Tag Archives: Kenneth Bain


‘Royal Visit to Tonga: Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh’ is the official record of the events that took place in the South Pacific kingdom in December 1953, when the British Queen and her husband were the guests of Queen Salote during their first Commonwealth Tour.



On the 3rd of February, 1953 the Kingdom of Tonga receives a message that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh will visit the island country during their December tour. The Privy Council immediately sets up a Royal Visit Committee – a group of officials responsible for all the arrangements. One of them is Kenneth Bain, a newly appointed Secretary to the Government.

When the preparations begin, the whole country gets involved. People are focused not only on making decorations and gifts but also on providing food, which on such occasions is a communal responsibility. Everyone is excited, happy, and eager to help.

After a few months of anticipation, the long-awaited day finally arrives. Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh are welcomed to the Friendly Islands by Queen Salote herself, the members of the Royal Family, and thousands of smiling Tongans. It’s time to start the joyful celebrations.


This is quite an unusual publication. At first glance you may think it’s just a written account of an important occasion in the history of Tonga, but the truth is, it is not. It is actually so much more. It’s not a memoir, it’s not a history book, it’s not a travelogue – it’s something in between. Kenneth Bain treats the Royal Visit as an opportunity to show readers the cultural richness of the last remaining Polynesian kingdom. He lets us explore local customs and traditions, discover ancient rituals and common practices, get to know official protocol and social etiquette. As everything is described in detail, you can understand what anga faka-Tonga – the Tongan way of doing things – really means.

The author’s narrative is extremely absorbing, so you’ll quickly find yourself immersed in the wonderful world of the South Seas. The chronicle may initially appear slightly mundane, but I can assure you that this is a well-paced and cleverly constructed page-turner that doesn’t disappoint. Not even for a minute will you feel bored. Especially that the captivating story is accompanied by beautiful photographs, many previously unseen, which are definitely an added bonus that enhances the reading experience.

Also worthy of note is Bain’s writing style. It is quite journalistic yet very compelling. The use of clear and concise language and the absence of unnecessary words make this volume immensely enjoyable. In terms of literary expression, I dare to say this is the best book in his Tongan trilogy.

This short – very short; too short – publication certainly makes a tremendous impression. It is an exceptionally well-written, highly informative, quite surprising, and thoroughly engaging piece of literature that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. It will be of great interest to people who are truly passionate about Pasifika. Kenneth Bain did an excellent job. He proved, once again, that the Friendly Islands are very friendly indeed.


‘The New Friendly Islanders: The Tonga of King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV’ is a continuation of Kenneth Bain’s earlier book about the South Pacific kingdom, ‘The Friendly Islanders’.



More than thirty years after his first visit, Kenneth Bain returns to the islands of Tonga. Even though he’s aware of some inevitable changes that occurred during his absence, he is still amazed how different the country actually feels.

As Bain rediscovers the place, he reminisces about the past but also wonders about the future. What does it hold for Tonga and its people? What is needed to take the kingdom intact into the new millennium? Will the country be able to preserve its culture? If yes, at what cost? None of these questions is easy to answer. But one thing is certain: life in Tonga is no longer a matter of ‘waiting for the coconut to fall’. There’s money involved; and sometimes it’s hard to resist the blandishments of the modern world.

In order to fully understand the situation, Kenneth Bain meets with various people. Futa Helu, King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV as well as his sons: Crown Prince Tupouto‘a (King George Tupou V) and ʻAhoʻeitu (King Tupou VI) give their own opinions and predictions, letting the author know how they see things.


If Bain’s previous book on Tonga was good, this one is great. They may feel quite similar – and they are to some extent – but this volume is definitely far more interesting, far more amusing, and far more pleasant to read.

First and foremost, it is a delightful blend of real-life stories, myths, and legends. Mixing those three elements together was indeed a terrific idea. While most of the narratives are filled with pure facts, the so-called Legendary Interludes take readers on a wonderful journey to the past, letting them discover the utterly captivating Polynesian folklore – so deeply rooted in the Pacific cultures. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind reading more of these tales, because they are extremely compelling.

As for the stories about contemporary Tonga, they couldn’t be told any better. This time the author is less focused on politics and governmental issues, more on people and their lives in the fast-changing South Pacific region. He talks to the natives, asks questions, and searches for answers. As a New Zealander, he is an observer looking in from outside. And this is what makes his account so incredibly credible.

Another thing worth mentioning is Bain’s sense of humour: sharp, witty, a little unconventional. It shines through every page, but it’s not too intrusive. Well, one needs to be a master storyteller to achieve that. And this is exactly what Kenneth Bain is: a writer, not just a presenter of information.

I must say that I was once again drawn to the fascinating world of Polynesia’s last remaining monarchy. The book gave me some valuable insights into the changes that had occurred in Tonga in the early 90s. I learnt a lot. And so will you if you decide to read ‘The New Friendly Islanders’. I highly recommend it.


‘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.