Being on an outer island has afforded me many opportunities to see “traditional” Tongan. There are only a few families in the village – everyone is related somehow to almost everyone else. Everyone is very close, and thus they know everyone else’s business. But they also have a great sense of “what’s mine is yours” that, I think, might me lost in bigger towns where everyone doesn’t know everyone else. It’s a great experience to be around such giving people.
For instance, my neighbors bring me food almost every day. They’ll share whatever they cook for themselves, usually fish and cassava, bringing it over for lunch or dinner. I’ve accumulated many of their plates and bowls this way, and, one day, when my neighbor and school principal was over, I said, “Oh, here’s your plate!” She corrected me, “It’s ok; it’s our plate.”
I want to learn how to weave one of the traditional belts that Tongan women wear, and this neighbor told me she would teach me how, if I found some fao – the kind of material used for the weaving. I asked her how to go about finding it, and she said, “Just go ask anyone. If they have some, they’ll give it to you. They know you can’t grow your own, so they’ll help you.”
This kind of giving without any expectations of reciprocity has been one of the more outstanding characteristics of my village. The PTA has organized families to feed me three days a week, and they most often bring me a huge shopping basket with chicken, root crops, lobster, and fish. Of course, they know I’m not going to eat all that, and they expect me to give some to the neighbors, to make sure they eat well too.
Families always tell me, if I need anything, just ask. Do I need some yams? How about some hopa? I’ve felt bored, lonely, sick, and anti-social here, but I’ve never felt unwelcome.