‘THE NEW FRIENDLY ISLANDERS’ BY KENNETH BAIN

‘The New Friendly Islanders: The Tonga of King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV’ is a continuation of Kenneth Bain’s earlier book about the South Pacific kingdom, ‘The Friendly Islanders’.

THE NEW FRIENDLY ISLANDERS

Summary

More than thirty years after his first visit, Kenneth Bain returns to the islands of Tonga. Even though he’s aware of some inevitable changes that occurred during his absence, he is still amazed how different the country actually feels.

As Bain rediscovers the place, he reminisces about the past but also wonders about the future. What does it hold for Tonga and its people? What is needed to take the kingdom intact into the new millennium? Will the country be able to preserve its culture? If yes, at what cost? None of these questions is easy to answer. But one thing is certain: life in Tonga is no longer a matter of ‘waiting for the coconut to fall’. There’s money involved; and sometimes it’s hard to resist the blandishments of the modern world.

In order to fully understand the situation, Kenneth Bain meets with various people. Futa Helu, King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV as well as his sons: Crown Prince Tupouto‘a (King George Tupou V) and ʻAhoʻeitu (King Tupou VI) give their own opinions and predictions, letting the author know how they see things.

Review

If Bain’s previous book on Tonga was good, this one is great. They may feel quite similar – and they are to some extent – but this volume is definitely far more interesting, far more amusing, and far more pleasant to read.

First and foremost, it is a delightful blend of real-life stories, myths, and legends. Mixing those three elements together was indeed a terrific idea. While most of the narratives are filled with pure facts, the so-called Legendary Interludes take readers on a wonderful journey to the past, letting them discover the utterly captivating Polynesian folklore – so deeply rooted in the Pacific cultures. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind reading more of these tales, because they are extremely compelling.

As for the stories about contemporary Tonga, they couldn’t be told any better. This time the author is less focused on politics and governmental issues, more on people and their lives in the fast-changing South Pacific region. He talks to the natives, asks questions, and searches for answers. As a New Zealander, he is an observer looking in from outside. And this is what makes his account so incredibly credible.

Another thing worth mentioning is Bain’s sense of humour: sharp, witty, a little unconventional. It shines through every page, but it’s not too intrusive. Well, one needs to be a master storyteller to achieve that. And this is exactly what Kenneth Bain is: a writer, not just a presenter of information.

I must say that I was once again drawn to the fascinating world of Polynesia’s last remaining monarchy. The book gave me some valuable insights into the changes that had occurred in Tonga in the early 90s. I learnt a lot. And so will you if you decide to read ‘The New Friendly Islanders’. I highly recommend it.

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