Vava’u, Chance encounter with the King of Tonga
July 30, 2016
by Antoinette, Field Support Officer in Tonga
It’s a Monday morning and I am accompanying the SPBD Team on Vava’u Island to their village meetings. It’s a great opportunity for me to see how things work on one of the outer islands compared to the main island where I’m based. As we are driving towards the meeting spot in Koloa, we notice that the streets have been decorated with ribbons, mats and tapa. As we continue to drive along, it becomes obvious that some special event is taking place and the loan officers, Lesieli and Viliami, puzzle over what might be happening. We park the car and jump out to investigate.
A short walk down the street reveals that His Majesty King Tupou VI is visiting the village. He is casually seated under a decorated fale near the shoreline of the local beach, accompanied by some of his advisors. I am surprised at how close I am able to approach the fale under which HM King Tupou VI is seated and the laid-back atmosphere. Children are running around and men and women are sitting along the street and shoreline. A few beautifully-dressed women are dancing knee-deep in the turquoise water of the beach. I notice that that some soldiers are wading through the water carrying rifles and looking intensely down at the water’s surface. They are accompanied by a number of local men and women. When I ask what they are doing, Viliami explains that they are hunting for local seafood called valo. He wasn’t sure of the English translation, but later on when I looked it up on the internet, I realised that it meant banded shrimp. The banded shrimps are local tothe area and are only caught for the consumption of the royals. While the hunt for banded shrimps is taking place, other village members are preparing and cooking food in an umu for HM King Tupou VI.
There is definitely a difference between this royal visit compared to HM King Tupou VI’s attendance at the Agriculture Show that took place only a few days earlier. The annual Agriculture Show in Tonga is run by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Forests and Fisheries and is held in each of the four island groups. Its purpose is to support the agricultural, fisheries, and handicraft industries. Stall members exhibit their products and prizes are awarded for each category. It is a big event that is highly regarded, especially since HM King Tupou VI attends the show in each island and makes an effort to visit each stall. This is the first year that SPBD Tonga has had a stall at the Agriculture Show, and I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the one in Vava’u.
I was pleasantly surprised by my chance encounter with HM King Tupou VI as it gave me the opportunity to see him interacting with the local community in a much more casual style. And it’s definitely the closest I’ll ever get to any royal in my lifetime!