It’s 6:30 am and the singing in the church has begun again. It is across the lane, with the small Kava hut in front of it. Trish
and I have been awake since before 5 am when the bells announcing the church service were rung. Boisterous singing
commences at 5 am four days a week. We can recognize individual voices amongst the villagers singing in the church. The
hymns are sung in a loud, lusty manner in Tongan in their own ancient pre-Christian melodies.
We are on Uiha Island. It is about five miles long and one to two miles wide. There are just two villages: ‘Uiha, and Felemea
where we are staying. A stout fence to keep the numerous pigs inside surrounds each village. Between them, and covering
the East side of the island, are semi wild coconut plantations that have fallen into disuse. Unfortunately, due to current
economic conditions, the Copra crop is now not worth harvesting. In the evenings we walk in the old plantations and watch
the flying foxes. These large bats have wingspans of up to three feet. Also, among the coconut palms are small plots of
bananas, taro, squash and pandamus. The pandamus is used to weave mats and is often seen anchored in the tidal waters for
curing and bleaching.
We are living and sleeping in the midst of the village. Pigs, dogs, and many children are always about and the roosters are
crowing their daily wake up call. The men and the women wear the traditional woven skirts, some over one hundred years old.
Uiha Island is in the Ha’apai group of islands in the Kingdom of Tonga.
We were taken here in a small boat on the hour ride from Pangai on the island of Lifuka. Pangai itself is reached either by
over night ferry, or on a small plane of The Royal Tongan Airlines from Nukalofa, the capital of Tonga.
Looking out of the open door of our thatched Fale,we recognize many of the men from last night’s Kava Ceremony to which
Trish and I and two Kiwi friends were invited. We sat cross-legged (my neighbor was in the full-lotus position) for several
hours sharing the Kava with about ten to twelve Tongans. The drink is prepared from a pepper like plant and has the
consistency, appearance, and taste of dirty dishwater. It is served out of a traditional Kava bowl of an ancient design and
served in cups made of polished coconut shells. We sat in the hut around the Kava bowl and lantern (there is no electricity
on the island) listening to Tongan stories and gossip until after midnight, but many of the Tongans stayed until sunrise.
Outside the opening of our hut we can see the lagoon with the fishing boats. Past the hammocks, the pyramid shaped,
volcanic isle of Kao can be seen very faintly in the distance.
Trish made friends with a Tongan girl, LeHe who graciously invited us to the very important Tongan celebration of her 21st
First was a church service where LeHe nervously recited the traditional text.
Then we were invited to the feast in her honor. It is difficult to discern n the photo, but the menu included four suckling pigs,
taro, plantains and cassava, topped off with ice cream. A special treat was the crispy, almost sweet skin, called crackle. All
were consumed without the aid of any utensils (thigh bones from the pigs made do for the ice cream).
The pigs were butchered and prepared in an Umu, an oven dug into the ground. They were killed very gently, almost
lovingly. After, the bodies were dipped in boiling water, and the brown hair was simply peeled off. The entrails were
removed and replaced with local herbs. The inedible parts were tossed to the waiting fish in the lagoon and immediately
consumed in a frenzied froth of water. After the coconut husks had been burning for a while, the freshly butchered pigs,
along with the fruits and vegetables were placed in the Umu. Everything was then thoroughly sealed, and roasted for over an
By the end of the year, there should be electricity on the island and everything will change. Now, as we walk through the
village at night, lanterns light the homes and all is peaceful and quiet. Soon, there will be street-lights (two) and the
ever-present blue flicker of televisions. Most are very excited and look forward to refrigerators, power-tools, computers and
even internet connections, but many know that this is the end of a way of life that has existed on this island for over three
It’s also been a very pleasant place for us to visit.