Comment on Parliament amends Tongan Constitution to include unwritten customs (Matangi Tonga Online, October 17, 2020)
and Parliament’s failure to follow due process a “disturbing development” (Matangi Tonga Online, October 22, 2020)
The first question of course is: what are Tongan traditions or traditional customs? Traditions in any place at any time are continuously subject to changes, especially in, what Chinese call, ‘interesting’ times.
I reckon that we have to take the traditions as they were before the coming of the Europeans and especially the missionaries: after all they brought Christianity and changed many of the customs. Since that time Tonga followed Judaeo-Christian-European customs maybe with a veneer of the old. But for sure, that we cannot call that traditional Tongan.
All right then, we shall have to infer traditional Tongan customs from descriptions given to us by people like James Cook and other explorers of that time, as well as early beachcombers, especially William Mariner. As Wikipedia says it: “He published a memoir, An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands, in the South Pacific Ocean, which is one of the major sources of information about Tonga before it was influenced significantly by European cultures and Christianity.”
One thing is clear: you had in that time chiefs and commoners. Of course, we still have them nowadays, but not to that extreme any more as in former times. The commoners were essentially slaves, and any chief could do with them as he pleased. If a chief wanted to kill a commoner (or even a lower chief) he could so so at any time with impunity. Briefly: the word of the chief was the law. Unless a higher chief overruled him.
So no need any more of judges, laws of even a constitution, which of course brings us to a interesting philosophical paradox. If a certain law change is unconstitutional, but would be lawful after it comes into force, can you then make that change lawfully?
Apparently, as they voted with 18 to 0 for that law change, the [members] of the parliament thought so. Why? … Because with this new law the chiefs have the right to kill them as these parliamentarians will be only sitting in the way when they (the chiefs) are going to exercise their new powers.
And, of course, most parliamentarians are commoners. They may currently be called ‘honourable’, but in old traditional Tonga your rank was determined at your birth. Born as a chief, you are always a chief; born as a commoner you are always a commoner. There was no social movement, and the only way you could move up (or down) was to marry a higher (or lower) ranking woman, so that your children would be moving. But not yourself. This made high ranking women enviable rape victims as every low ranking chief sought ways to improve the status of his offspring. These women better have themselves guarded by their brothers. But still, such a woman could be abducted, and a chief was fully in his rights to do so. A women and children’s crisis centre will be no longer needed and can be closed.
As said, as a commoner you had no rights, and the chief only let you live as slave because they needed people to extract taxes from. Still a chief could not be sure of his own life either. Mariner describes that commoners had one way to take revenge: they were allowed to kill a chief who would dare to disturb a funeral procession. And then there were numerous fights among the chiefs themselves, and those who did not already die on the battlefield could be tortured to death afterwards. Unless they managed to flee to one of the godhouses refuges, as there were in Maʻufanga, for example, where they would be safe as long they stayed inside the compound for the rest of their life.
About the gods by the way: praying was done to entities such as Tangaloa, Hikuleʻo, and so on, and a whole bunch of lesser gods, including deceased high ranking ancestors. So after this law change we do not need churches any more, as they are not traditional, and all the faifekau will be fired. Well maybe some of them can be offered a post as heathen priest to one of those gods.
Do I need to continue? If you really think about it, is there anyone would who like it to be governed by these traditional Tongan customs?
Firitia, ʻAtenisi / Fasi & afi