Day 362, Year 1: Halalu’ia Chorus in Tonga
Date: Sunday, October 15, 2006
Weather: Beautiful, Sunny Day—Still Windy
Location: Tapana Island, Vava’u Group, Tonga–Anchorage #11

We’ve just returned from attending a special church service in Neiafu for the new King. The service was in Tongan, so we didn’t understand much, but it was beautifully done. And the singing was absolutely spectacular. As cruisers from all over the world filed out of the church, all of us agreed that our national choirs could not top what we heard this morning. From the impromptu singing before the service to the final “himi”, the beautiful voices of these people were just overwhelming. The service ended with a full Halleluiah Chorus that brought tears to many eyes. It was certainly a service fit for a king and we felt truly blessed to be able to join in this occasion. The voices of the Tongans will fill our hearts for many years to come. Now for the details.

Early this morning we dinghied into Ano Beach and took a taxi into Neiafu for the special church service for the new king, Siaosi Tupou V. In English, Siaosi is George. I was dressed in black from head to toe and Mark in navy blue as he has no black. Dick and Lynn from Wind Pony went in with us, none of us really knowing what to expect. We knew this was a multi-denominational service in honor of the King, and we knew everyone would be dressed in black and wearing their ta’ovalas or woven mats. That’s as much information as we had.

We were very early and our taxi driver, Sam, told us that we would not be able to enter the church without a ta’ovala, but that we could sit under the tent very close to the windows. So that’s what we did. Even though it was only 8:30 and the service didn’t begin until 10:00, the church started filling up quickly. There were two huge tents on either side of the church, and before the service started, the church and the tents were filled to overflowing. At about 9:00 impromptu singing began. We have heard beautiful singing all throughout the South Pacific, but this was just a notch above. While we were listening to the singing, an older woman came out and invited us into the church. She was pretty insistent that we come in, so we did. Just before the service began at 10:00, the King quietly arrived and took a seat on the side in the front of the church. It was a carved wooden seat that looked like a throne. Other than the fact that someone was constantly fanning him, there was no ceremony attached to his entrance. Once he was seated, the service began. A little more than halfway through the service, the King rose and spoke. He was very soft spoken and it sounded to me like he was telling the people that it is time to be happy again. He smiled and laughed and encouraged the audience to do the same. Then came a rousing speech from someone in the front row that we could not see. We think it was the Governor of Vava’u. And then the minister from the LMS Methodist Church hosting this service spoke. At the end of his speaking, people in the audience all started talking at once. They were giving praises aloud and as their voices rose to a crescendo a lone voice started singing. Others joined while others continued praying. It was almost impossible not to be caught up in the emotion. The final touch was a full Halleluiah Chorus with voices so beautiful that it is impossible to describe.

When the service ended, it was quite a site to see all of the people exiting the church in their mourning dress. It appeared that different congregations attending dressed differently. The Methodist women all wear a bright red scarfs hanging down the front of their black blouses. Other groups of women wore fancier black dresses, some decorated with sequins, and black hats-no woven mats and no red scarves. In the front yard of the church, all of the ministers that have been part of the service were adorned with elaborate flower wreaths and they were interviewed for quite some time by the press. In the meantime, the women of the church started giving flower leis and flower capes to some of the cruisers who were gathered watching the ministers being interviewed. This started a flurry of palangi picture taking. Afterwards, many of us went to the yacht club for lunch, though this small harbor-side restaurant is a long way from what one might usually consider a “yacht club.”

By early afternoon we were headed back out Pangaimotu Island to Ano Beach were we had left our dinghy, we were still a little overwhelmed with all we had seen. But as we drove to the top of the hill and looked down on the anchorage and sparkling turquoise water, we changed gears and got back into cruiser mode. We did a little work on the boat this afternoon, took a dinghy ride around the reef, and that was about it.

Tomorrow we head back to Neiafu to continue our preparation for the passage to New Zealand. There’s much to do and time is running out.

061015 Day 362 Tonga, Vava'u–Church Service in Neiafu for New King