Sun, Jun 28, 2015 - Page 4 News List

Tonga begins coronation festivities with kava ceremony


Tonga yesterday began a week of celebrations to mark the upcoming coronation of the Pacific nation’s monarch, King Tupou VI, with an ancient ceremony involving the mildly narcotic drink kava.

The buildup to the coronation on Saturday next week started near the Royal Palace in Nuku’alofa, where chiefs from around the kingdom presented gifts of pigs and yams to the king.

Sitting in a circle wearing traditional ta’ovala mats around their waists, about 150 nobles drank kava from coconut shells in a ceremony dating back centuries.

Street parties, black-tie balls, fashion shows and choral recitals are to be held over the next week before King Tupou VI is officially crowned in the capital’s Free Wesleyan Church.

Thousands of expatriate Tongans have flown home for the ceremony, with accommodation in Nuku’alofa booked out weeks ago.

A large number of dignitaries, including Japanese Crown Prince Naruhito and an as-yet unnamed member of the British royal family are also expected to attend.

The king — a 55-year-old former diplomat — succeeds his brother Tupou V, who died in 2012 after a six-year reign of major reforms that expanded democracy in the nation of about 110,000 people.

US anthropologist Adrienne Kaeppler of the Smithsonian Institution said Tongans’ attitudes toward the monarchy had changed over the years, but there was still a deep affection for the royals.

“Most of the people are still in awe of the chiefs and the monarchy, but they do have modern ideas influenced by the democratic ways they’ve seen in the US, Australia, New Zealand and so on,” she told reporters.

Tonga’s monarchy can trace its history back 1,000 years and by the 13th century the nation wielded power and influence over surrounding islands, including Samoa, nearly 900km to the east.

Tupou I, who converted to Christianity after coming under the influence of missionaries, was proclaimed king in 1845 after winning control of the monarchy from two other royal lines.

By 1900, the country had become a British protectorate and only acquired its independence in 1970. It remains the only monarchy among South Pacific island nations.

Kaeppler said that for Tongans, yesterday’s kava ceremony, or Taumafa Kava, was as important as the official coronation next week.

“That’s what everyone is waiting to see, that’s the Western-style coronation,” she said. “They’re dressed like European monarchs, they have the cloaks of velvet and ermine, and crowns are put on their heads.”

However, she said there was an ancient Tongan title called Tu’i Kanokupolu that predates the monarchy by centuries and also passes to Tupou VI.

“They trace their ancestry back to the sky god Tangaloa,” she said. “The new king is the 24th Tu’i Kanokupolu and the Taumafa Kava confirms his title when he drinks the kava.”

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