Clash of civilisations: Tonga and the West

Brown Pulu, TJ
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Te Ara Poutama, the Faculty of Maori and Indigenous Development, Auckland University of Technology

The House thanks God that the king is still in good health, and the Monarch is still in control of the affairs of the country. We thank god for the assistance to Tonga from donor countries (Lord Lasike cited in Matangi Tonga, 2011). At the first 2011 session of Tonga’s legislative assembly on June 9th the House was busy thanking god for king and aid donors, a variation to king and country, the usual saying. Tongan journalist Pesi Fonua poked fun at the country’s lawmakers by translating the parliamentary minutes into English for publication on his media website. The original Hansard transcript in the Tongan language might not have been altogether amusing, but rather, standard convention for formally addressing the monarch. However, one question that Fonua brought to light was at this time in Tonga’s history when a more democratic government was said to have taken the helm, had the hierarchal structure really changed? Furthermore, why had “donor countries” crept into the state’s salutations to the king, and which countries were Tongan politicians thinking of – Western ones or China? (Matangi Tonga, 2011). Personifying a Western-centred view of Tonga’s political system, New Zealand researcher of constitutional law Guy Powles made a brash commentary to Radio Australia. As a Palangi (white, European) observer, Powles presumptuously displayed his over-confidence in giving advice to Tonga. Claiming the Tongan “constitution does need to be studied in detail,” he felt certain “there are areas there of what one might call unfinished business.” Specifically, “the original principle hasn’t been carried through, that is the devolution of executive authority” (Powles cited in Garrett, 2014). Powles was pointing at executive powers the monarch held onto compared to the ones which were handed over to the prime minister and the national executive by constitutional amendment in 2010. Did reasonable expectation surface among the Tongan public that in the near future, all of the King’s executive authority would be delegated to the state? Or could this be read as an explicit case of the Western ego fantasising that all Pacific Island states naturally desired to remake their civilizations and sovereignty in their likeness? This essay pokes the polemics and pragmatics of Tongan civilization enacted in modern times through a distinct set of cultural values. How has the tenacity of Tongan civilization in today’s globalized world run into trouble with Western development partners – New Zealand, Australia, and America – especially when it comes to Tonga’s foreign relations? (International Business Publications, 2011).

Te Kaharoa: The e-Journal on Indigenous Pacific Issues., vol.7(1), pp.254 - 344 (90)
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