The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 6, Issue 2 (June 1, 1931)
The Sunny South Pacific — Carefree Lives of Happy Tongans, and Other Impressions of an Island Cruise
The Sunny South Pacific
Carefree Lives of Happy Tongans, and Other Impressions of an Island Cruise
This is a travel article wherein railways will not appear. It deals with Fiji, Tonga (the Friendly Islands) and Western Samoa, and describes a holiday sea trip, nearly four thousand miles in extent, introducing the New Zealander to an entirely new and unique environment. The photographs accompanying this article were taken by the writer.
Only a few days steam northwards from Auckland, on the Tofua, we sight a bold headland, backed by a volcanic peak rising 3,000 feet, and wooded to the top. This is Mount Washington, on Kandava Island, an outlying part of the Crown Colony of Fiji. Some hours later, and we are alongside the wharf in the modern port of Suva, and fresh impressions pile up vividly from that moment for the next few weeks.
Fiji presents a mixed medley of peoples, and the Indians are overhauling the Fijians in numbers. Fifty years ago the natives numbered 115,000, but today their total is 91,000, while the Indian section has a much higher birth rate.
Native Customs in Suva.
In Suva town, just off its main thoroughfare, is a “Street of All Nations,” where you will see the Chinaman and the Indian carrying on business with an application which the Fijian despises. Here are the Indian craftsmen in silver, squatting on the floor of an untidy little shop, anvil between their toes, fashioning the heavy silver bangles and chains without which the Indian woman would feel the inferiority complex. Rising to further heights of display, a lady whose husband can afford it will wear a bright half sovereign pinned into the nostril. At the street intersection, controlling traffic with great dignity and composure, is a tall Ghurka policeman—a proportion of the police in Fiji are of that race. There are good roads on the main island of Viti Levu, in which Suva is situated, and the visitor has ample facilities for travelling around in good motors. Native life presents many interesting aspects, and the views from the hills at the back of Suva, with luxuriant tropical growth in the foreground, and the sea pictures beyond, are a constant delight to those unaccustomed to such sights.
Like a Grand Organ.
To the South East, as far from Suva as Auckland is from Wellington, we come to the southern portion of the Friendly Islands, landing in Nukualofa, the capital, on a brilliantly fine Sunday morning, and straightaway make for the nearest church. We had heard of the wonderful singing of the Tongans, and as we approach the church there rolls out a splendid sonorous volume of song. It is hard to believe that the singing is not assisted by a grand organ, but in actual fact the deep rich notes which suggest it are those of the Tongan men. Our early pilgrimage to church is prompted by the knowledge that services begin at 5 a.m. and are almost continuous till lunch, and that there are no regular evening services. A page 44 very suitable time-table in a tropical climate.
“There's running water — beautiful streams over there!” he remarked in longing tones. And one realised his feelings when he explained that not in all Tongatabu was there running water. We have to be without this common feature of a New Zealand landscape to understand how much it means in one's life.
Where Nature is Truly Bounteous.
Every Tongan male at the age of sixteen is entitled to an area of land bearing cocoanuts and capable of easy cultivation. He also gets a town section, and both are his while he pays the modest annual tax. By its unique land system, and thanks to a highly fertile climate, the Tongan is thus rendered independent for life. His country holding will produce not only all the most important foods, but the materials of his home, built wholly from the products available in the cocoanut tree. The trunk supplies the beams and rafters, the palms a good roof, and the whole is tied together with rope spun from the fibres of the husk surrounding the nut. By means of a simple weaving operation the palms are turned into mats for the sides, capable of being let down at night, and rolled up in the daytime, so that the dwelling is comfortably cool even in a temperature of 90 in the shade.
The Tongan would not understand what we mean by the problem of living within one's income. He can get nearly all he needs for food and clothing from the land which is his inheritance as a Tongan. Money he certainly desires, though it is not essential to a well-fed existence. The cocoanut plantation is his bank. When cash is needed, the nuts are turned into copra, and are either bartered for European articles at the store, or turned into cash. With copra at bedrock price, the economic pressure so general throughout the world is felt a little by the Tongan, because he must turn out at least twice as much copra as formerly to get the usual supply of tinned page 45 beef, the favourite luxury. The Government provides free medical attention for its subjects, and sanitation is maintained at a high level of efficiency, thanks to the vigilance of European doctors and their native assistants. One of their big problems is to maintain a supply of medicine bottles. They are obliged to work on the principle of “no more medicine till the first bottle comes back,” because the Tongan has a passion for decorating his graves with upturned bottles. A grave completely surrounded with these objects and a blue poison bottle at each corner, is indeed imposing to the native eye.
A happy care-free people, they leave their troubles to their rulers and the European officials. Though the arrival of the Tofua every month is a great island event, this does not stir them to assist in discharging cargo. The Union Company is obliged to ship about fifty Fijians from Suva at the beginning of the round trip through the South Pacific Islands for the purpose of working cargo at all ports of call, because there is no certainty otherwise that labour will be available.
Steaming northwards through the group, we pass the mysterious disappearing Falcon Island, an active volcano, which sometimes rears a mass of ashes a few hundred feet above the sea, and at other times has been only just visible above the surface. It must rise from a tremendous depth, for this is the neighbourhood of the “Tongan Deep,” where the soundings are about 23,000 feet.
Vavau, the northernmost extremity of Tonga, reminds one of the approach to Picton, for there are miles of deep sounds, with scores of pretty islands, crowded to their narrow golden beaches with the inevitable cocoanut tree, and giving glimpses of little native settlements at every turn. One of the islands is a volcanic and limestone combination, full of caves, and a trip is always arranged by the Tofua's officers to a particularly spacious and beautiful one, which easily, accommodates a launch and a ship's lifeboat. Immense stalactites, richly coloured descend from the lofty roof, and when struck with an oar they ring like gigantic bells.
In and About Western Samoa.
One could give a long catalogue of interesting sights in Samoa, but the finest attractions of the place are the clean well ordered villages and interesting native life. Perhaps the pace of organisation has been a little too fast for the native, but evidences of good health and improved education are points to the good.
From Apia the Tofua begins the homeward run, calling again at Suva to return its labour complement. On the way is passed Niuafou Island, better known as “Tin-can Island,” because of its unique mail delivery system. Only during a few months of the year is it possible to make a safe landing on its precipitous volcanic shores, consequently a monthly exchange of news with the outside world—apart from a small wireless station maintained by the Tongan Government—has to be effected by natives swimming out to the steamer more than a mile off shore. The outward mail is carried in a tin on a stick held above the water, and the inward, more bulky, is enclosed in large biscuit tins, soldered up and provided with a light tow-rope. The Tofua is seen many miles away, and on her arrival off the main settlement, the swimmers are waiting with a cheerful hail. A few “kicks” of the screw in reverse, overboard goes the tin mail and up come the exchanges. The interesting business is over in a few minutes, and the Tofua is many miles away on the Pacific before the Niuafou swimmers reach their rock-bound shore and the little group under the cocoanut trees, waiting for the monthly mail.
The Life-Blood Of A Nation.
Railways are the arteries that carry and circulate the life-blood of a nation and the publicity department was originally intended to give nourishment to this system and see that it did not become anæmic. When properly functioning the department ought to be compared with a great doctor attending to the nourishment and growth of the patient.—From the Indian Railway Magazine.page 47
Typical Scenes In The South Sea Islands.
Top (left), The “Tin-can Mail” at Niuafou Island, letters from N.Z. being towed ashore in biscuit tins by Island swimmers; (right), Tongan Mystery Monument erected by a vanished race; (left centre), a typical Samoa village; (right centre), Tongan children who closely resemble their Maori cousins. Below (left), an island cutter within the reef at Suva; (right), a busy day on the wharf, at Suva.