Nuku’alofa, Tonga. 18 May.
We had heard that Tongan’s are deeply religious people and Sunday is their day of rest. Everything is closed. Everything that is, except the Churches and the Chinese restaurants.
The weather was still dull and the rain was replaced by wind, actually a strong, mild tropical breeze which grabbed at the humidity.
So we went to church, well we visited a few churches. We started with The Centennial Church of the Free Church of Tonga. First founded in 1885 and rebuilt in 1985, this is the church of the King of Tonga and is a breakaway from the Wesley Church. We caught the end of the service and listened to an amazing choir and brass orchestra prior to the minister delivering his final holy words. Some older women approached us in typical Tongan-friendly style, asking the universal question – “Where do you come from?”
Fifi, resplendent in white, complete with hat, asked if I could take her photo. I was delighted to oblige, and with Bruce’s help got one with me and one with her friends.
Church is a special occasion, so not only are Tongans in their Sunday best, but many wrap the ta’ovala (mat) around their waists. Another friendly lady explained this was the habit for church and special occasions.
After church, we found a coffee shop that was open and popular with back packers. A strong coffee was a nice finish to the picnic breakfast that the hotel had provided on their day of rest.
Next we found a congregational style church, where the minister and his four attendants were dressed in stunning red jackets. This church had more of the gospel style with singing and sharing prayers. Unlike the brass instruments of the previous church, they were accompanied by a couple of guitars and drums. Children were running in and out and the whole service seemed very relaxed.
As we left that church a young boy befriended us and explained that his was the most beautiful church of all, and it was. A Catholic church built in 2012, beside the lagoon with the ceiling designed like the inside of a row boat. The service had finished and the local gentlemen were under a verandah on the other side of the road, enjoying kava. A few children hanging around the church showed us through and then demonstrated their stone throwing abilities at the edge of the lagoon.
We passed many more churches on our expedition around Nuku’alofa. Some churches were grand others were simply a hall, perhaps with other uses during the week. Our driver from the airport had told us that Tongan’s love their religion. They will go to one church if they are solemn and another if they want light relief. They are always welcome back to any church.
Nuku’alofa is a sleepy town, well spread out, with a mixture of business and houses right into the centre of town. The Royal Palace is on the waterfront and is a pretty, white weatherboard building. The best you can do is see it from the road – well I suppose that is rather the same access you have to Buckingham Palace.
Our last stop was another cemetery. Tombs seem to be built into mounds and are decorated with colourful plastic flowers. Some very important people appear to have large posters beside their tombs, reminding their loved ones of the good deeds.