JUST HOW FRIENDLY ARE THE FRIENDLY ISLANDS?

It was James Cook who first named Tonga ‘the Friendly Islands’. It happened in 1773, during his second Pacific voyage. The British explorer was so impressed by the warm welcome he had received in the village of Lifuka that he immediately coined an appropriate nickname for the country. What he didn’t know then was that the native Tongans had actually planned to kill him and his crew. They didn’t succeed as they were busy arguing on how to do it best.  But that’s just a tiny, little detail not even worth mentioning…

Today, if you want to visit the islands, you don’t have to worry – no one is going to kill you. Actually, the moment you’ll find yourself amongst Tongans, you’ll feel like a member of a big family.

Yes, those people radiate warmth and friendliness, but they need to be given a slight encouragement. Initially, they may appear shy, reserved or even harsh. But throw them a smile, and they will immediately open up. In the blink of an eye you will be welcomed into the local community. They will treat you like someone who belongs to that place. And you will never feel lonely again. It is anga faka-Tonga, the Tongan way of life.

Islanders give and share. Whatever they possess or own – be it food, personal items or even valuables – is regarded as common good. They will gladly ‘lend’ you anything you want. Just because you asked; or said you liked it. It’s always nice to do the same, although Tongans don’t expect any gifts. Selfless givers; that’s who they are. What really matters to them is a relationship with another human being. Material things always come second. Nevertheless, they may mention, from time to time, that your cap or that piece of jewellery you wear is very nice… Well, it is anga faka-Tonga, the Tongan way of life.

Speaking of sharing… Tongans are extremely hospitable, even towards strangers. Visitors are welcomed at all times. Upon entering the house, they are honoured with the best seats. During the meals, they are served first while the hosts usually sit, watch and wait, asking occasionally if anything else is needed. When leaving, guests are given a small present. Such generosity is a sign of respect. And respect, as well as kindness to other people, are key values in the culture of this South Pacific kingdom. Putting it simply, it is anga faka-Tonga, the Tongan way of life.

Do you think I’ve painted a rosy picture here? Hold on, there’s even more. Tongans laugh. Constantly. At almost everything. And that laughter is infectious. It takes away all the sorrows and brings happiness and bliss instead. In times of crisis, in times of disasters, in times of pain – those people are joyful. For they know they can count on their brothers and sisters. Always. This is the rule: you never desert your family and friends; you support them, you help them, you back them up. And you never look down on anybody. No matter who that person is. As you can see, humility, modesty and genuine love can still be found somewhere in this world.

No, this is not some utopian community that I’ve just described. It’s quite real. It is… anga faka-Tonga, the Tongan way of life.

Such are the Friendly Islanders. It then comes as no surprise that the true winner of the Winter Olympics in Sochi was Fuahea Semi, or Bruno Banani, as he is now known. Not only did this Tongan luger impress people all over the globe with his fantastic performance, but he also won their hearts with his strong character, great attitude and a truly amazing personality. I don’t think you can ever find a nicer, more humble and more likable athlete; or a person, for that matter. Well… It is anga faka-Tonga, the Tongan way of life. And he is the pure quintessence of it.

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