Research reveals Queen Sālote’s “great sorrow” about loss of tradition in modern Tonga

Fifty years after her death, new research by a Tongan scholar has revealed Queen Sālote’s fears for the demise of tradition in modern Tonga.

Queen Sālote Tupou III ruled from 1918 to 1965. The anniversary of her death comes this Wednesday, December 16.

She is widely remembered by many Tongans for her great talent in music composition, choreographer and arts.

According to Massey University Master of Philosophy candidate Paula Onoafe Lātū, who has been researching Her Majesty’s personal documents  for his thesis, she was worried about the loss of the kingdom’s traditions.

Latu said the beloved Queen Sālote “warned the twentieth century people of Tonga of the problem of neglecting talatukufakaholo [oral traditions] and their significance to the identity of the people as a sovereign nation.”

According to Latu, Queen Salote wrote: “Ko e makatu’unga ‘o e Fonua pe puleʻanga kotoa pe ko e loto mo e mo’ui mo e anga ‘o e kakai.”

In English, this means: “The foundation of every nation and government is the heart, life, and character of her people.”

“The problem is that we are throwing away [our traditions] too quickly, but have nothing to replace it, and we become gatherers of bits here and there. We have become pickers of crumbs, a generation of kailu (those who eat what has been thrown away by others),” the Queen wrote.

The Queen believed the loss of traditions meant the loss of identity of Tongans which was significant when identifying the fonua kakato (literally are still a complete country).

“That is the result of half-baked education (ako tuku konga loto) and shows the weakness of the leaders in holding on to their duties without knowing what they should be, and that is why they threw it away,” she wrote.

Queen Sālote lamented what she claimed as Tongan leaders’ disregard and carelessness in keeping and holding to the kingdom’s traditions.

She said: “We have looked at this throwing away of tradition with great sorrow, for our traditions is a good foundation for Tonga”.

In her dedication to the book Songs and Poems of Queen Sālote, which included English translations of her work by Melenaite Taumoefolau, editor Elizabeth Wood-Ellen described her Majesty as: “a gifted poet, musician, choreographer, intelligent and gracious, beloved of her people, promoter of peace and unity in Tonga.”

The main points

  • Fifty years after her death, new research by a Tongan scholar has revealed Queen Salote’s fears for the demise of modern Tonga.
  • Queen Salote Tupou III ruled from 1918 to 1965. The anniversary of her death comes this Wednesday, December 16.
  • According to Massey University Massey Master of Philosophy candidate Paula Onoafe Latu, who has been researching Her Majesty’s personal documents for his thesis, she was worried about the loss of the kingdom’s traditions.
  • Latu said the beloved Queen Salote “warned the twentieth century people of Tonga of the problem of neglecting talatukufakaholo [oral traditions] and their significance to the identity of the people as a sovereign nation.”

For more information

Poems and Songs Fit for a Queen (Radio Australia)

Royal Visit to Tonga 1954 – Queen Sālote meets Queen Elizabeth II

Tribute to Queen Sālote (NZ Film Archives)

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