. In Tonga, song and dance is a traditional way to celebrate important events like weddings anniversaries and royal events. There are two main types of dancing, sitting and standing. Both types are performed in a row facing the audience.
Traditionally men and women had different dances but today mixed performances are common. Women have greater social prestige than men, so a man’s sister will outrank him socially even if he is the older sibling. Until recently it was taboo for an adult male and his sister to be in a room together. The recent introduction of television is changing this taboo, however. While these performances are happening the higher ranked men of the church sit on the stage and drink Kava (traditional drink of Tonga). Kava drinking is a tradition for the men of the family. All over Tonga, men get together at night to sit in a circle, chat and drink kava. Kava is prepared in a three legged kava bowl and served in a halved coconut shell. Each man in the circle is served in order of importance of the village or group and they must clap before drinking. In the Tongan culture, rank is fundamental. No two people have the same rank and they may have to go back through the generations to determine their status. In Tonga there is a three tiered system: * Royalty are the highest ranked
* Nobles are the next highest
* And commoners are the lowest ranked.
In Tonga, land is owned only by the king, government or the nobles. Tongans who live on land owned by the King or the nobility pay no tax and in exchange give gifts to the land owner in times on funerals, weddings, birthdays and other ceremonies. People who live on government land pay a property tax. Land is passed down the generations through the eldest son, who then can gift the land to some of his younger siblings. Possessions in the Tongan culture are shared, the thought “of this is mine” and “that is yours” is non-existent in the minds of a Tongan. In fact Tongans had their kitchens by the road side so that they could give food to people as they passed by. Now as time went on to the now present Tongans attitude to possessions stayed the same. For example you my walk up to a Tongan and say quite innocently, “I like the hat you are wearing today” and nine times out of ten the Tongan will just insist that you have it.
Tonga is the only Pacific Island nation never colonised by a foreign power. Uniquely, Tonga has also never lost its indigenous governance. After over 1000 years of rule, today’s monarchy and its structure still remain the most powerful and influential entity in Tonga. Grandparents tell stories around the evening fire passing on knowledge and principles to the children. Each story can have several different lessons for both the young and the old. The lessons may be as varied as how to act clever, how to be imaginative, how to be smart and get a beautiful girl’s attention, how to be successful by working hard, and how to behave in certain situations. Among the Tongans, there is a strong belief that children must be taught and trained for adult life. Children are taught proper manners by the older people and during their teenage years, boys and girls are encouraged to do their separate chores according to their sex. Girl’s chores are to draw water from wells and fetch firewood, while boys hunt small game and fish.
But there are times when boys do girls chores, and vice versa. Girls are usually trained for their future role as a man’s wife and during that process there is usually a period when the girl lives away from the village, and when the girl has her first menstruation, it marks the girl’s maturity and the girl is given a new name to signify her adult status. The first menstruation was usually celebrated with a feast. Female pre-marital chastity was the ideal, if not the norm. Male circumcision marked the male’s maturity. After a male was circumcised they would have a feast. But after wanting to become westernised, they now go to the hospital and do it under sanitary conditions. A prospective husband had to pay the family of his bride-to-be, usually in the form of cattle and after marriage, the couple live in the husband’s village.
The virginity of the bride was the guarantee for the paternity of a high-ranking child. Another way in which high-society marriages differed from those of commoners is that marriages with close kin were allowed, rather than forbidden. After marriage, informal divorce seems to have been common and easy. An unhappy wife had only to return to her brother, who was obligated to support her.Polygamy (having more than one spouse) was traditionally encouraged, but this practice is dying out. After the arrival of the Europeans, a Christian marriage took place before the traditional rites, or was inserted between them. Divorce theoretically became formal, and difficult, though this may have only slightly discouraged informal separations and subsequent common-law unions Tongan men wear a tupenu, a cloth that is similar to a sarong, which is wrapped around the waist.
It should be long enough to cover the knees or the shins of the legs. In daily life, any shirt (T-shirt, jersey, woven shirt) will do to top the tupenu. Usually shirts are used clothing imported from overseas. Some men will go shirtless working on their plantations, but it is matter of law that shirts be worn in town. Women too wear a tupenu, but a long one which should reach to the ankles. They sometimes wear shorter tupenu for working in the house or picking shellfish on the reef. The tupenu is usually topped with a dress.
This may be sewn to order, or it may be an imported used dress. Once a Tongan has obtained a hereditary title, he will be named with that title and no longer with his baptised name. Such titles are usually for life, but the holder can be stripped of it when convicted of a serious crime, and he will then return to his original name. Some titles are equal to the family name, others are not. For example when somewhere in history they were given away to another family if the original holder died without sons. In former times a woman could hold such a title, but nowadays only men. To distinguish successive holders of the same title, it is permissible to add the original name between parentheses. Cross Cultural Comparison
FAMILY * Family is regarded as the biggest commitment to a Tongan. * Men are the head of the house and women obey them. * Older men teach the boys and the older women teach the girls, how to go about life in their culture.
* Family goes as far as fifth cousin, or even further.| GENDER * Gender roles are significant but sometimes irrelevant because girls sometimes do boys jobs and vice versa. * Girls collect water from wells and fetch firewood while boys hunt small game and fish. * Tongans believe that men are the superiors and what is said must be done. * Tonga is quite an andro-sentric country.| ROLES AND STATUS * Roles are mainly based on gender but can vary sometimes. * Males provide leadership in their culture. * Adolescence is marked as the passage to adulthood. * Religion is a big factor of Tongan culture. As it provides guidelines to the people.| COMMUNICATION * With religion being so prominent in Tongan life, church activities provide many opportunities for community interactions.
* Children are expected to have learnt the way of their culture by the time they reach the adolescent stage. * Communication is initially based around the family. * Interaction with friends at school and on the weekends.| CONFLICT, COOPERATION AND DECISION MAKING * Tongan culture is based around cooperation with one another. * A strong commonality among the Tongan culture is their willingness to yield to higher authority. * Personal responsibility is highly valued by the Tongans. * Facts have said that there is a lot of child abuse in the Tongan culture.| POWER, AUTHORITY AND INFLUENCE * Strong emphasis on religious and community traditions. * The Tongans see the bible as a source of power and authority along with the king and nobles. * The main source of power within a Tongan community is the males.
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