Polikalepo Kefu had a ‘dream for better Lapaha’; His death sparks call to redefine LGBT in Tonga

The Lapaha community lost one of its leading activists when Polikalepo Kefu, who was a human rights activist and LGBTQ+ president, was allegedly murdered last week.

Community Leader Kapeli Lanumata. Photo/Facebook (cropped)

A 27-year-old man charged in connection with his death is expected to appear on May 19, at the Magistrate’s Court in Mu’a.

It is understood Kefu’s body was still in hospital today (Sunday, May 9) awaiting autopsy.

The huge flow of tributes to his death not only in Tonga but from overseas has been likened to the proverb which says “you can tell the tree by the fruit it bears”.

Kefu, 41, was a true leader in the community especially the youth, said Lapaha Community Leader Kapeli Lanumata.

“He was active in the Catholic church and its groups such as the Divine Mercy and St Vincent de Paul.

Lanumata described Kefu as “humble and a true asset” for the Lapaha community, where he grew up.

“He dreamed for a better Lapaha,” Lanumata said.

“His death was truly felt in the community since he was a leading figure in everything he did”.

Lanumata said Kefu’s older brothers moved overseas, leaving him to take care of his sisters and their children including a sister who was handicapped. Kefu’s parents were dead.

From the time his death was revealed, there has  been a call to redefine the Tongan word

Joey Joleen Mataele. Photo/Supplied (cropped)

for gay man (fakaleitī)  and fakatangata for lesbians to make sure it covers the meaning covered by the acronym LGBTQ+ or Lesibian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer.

The word fakaleitī comes from the English word lady (leiti) and the addition of the Tongan prefix faka, which denotes likeness, at the front to make it fakaleitī means a gay man.

Tongan women said to behaving like men are called fakatangata. The word is a combination of the prefix faka and the Tongan word tangata which means man.

Supporters of the LGBT community wanted to make sure the Tongan words for LGBT people had connotations of respect and equality.

One of the founding members of the Tonga Leitii’s Association, Joey Joleen Mataele, said they had accepted and used the word Leitī for LGBTQ+ hence the Tonga Leitis Association.

Mataele said the word fakaleitī “sounds like a vulgar word”.

“When I grew up that word was not used. The word was fakafāfine or fakafefine”, he told Kaniva News.

The word fakaleiti, according to Mataele was coined by a researcher working in Tonga.

“And that everybody started using it and it became a derogatory word,” he said.

“And that’s why when we started the Tonga Leitis Association we removed the prefix faka”.

“The word Leiti is inclusive to us and we call everyone of us as Leiti, whether they are lesbians, gay man or transgender etc.”

“We just totally reject it. When we communicate with our stakeholders overseas they know it and they used to us the word Leiti.”

It is understood the locals quickly used the word fakaleitī as part of a campaign to suppress the rights of the LGBTQ+ to be equally treated like the straight men and women.

Mataele, who said the association was the oldest organisation for LGBT in the Pacific, said the word lady is more convenience and formal to use.

Joe Wilson

Joe Wilson, the director of a film titled Leitis in Waiting, about the Tonga Leitis’ Association, said he wanted to  “ensure that the terminologies being referenced are more accurately described or defined with sensitivity for the individuals / groups to which they apply. Leiti (or the outmoded term fakaleiti) is a term that now has a broader and more inclusive connotation than just gay man. It can be a specific reference to the English term transgender, but also a more welcoming umbrella term for all of the LGBTQIA community.”

Kefu’s death has been seen by many as the result of a hate crime.

But Mataele said he did not want to see their organisation as being targeted.

“If it was we need to be protected and to work closely with the Police, law and government,” Mataele said.

“We don’t want to think that that is happening, because we still believe Tonga is a Christian country

“We just need justice for Poli and we pray for his soul.”

Mataele said LGBT rights were in a better position now in Tonga,  compared to 30 years ago.

“It was really difficult, but now we are able to work together with various community leaders like church leaders, town and district officers,” he said.

“The mentality towards us has changed.”

He said the association had about 300 members excluding the school students.

Mataele said members included gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.

He said the organisation helped accommodate LGBT members who were evicted from home because of their orientation.

They also had scholarships for students who are LGBT as well as straight students who needed their help.

“We have awarded 62 scholarships,” he said.

The organisation helped educate its members, some of whom had gone overseas and taken up opportunities there.

The organisation is mainly funded by its annual Miss Galaxy competitions and stakeholders in Tonga and overseas.

Sometimes when a business is growing, it needs a little help.

Right now Kaniva News provides a free, politically independent, bilingual news service for readers around the world that is absolutely unique. We are the largest New Zealand-based Tongan news service, and our stories reach Tongans  wherever they are round the world. But as we grow, there are increased demands on Kaniva News for translation into Tongan on our social media accounts and for the costs associated with expansion. We believe it is important for Tongans to have their own voice and for Tongans to preserve their language, customs and heritage. That is something to which we are strongly committed. That’s why we are asking you to consider sponsoring our work and helping to preserve a uniquely Tongan point of view for our readers and listeners.

Latest news

Related news