Surveyors' new book about Tonga brings back memories

by Dr Malakai Koloamatangi

“So much had changed” was how authors and former surveyors Bruce Alexander and Larry Wordsworth described Tonga after some 50 years absence from the Island Kingdom. Bruce and Larry were surveyors in Tonga in 1957. Having been jointly hired by the Tongan and New Zealand governments, they were responsible for dividing the bush allotments into their current and constitutionally guaranteed 8.25 acre plot. Every Tongan male 16 years and over, upon reaching tax-paying age, is entitled to receive a town and bush allotment. Bruce and Larry’s experiences of their time in Tonga were turned into a book titled 100 Fathoms Square.

The book was launched by HRH Princess Mele Siu’ilikutapu of Tonga on 12 September at Massey University’s Albany campus. Despite the rain (though some saw it as a blessing) around 40 people from the community, Tongan and non-Tongan, and Massey University staff turned out for the launch. Reverend Tevita Finau of the Northcote Tongan Methodist church officiated with an opening prayer then Bruce gave an informative and at times emotional account of his and Larry’s sojourn in Tonga. Of particular interest were the relationships they were able to forge with local co-workers and their perspectives on Tongan life – even those aspects they did not understand.

Princess Siu’ilikutapu formally launched the book then she gave a personal account of her role in bringing the book to fruition. She also reminded everyone that her father HRH Prince Tu’ipelehake was Prime Minister of Tonga at the time. She showed particular interest in one of photo which showed Prince Tu’ipelehake and the surveyors in one of the villages on Tongatapu. Mention was made that in addition to the historical and social significance of the book, there are many coloured photographs depicting town and village life as they were in the mid-1950s. Some people were able to recognise family and friends in the photographs, which made the book all the more valuable. So much so that Bruce was able to sell many signed copies of the book on the night.

For the record: the Tongan expression teau ‘e taha referring to a bush allotment of 8.25 acres comes from its equivalent ‘100 fathoms’ hence the title of the book. Of interest too is the fact, which is shown pictorially in the book, that a specific monetary creation the silini ‘e fa or four shillings was made because a box of bananas for export used to cost this amount exactly.

Copies of the book can be bought from Margot Moller macmoller@xtra.co.nz

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