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Savage Island: An Account of a Sojourn in Niue and Tonga

Chapter III — The King of All Niué

page 34

Chapter III
The King of All Niué

For a few hours His Majesty could lay aside the cares of state, and I was able to make his acquaintance. He faced the camera without a trace of embarrassment, though he had probably never seen one before, and he consented, at my entreaty, to be photographed without his helmet. He is a withered, grey-bearded, querulous old man, and he looks the age assigned to him—seventy-six; but, despite the ravages of age and the blemish of a missing eye, there is an air of decision and obstinacy about him which does not belie his character. For it is by sheer tenacity of purpose that Tongia has attained his present giddy eminence.

The institutions of Niué have always been republican. In heathen times the king was theoretically an officer elected by the people; in practice he was a figure-head set up by the warparty (tod) who happened to have the upper page 35hand for the moment. And since, in the see-saw of intertribal warfare, Fortune sometimes frowned upon his supporters, and the hopes of the opposition were always centred in the murder of the king, from the day of his election he went in peril of his life. In fact, a violent death was so often the portion of the titular ruler of the island that it became as difficult to find a candidate for royal honours as it was to discover a person to serve heir to a damnosa hereditas in Rome before Justinian. About the middle of the last century the supply failed altogether: for eighty years there was no king at all, and the island seems to have got on very well without one. But with the arrival of the missionaries and the cessation of war the office was discovered to have some attractions, and Tuitonga, a chief of Alofi, leaned his back against the stone* —the time-honoured symbol of the assumption of supreme power. His successor, Fataäiki, also of Alofi, was described by Commodore Good-enough as the most remarkable chief he had seen in the Pacific, and, at his death in 1897,

* The two great stones against which Tongia's last two predecessors had leaned may still be seen standing in the square before Alofi Church. Tongia chose to have the ceremony at his own village of Tuapa.

page 36no one was found worthy to succeed him. His son, the young man who had acted as our pilot, was addicted to strong waters, and even if he had been otherwise eligible, he had put himself out of court by refusing to vacate the house built by the people as an official residence, but, owing to an oversight, erected on Fataäiki's private land. There was an interregnum for two years, and only one man in the island thought that there need ever again be a king of Niué-Fekai.* That man was Tongia.
Tongia was headman of Tuapa, and if he had attained no greater eminence until he was past seventy, it was owing to no foolish modesty on his part. You may, it seems, choose your own surname in Niué, and the name he chose in early life was Folofonua, which is "Horse"—the most terrible of all the beasts known to

* The following is a list of the kings as far back as their names are recorded:—

1.Punimata of Halafualangi, who reigned at Fatuaua (died).
2.Galiaga of Pulaki (killed).
3.Patuavalu of Puato (died).
4.Pakieto of Utavavau (starved to death). Interregnum of eighty years.
5.Tuitonga (succeeded 1876).
6.Fataaiki (succeeded 1888). Interregnum of nearly two years.
7.Tongia (succeeded 1898).

page 37the men of that day. When horses lost their terrors and became vulgar, he took a name more awe-inspiring still—Puleteaki, which is "Great Ruler"; but, lest men should forget his importance for lack of reminder, he changed that for Tongia, the highest title he knew. A full year he waited for someone to suggest an election to the throne, and then, at one of the monthly councils, he took the matter in hand himself. As no one seemed to covet the dignity, how would it do, he asked, to elect him? When they had recovered from their astonishment, his colleagues adduced reasons enough why it would not do: to begin with, they had done very well without a king, and (if he would have the brutal truth) should they ever find themselves in need of one, there were ten other good men and true from whom to choose. They, in fact, were adamant, but Tongia knew that drops of water will wear even adamant away. He had experienced seventy years of opposition, and he had always had his way in the end. He dangled the empty crowning-stone before them at Fono after Fono, until in very weariness they let him have his will of them. It made little difference to them then, for in Niué there is no civil list The king lives like any other landowner, on page 38the produce of his own plantation, and the rent which his poor relations pay him in kind. Occasionally, when these fail him, he suggests how becoming it would be in his people if they were to bring him an offering of food, or even money, and they, mindful of the manner in which their liege lord attained his present dignity, murmur, "Anything for a quiet life," and hasten to stop his mouth.
Whether he is begging or merely asserting his importance, there is an air of conscious rectitude about Tongia that is impressive. Like most men who have done great things in the world, he has no sense of humour; I do not think he has ever been nown to smile. He has gone through life in a deadly earnest, beside which the purpose in other men was but the purpose of butterflies. He had been but a few days king when he heard of the Queen's Jubilee of 1897. "Has the Queen of England been told of me?" he asked Mr. Head. "What? Has no one thought of telling her that I am king of all Niué—of Niué-Fekai?" Yet he must not be called vain, if the old definition be just which sets forth that "the conceited man is he who thinks well of himself and thinks that others do so too; the vain man is he who thinks well of himself and wishes that page break
King Tongia

King Tongia

page 39others thought so too; but the proud man is he who thinks well of himself and does not care a jot whether others think well of him or not." Upon this exegesis Tongia is a proud man. Knowing that he was versed in ancient lore, I asked him some questions about the Niué custom in time of war. "Tell him," he said to Mr. Lawes, "that the greatest warrior of old time was my father. There has been none like him in the world before or since." I tried my question in three several forms, but His Majesty, knowing better than I what I wanted to know, entertained me with anecdotes of his dashing-father until I dropped my point.
In order to give éclat to the ceremony of hoisting the flag, which is in itself a somewhat brief and barren entertainment, I had asked Captain Ravenhill to invite the volunteer drum and fife band belonging to the ship to take part in it. He objected that the band had not played together for many months, but as the Niuéans had never heard a band of any kind, and were not likely to be a critical audience, we decided to send the invitation. Half an hour later the island was startled by the spirited performance of the "British Grenadiers." It brought the whole population to the flagstaff at a run, and page 40I doubt whether musicians ever played to so attentive an audience since Joshua's trumpets played their symphony before the walls of Jericho. We needed no crier to remind the people of the historic hour; when the guard of honour landed not even a dog was missing. The sky had clouded, and a gentle rain was falling as the guard formed up, but ere I had done reading the proclamation, the sun came out to see another gap in its course filled by the flag on which it never sets. As the signalman slowly ran up the Jack, the band played the National Anthem, and a royal salute thundered from the guns of the ship lying at anchor below us. To stand at the salute in a hot sun until the whole twenty-one guns have been fired is a tedious ordeal, and I could not help my eyes ranging right and left of me to the faces of the crowd. It was a strange scene. Here were some thousands of natives, clad for the most part in clothes made by the slop-tailors of Europe, gazing in open-mouthed wonder at a handful of officers in gold-laced uniform performing a ceremony intended in some way to change the tenour of their lives. And behind lay the island, unchanged and unchangeable through the centuries. Overhead were the trees that had looked down upon the assault upon Cook page break
Hoisting The Union Jack Over Savage IslandApril 21st, 1900

Hoisting The Union Jack Over Savage Island
April 21st, 1900

page 41by the native grandsires of these orderly Christians, who set upon him "with the fury of wild boars," brandishing paddle-clubs, and throwing these same lances that arm the king's bodyguard. The foreigner has been too strong for them, but the island will be too strong for the foreigner. The foreigner has landed and brought with him the disease they feared so much, but let him hoist flags and fire guns once a week until the Last Trump, he will never conquer the stern fact that the island lies remote from the great highways of the ocean, and turns a frowning cliff, against which the great rollers shatter themselves unavailingly, upon those who would beguile her into commerce.

With the smoke of the last gun still floating in the air, I turned to congratulate the king upon being now under the protection of Her Majesty. He shook hands with me and thanked me in a bewildered way. And looking round upon these hundreds of "British Protected Persons," who had changed their international status so suddenly, I could not help wondering what they (or, indeed, anybody else) thought had been effected by the change.

And here let me say a word about Protectorates. The word was invented by the lawyers a few page 42years ago when the scramble for the world began, and there are those who think that if the man who first conceived the idea had been led out quietly to a lethal chamber, the world would have been saved a great deal of worry and vexation. In the old days when a nation wanted a land it took it, dishonestly, it may be, but at least openly, and tried to govern it after such fashion as lay within its power. But when the scramble began, the European Powers had to invent a polite way of saying to one another, "We have taken this country, not because we mean to use it, but because we do not mean you to have it! We take it under' our protection.'" Under the old system nations recognised some responsibility towards the land they seized; they were at least responsible for its good government; under the new they recognise none except the duty of crying "Hands off!" to the others, until action is forced upon them by internal disorder. Now mark the hair-splitting that ensues. No man can serve two masters. The men of Niué owe allegiance to their own sovereign; they cannot also owe it to the Queen; and a man who owes no allegiance to the Queen cannot be a British subject. And yet when you guarantee him protection at home, it would be unreasonable page 43to refuse him protection while sojourning abroad. If not a British subject, yet something British he must be. The lawyers had to invent another term, and they called him a "British Protected Person." When a black man is a British subject it is bad enough. A Fijian residing in Tonga has a child by a Tongan woman. If he was legally married to her the child is British, and must be tried by a British court; if they were not legally married it is Tongan, and is under the jurisdiction of Tongan magistrates. And the wretched consul has to test the legality of the native marriage. If it was a heathen marriage the case is worse, for the courts have never settled whether heathen marriages, performed after the custom of the country, are marriages at all in the eye of the law of England. But when a "British Protected Person" has a child, we are treading upon thin ice indeed, and I presume that every consul follows the dictates of such conscience as he may have left to him. One need not go further than Siam to see how the system may be abused. You have only to rake in half the population as Protected Persons to establish a very fair claim to the Protectorate of the soil on which they live, and this is precisely what the French Consul, by inscribing page 44all disaffected Siamese as French citizens, is doing.

The invention of the Protectorate is, of course, very useful in certain cases. Many of the Pacific Islands are the natural heritage of the future Australian people, and it would have been most unfair to them to allow alien nations to seize upon points of vantage about their very gates. It would have been equally unfair to the English taxpayer and to the natives of the islands to assume the government of countries that were content to be under the authority of their own chiefs. If the idea of the Protectorate had entered the heads of politicians sixty years ago, the French would not now own Tahiti and New Caledonia, nor the Germans the MarshallMarshalls, the Northern Solomons, and Northern New Guinea.

There are Protectorates and Protectorates. In some you may have a resident adviser who virtually rules the country; in others a resident who is there to give advice when it is asked for; in others no resident at all. To the first class belong Zanzibar and the protected states of India; to the second, Tonga and Somaliland; and to the third, Niué; but in every class the establishment of a Protectorate is probably the prologue to annexation more or less delayed. Why then was page 45the flag hoisted? There is, in fact, no reason why the flag should be hoisted in a Protectorate, for the mere hoisting of a piece of bunting is not in itself an act of appropriation recognised by international lawyers. At one time or another the British flag has been hoisted in many parts of the world that now belong to other nations. The legally recognised act is the reading of a proclamation, and of this the flag is a mere symbol that adds nothing to the legality when it is there, nor takes away from it when it is absent. As a general rule the flag is not hoisted in countries that have a flag of their own. It has never been hoisted in Zanzibar nor in the protected states of India. On the other hand, a people, like the Niuéans, who have no flag, and know that other countries have one, would never consider the Protectorate effective unless they were granted the outward symbol of their allegiance. As the matter had been left to my discretion, I had no hesitation in giving them what they wanted. Fortunately none of the complications attending a Protectorate had time to arise in Niué, for six months later the island was formally annexed to the Colony of New Zealand.

The king had a request to make. He had page 46never been on board a man-of-war. Would the captain invite him to pay the ship a visit that very afternoon? The eleven headmen also had requests to make: they too would like to be of the party. As each of the eleven would have brought two friends, and each friend two cousins, Captain Ravenhill was advised by Mr. Lawes to make stern discrimination. The captain's boat would be sent for the king, the queen, and the king's son. No one else, on pain of the captain's severe displeasure, was to take passage in her, but the eleven would be welcomed provided that they came alone and found their way off in their own canoes. Their Majesties were punctual, and the boat was got away with Mr. Head's son, a well-educated half-caste, as interpreter, and not more than two interlopers. All went well until she neared the ship, and then the queen, after a whispered consultation with her consort, began to take off her boots. This operation being still in progress long after the boat was alongside the gangway, faces began to' peer curiously over the side, but the blue-jacket stationed at the foot of the ladder preserved an admirable composure, and, when Her Majesty had paddled up the steps in her stockings, he gravely followed the procession, carrying the royal boots as if they were page break
The Queen Of NiuÉ

The Queen Of NiuÉ

page 47insignia of office, to the suppressed merriment of his fellows, who were drawn up to receive the royal party. After the usual entertainment in the captain's cabin the king was shown over the ship. Neither the big six-inch guns, nor the neat little three-pounders that are fired from the shoulder like a shot-gun, seemed to impress him, and it was not until he was shown into the chart-room that he began to show enthusiasm. Deceived by the brass chimney of the heating stove, he declared it to be the finest kitchen he had ever seen. It was in vain for the interpreter to explain the real uses of the room. It was the kitchen—anyone could see that for himself—and if the captain chose, for reasons of his own, to lie about its real uses, he, Tongia, was too old in the craft of this world to be taken in. When I questioned him afterwards about his visit, he said without hesitation that the part of the ship that he had most admired was the kitchen, and he clung to the idea with the same tenacity that had won him the throne. When the interpreter had hinted to him that it was time to take leave, the king, producing a dollar from his waistband, signified his intention of tipping the captain for the pleasant entertainment he had provided, and the interpreter had the greatest difficulty in page 48persuading him that such an act would be contrary to the decencies of European custom. A dollar was a very precious possession in the king's eyes, and it puzzled him, after many years' experience of the breed, that any white man should refuse to pocket money when it was offered him. The king was half-way down the ladder when he turned back, and the smile faded from the countenance of the captain, who thought that he was in for a second visit; but it appeared that Tongia had suddenly remembered the foreign custom of giving precedence to ladies, and he gallantly motioned to the queen to precede him, and handed her boots down after her. At that moment he caught sight of the red ensign flying at the fore, and asked the captain to give him one like it. Pointing with some contempt to the Jack floating proudly from the flagstaff on shore, he said that the red ensign was the flag for him, the other being too dingy for his taste. With great tact Captain Ravenhill explained that the red ensign was the badge of merchant ships and second-class potentates, and that, on seeing the Jack, visitors would at once recognise the importance of Niué-Fekai, and would conduct themselves with a proper spirit of respect.