‘The Friendly Islanders: a story of Queen Salote and her people’ is a captivating account of the author’s time in the Kingdom of Tonga, where he served as a Secretary to the Government from 1953 to 1956.
After working in Fiji for a few years, Kenneth Bain gets transferred to Tonga. Having very little knowledge about the country and its inhabitants, he is quite surprised by the distinctive customs he encounters. But as he slowly adjusts to the new situation, he starts to understand the Tongan way of life. He explores the Pacific culture and gets to know fascinating stories from the past.
Quite a few of them refer to Queen Salote – much loved not only by Tongans but also by people all over the world. The author brings back memories from Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. During the long procession, the smiling monarch from the South Pacific kingdom chose to ride in an open carriage, despite pouring rain. She quickly won the hearts of the waiting crowds and from that moment was always greeted with friendly enthusiasm. Kenneth Bain gets a chance to find out about the nature of the Queen’s behaviour, which leads him to other discoveries regarding not only the Royal Family but also the country’s chiefs, nobles, and ordinary citizens.
I’ll be honest here, no other book describes Tonga so well. Kenneth Bain did a truly amazing job. His account is extremely informative, very accurate, and written with strong attention to detail.
There is, however, one thing you should be aware of. Despite all the depictions of the native inhabitants, this title is not an anthropological study. Yes, it shows Tongan practices and beliefs, but it’s more a general overview than an in-depth analysis. The author shares his personal impressions, feelings, and opinions, which – although very truthful – can’t be treated as universally applicable.
When it comes to the stories, some of them are obviously more interesting than the others. The most compelling are definitely the ones concerning the Islanders and the Royal Family. They are, in most parts, highly amusing; sometimes even hilarious. Exceptions? Well, there are a few. The depictions of tragic occurrences that happened in the kingdom, such as Queen Salote’s death, surely won’t bring a smile to your face. Nevertheless, I’m quite positive you will read them with great interest. Just don’t be surprised if you shed a tear or two. These pieces can really arouse emotions, so be prepared for that.
I wouldn’t say the book is an extremely easy or light read. Although written with a great sense of humour, in some parts it gets slightly official and mundane. Unless you are interested in politics, certain descriptions can make you feel a little overwhelmed.
All in all, I must admit that Kenneth Bain took me on a delightful journey to the islands of Tonga. It was wonderful to be able to discover the history of the country and learn more about its inhabitants. Beautiful photographs were definitely an extra bonus; as if the written word wasn’t enough.