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Women Speak Out! A Report of the Pacific Women's Conference. October 27 – November 2



A family in Europe would mean just a mother, a father and the children. In Tonga a family is really what we call ‘toto’, those connected by blood. ‘Toto’, when literally translated, means ‘blood’ and it is ‘blood’ connection. Europeans have brothers, sisters, cousins, second cousins, and so on. But we have only brothers and sisters. ‘Brother’ is our brother with the same mother and father, and then this is extended to our cousins.

In the family, the head is the father. The mother is the go-between. When the children want something, if they do something wrong, the mother explains all this to the father.

Above that is the ‘mehikitaga’, the father's sister. In Tongan families the status of a woman is very high because the ‘mehikitaga’ is much respected in her family. Although she pays respect to her brother, to his children she is really much further up. We say that the father is the lord of the family but the ‘mehikitaga’ is the overlord of the family.

Women have duties - they keep the home, they are the hostesses to the people who come in, such as the men coming to meet the husband and talk around the kava ceremony, or to talk business. Also there are young men who come in to court her daughter/s, and the women prepares for all these things.

But even though she has high status in the family, the woman generally retires and does not join in the discussions. It is not compulsory - it is part of the ceremony. She prepares to retire to her weaving and draws the curtains behind her and leaves her husband to the discussions.

Because of traditions our women were rather like decorations for the house, not really useful. They were almost unable to do things. Before our women never went into the page 3 fields. Now we help our men. Before, all the cooking our women did were done in the house. We wrapped things up and our men carried them out and put them in the umu.

Our culture is taught to the children through the talatala-i-fale, a kind of family council within the house, where the mother and father tell their children one aspect of traditional culture - how to appear in public, how to make tapa etc. This was so in the past but nowadays, this generation, prefers to go out dancing, rather than to sit down for a ‘talatala-i-fale’.