The Friendly Islands

“The Friendly Islands”

Tonga : 5 facts
Located in the Pacific Ocean, Tonga is a cluster of about 180 small islands.

  • Tongan people trace their ancestry back for at least 1, 000 years.
  • Inhabitants of Tonga are predominantly Polynesians who continue to have a well-established tribal culture. They still have a King – the only monarchy in the South Pacific.
  • The first European contact with Tonga was by Dutch explorers in the 17th
  • Captain James Cook visited the islands in 1773 and again in 1777. The local people were so hospitable that he nicknamed the area “The Friendly Islands”

Missionaries in the Pacific
A Missionary is a person who is devoted to the task of extending their religion beyond their own land or culture.

Over the history of time there have been countless different religions and faiths. Some faiths are happy to practise within a village or geographical area while others wish to share the benefits with outsiders and look to expand.

Christian missionaries fall into the latter group. They work on the premise that the word of their God was one who would benefit all peoples. Christians see it as their task to educate and indoctrinate other peoples into their faith. In the 19th century, Christian missionaries, such as Buchanan, would travel for thousands of miles to the Pacific Ocean and live in lands, which must have seemed dangerous and foreboding in order to ‘spread the word.’

A clash of cultures
When you get two peoples with vastly different backgrounds and cultures meeting and having to live with each other, problems are bound to arise. Let us look at the situation from both points of view.

From a Missionary point of view

It was a huge sacrifice that the missionaries made. How would you feel if you were a missionary setting off to live in a land on the other side of the world?

Scared? Determined? They must have had great faith and belief in what they were doing.

What dangers and challenges would have awaited Missionaries on the way and when they got there?

The challenges would be almost too numerous to mention. Just imagine it!

A few examples could be – long journeys by ship and foot, disease, hostile inhabitants of new land, setting up villages, communicating with inhabitants – can you think of any more?

The missionaries were in these lands because they felt very strongly about their purpose. They were prepared to act on what they believed in and showed great courage.

What did the 18th and 19th Century missionaries achieve?
Missionaries usually worked very hard within their diocese, the work certainly stretching well beyond the role of priest or vicar. Some examples of their activities could include building and setting up facilities, establishing and then running schools and hospitals.

Two views on missionaries

Some critics would dismiss missionaries as nothing but yet another example of Christian people believing themselves better to other religions and groups. They would see missionaries as going hand in hand with colonisation and the Imperialism – the spread of the British Empire.
Others may take a different view and suggest that missionaries were spreading the word out of genuine compassion for their fellow man. Perhaps the missionaries wished to see all people receiving the benefits that they felt they were receiving through their faith and wanted to help in any way they could.

Consider your views of missionaries – do agree with either of the above opinions?

From the point of view of the Tongans
Can you imagine living in a culture with a certain set of beliefs and then, almost overnight, having your knowledge of the world turned upside down?

This must have been how many inhabitants of lands such as Tonga felt after their first contact with Europeans.

It would have been a huge shock to suddenly have foreign people imparting their views, strange customs and, maybe even more frightening, strange objects upon your established culture.

We know the confusion that Vaani felt when she saw Jess, a boy with white skin. She thought he was a form of sea life! Tuku kept referring to the ship as a big canoe as it was different from anything he had seen before.

With the arrival of the missionaries and settlers came both guns and new strands of diseases. Both of these factors were to have devastating affects on local populations.

While many European commodities such as clothing, guns and tools must have seen attractive to these peoples, there must have been a good many who would have preferred that settlers and missionaries had never arrived and life could return to the way it had always been.

While some locals were sceptical of the visitors (e.g. Chief Finau), others became enthusiastic Christians – often blending their own beliefs with those introduced by missionaries.

The survival of cultures – The Pacific
Unfortunately the arrival of settlers and missionaries in some lands too often heralded the decline of traditional cultures. One culture tended to dominate to the detriment of the other. Examples could include countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Samoa. In recent years, however, we have seen a re-emergence and developing pride in traditional cultures as countries work towards a partnership in the true sense of the word.