Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfataustralianaid/
This post is part of the Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month Blog Hop (see details below).
May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month! To celebrate, I wanted to learn more about the cultures of the Pacific Islands and how they are being passed on to children today. Luckily for me, a good friend from college (raised in Papua New Guinea and now living in Tonga) put me in touch with a mother in Tonga, who was kind enough to answer my questions Many thanks to Ta’hirih for this interview on sharing heritage with children. I especially love how traditions are being adapted to fit her family today. It is a lovely story – enjoy!
1) Please share a bit about your background/heritage. What are some special childhood memories related to your heritage?
As a child some of the special food I enjoyed eating was breadfruit (mei), yams (‘ufi), sweet potatoes (kumala), ripe plantain (hopamomoho), sea urchin (tukumisi/hofa), fresh raw fish (ikaota) and raw fish salad (‘otaika). I was able to pick fruits from beside my home such as guava (kuava), soursop (‘apele ‘initia), or from our bush allotment we collected polynesian plum (vi), pineapple (faina),various kinds of bananas such as lady’s finger banana (misipeka), cooking banana (pata). With some of the fruits we would make ‘otai (scraped fruit salad mixed with coconut cream), or making deserts such as cooked ripe pawpaw with coconut milk (vailesi), or boiled green coconut meat with its sweet juice (veihalo) which is fragrance with lemon grass boiled together (moengalo). Some of the greens I enjoyed eating in Tonga are pele (Pele – spinach), taro leaves (lu), sea-weed (limu).
The holidays that were most memorable as a child were the Christmas and New Year holidays. My extended Christian family would usually come to visit us just to share food with us or to “fe’iloakita’ufo’ou” (new year greetings) from 12 am onwards if it is New Year. In more remote villages in Tonga, homes will visit neighbors or the entire household to greet them for the New Year. But nowadays with people becoming more individualistic in the mindset, that kind of visiting is much less. For Christmas groups of families or friends or your neighbors will come to sing Christmas carols, and as a token of appreciation it is expected that you send off with tapa-cloth (ngatu), mats (fala) which now have changed to monetary form or food instead.
Tonga has strong family ties. I remember growing up in a house full of people. We lived with my grandparents, my uncles and their wives as well as my young aunty; I grew up with many cousins of my age. There was never a moment in which the household was bare and quiet; the sound of laughter always filled the hallway or noisy grandma telling off my uncles or aunties about things that needed attention. So “ha’i ‘a kainga” (family/extended family ties) was very strong back then. We would eat together, and as a child I didn’t contribute to cooking but helped with running errands with my cousins for our uncles and aunties or to our parents. I remember that we would sit around the fire and this gigantic pot of food was cooked on the outside kitchen (peito), so there will be the “haka” (boiled stable food in coconut milk) and us kids fanning the flame so that it can burn bright to cook the food quickly, and also the “kulosupo” (pot of soup). This will feed about 30 people at home, and this is because my dad had 8 other siblings plus their spouses, and additional adopted children raised by grandma and grandpa, not counting all of us grandkids, so it would be more than 30 at most times. The culture of living together with your extended family, eating together, and growing up together strengthens the “ha’i ‘a kainga” (ties of families) and maintains our cultural values of respect (faka’apa’apa), obedience (talangofua) to your elders, love (fe’ofa’aki) and many more.
Respect in Tonga is a big part of our culture and there are various forms of respect shown in the way we speak, eat, dress, walk, sit and also the kind of work we do. I remember attending funerals in Tonga as a child. Tonga has strong matriarchy society, and because of this the “fahu” [sisters of the fathers] are superior in social functions to the children of the brothers. So if I attend a funeral that it is my father who has passed away, it is respectful that my aunty (my father’s sister) or grandpa’s sister (fahuloa) cut our hair to portray her superiority over her brothers children or nephew’s children. Many gifts are given to her in funerals or in weddings and it is said that any occasion is worth celebrating if your “fahu” is present to honor the celebration. So there were times where i had to sit as a representative of “fahu” on my mother’s side since she has many brothers. To represent a “fahu” position, one has to be patient to sit respectfully at a funeral or wedding and endure the length of the memorial or occasion before one can leave. Although some Tongans said it is best to do away with those “kavenga” (burdens) of maintaining and serving the matriarchy system, the truth is, it is what strengthens the family ties in Tonga because families meet with families in these occasions that they have not met for ages and also pass on the knowledge of tapu (taboo values) that must be maintain by sisters/brothers (cousins), children to parents, and what not. With strong family ties, there is never a time one individual family member will suffer because there are many hands helping out with funeral or wedding expenses. And that was the reality of Tonga that I noticed as a child, but nowadays this has changed. It is only you for your own little family’s expense, the love (femafana’aki and fe’ofa’aki) is replaced but with individualistic mind set in Tonga and materialism.
2) How has your heritage influenced you today? How does it influence your parenting?
My heritage has influenced me greatly because what I inherited was not only my family name “Fifita”, but its history, extension of families ties, and the religion that my grandparents chose in the past (Bahá’í Faith), which has now become the same religion that 4 of our generations believed in, the culture we related to each other and also the values upheld by my family due to that. The Bahá’í principles and values are the core of our family ties and its application in our family. So as an individual I have been molded to act, talk, think and live like a Bahá’í because that was the greatest gift my grandparents have given us grandkids and our children. To share only one way it has greatly influenced me is the principle of Universal Compulsory Education and that through doing your best in everything even in your education is a form of worship to God. As a child being molded with that understanding, I really pursued in the field of education, and now do what I can to contribute to the advancement of education in the country I serve in. My profession is on the educational sector, and I approach it with a humble posture of learning, with searching consultation how I can only improve my service to the younger generation in Tonga but also how can learn more about the learners in Tonga.
With parenthood, it is greatly influenced with the same core values I was raised in. I look at children as gifts of God given to me. I do not see them as a source of investment for my own personal needs but as an investment to the community-building capacity of the whole society. The children are endowed with innate talents/knowledge, and through providing the right of education in all areas that the child is better equipped to contribute to the betterment of the world wherever they may choose to reside in the future. And it is with that mentality as a parent that I constantly reflect have I done my best to nurture my children in the core Baha’i values I was raised in, because if I fulfill that that I fulfill my role in the education of the children of God. There is a saying that if you educate a man, you educate an individual and if you educate a woman you educate a whole generation of men. As a mother, I believe in that very much. I strive to provide our children the opportunity for good education but with particular attention to that of my daughter! I look at the moments of my children’s shortcomings as an opportunity for both of us to learn, for me as a mother to reflect on what have I done wrong that contributed to that, and also for my children to reflect how did that mistake not contribute to the advancement of the family, organization or the society they are in. So it is approached in a learning mode, that their obstacles are stepping stones for greater growth.
I would have to say that although my parenting and who I am as individual is not entirely Tongan because of the religious values we were brought up by our grandparents and parents, at the same time these have strengthen some of the Tongan values such as respect, and this is extended to respecting the right of every individual members of the families. In our old Tongan society, respect means to be silent when elders speak and to not answer back when you are being questioned and that men are the head of the families. But strengthening the values of respect in the way I was raised, it means that the voice of every individual member is heard, and the head of the family is “consultation” amongst the family members. This even strengthen the family ties, the love, and the consideration of individual differences, rather than diminishing those Tongan values.
3) How are you passing on your heritage to your own children? What would you especially like them to learn about it?
I pass my own heritage to my children by telling them of my past and their ancestors. I also make sure that I take them to family occasions in order to strengthen their ties with our growing extended families, and explaining to them the values/behaviour of them expected on specific occasions. I show them images from an old picture book of my mother and also from the collection of my siblings, with some video clips from the past that create that feeling of belonging in them, valuing the trust, love and “mafana” (loving feelings nurtured in the past) that tied the Fifita family in the past. This goes for my husband’s side of the family too, taking my children to family occasions and hosting them at home when they visit, teaches my children about the importance of building and maintaining strong family ties, hospitality, respect, love, care and also pursuing excellence in whatever area ones serves in. This is can be manifested in the little work from normal family chore to bigger service, but the spirit of excellence is performed because we serving others for the love of God.
So what I would like my children to learn about what I inherited is the good part of it, the strength of what I inherited, and whatever the shortcomings from the ancestral stories shared to look at it not with judgmental eyes but with a learning mode approach. At this stage, I am trying to teach my son to understand the value of land to Tongans as that is one thing that is inherited through the sons and the significance of land to one’s family future and how it should not be the cause of disunity from fights of siblings/cousins as have observed with many families in Tonga due to misunderstanding in the land. My husband is the only son in his family, and giving birth to also only one son as well makes it even more important for me to educate him to understand the importance of family ties, and the importance of land to maintaining family unity and family wealth through proper investment in it such as agricultural activities, the sharing of the land to other siblings so that it will also help raise their own families. I also would like my children to learn the Tongan language and its values because there are Tongan values that are worth maintaining as they help build society, and there are some cultural practises that need not be preserved but I will not mention that here, because those are the values that do not contribute to the advancing our society, but probably causing more division in it.
How do you pass on your heritage to your children?
In honor of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, Multicultural Kid Blogs is sponsoring a blog hop, and you are invited! We are celebrating the cultures and peoples of this diverse region by sharing our posts and asking other bloggers to do the same! Our hope is to create a wonderful resource for celebrating Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month with children. Be sure to visit the co-hosts of the blog hop (listed below) and share your own posts at the linky at the bottom!