Recognising creative talent in the Pacific Island diaspora

Tongan Traditions practiced for Dr Helu February 25, 2010

Filed under: Culture and tradition — pacificdocs @ 9:05 am
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As I opened the link to a youtube Video with footage taken from the funeral of Tongan academic and the founder of the Atenisi Institute, Dr Futa Helu, I expected the usual sombre sounds of voices singing the tune of mourning for a loved one recently passed. What I found was something quite different.  I could sense that it wasn’t just any song being sung at this funeral, but something entrenched in Tongan tradition that is not often seen these days.  As the song progressed a man who sits in a wheelchair lifts his arms and uses them to move with the music, telling a story through movement and in response to heightening of the song.  He reminds me of a bird, it is like he is travelling.  A woman (Helu’s daughter) stands and does tradition Tongan tau’olunga and the rest of the group breaks into spontaneous clapping that, even through my computer screen, fills the room around me with energy and makes me feel proud.  It is a celebration of life.

I’ve been touched by learning a little more about old traditions.

Check out the video’s below and also some words from Richard Wolfgramm about the ‘Hala Kuo Papa’ – the poem composed by Queen Salote.

Another beautiful tribute to Professor Futa Helu. This clip features HRH Princess Salote Mafile’o Pilolevu Tuita performing the Fakamalele. She presided as the fahu. At her side are Futa’s daughters Lu’isa & ‘Atolomake and behind HRH is Sisiuno & youngest daughter Veisinia, who performs a tau’olunga

“”Hala Kuo Papa” is a poem composed by Queen Salote. It translates to “Path Well Trodden”, and like all Tongan poetry … the song is full of allegorical references. The cliff notes version – Tonga at one time, had 3 royal dynasties – Queen Salote came from one line, her husband came from another. The marriage of their son King Tupou IV to Halaevalu Mata’aho, from the 3rd line, united all 3 lines in the blood of their children.

In the last part where they start clapping, the climax of this piece, it is an affirmation of the paths that were trodden, a tribute to the previous dynasties and their accomplishments, and what it means for the future of Tonga.

In a way, I believe there are also political undertones, as Queen Salote, in her young years, faced much opposition from the machinations of rival clans. It’s the stuff TV dramas are made of… but she prevailed, and in my opinion, this is her poetic way of saying “up yours” and that Tonga is secure under her rule. I’m no expert at this, so just want to put out that disclaimer :)… See more… See more

This poem became a signature piece for Futa Helu’s Afokoula Singers, and later by his students at ‘Atenisi. The unique thing abou this song is that it’s sung in 3 parts…you can hear two distinct parts for the men, and 1 part for the women. This was the old way of singing before the influence of 4 part harmony was introduced by the foreign churches. What’s cool about this clip is that it starts out technically perfect…you hear each part clearly – almost too technical, and too Western in it’s execution, which is to be expected from the ‘Atenisi…and I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but notice the change in mood and color as the song builds to it’s the climax…the elation peaks and at that point, the wheels come off as far as precision and technique, and not by much – but a strange thing happens…the song takes on a whole new manifestation….and Futa’s daughter Lu’isa and Siosiua Lafitani in the wheelchair feel it and the respond to it….it’s just beautiful.

normally, you would never see this at a Tongan funeral, so it’s even more touching that Futa’s students, ex-students and children chose to honor him in this fashion. ‘Atenisi’s Foundation for the Performing Arts (AFPA) is his legacy, and this tribute was very appropriate for a man of his stature”.

Richard Wolfgramm