One component of this experience that I will always treasure is the exposure to South Pacific writers. It is a genre that I knew very little about prior to my time in Tonga. I wanted to share another poem by Dr. Konai Helu Thaman. Gender, culture, and tradition are often themes in her poetry. For a more detailed biography of Dr. Thaman, visit the fantastic blog http://anapesi.blogspot.com/2008/11/words-from-wise-dr-konai-helu-thaman.html.
We recently discussed the following poem in my Form 6 (12th Grade in the States) English class. It was a pertinent discussion because arranged marriages are still common in Tonga, especially in the more rural islands/villages.
You, The Choice of My Parents
You came clad in your fine mats and tapa cloth
Your brown skin bursting with fresh perfumed oil
And your eyes shining like stars in a clear night-
YOU, the choice of my parents.
You will bring them wealth and fame
With your Western-type education
And second-hand car.
Yet you do not know me, my prince
Save that I am first-born and have known no other man;
I fit your plans and schemes for the future.
You cannot see the real me
My face is masked with pretense and obedience
And my smiles tell you that I care
I have no other choice.
The priest has left the altar now
And the dancing has begun;
I see myself dying slowly
To family and traditions;
Stripped of its will and carefree spirit,
Naked on the cold and lonely waters
Of a strange family shoreline
Alienated from belonging truly.
I love as a mere act of duty
My soul is far away
Clinging to that familiar ironwood tree
That heralds strangers
To the land of my ancestors.
I will bear you a son
To prolong your family tree
And fill the gaps in your genealogy.
But when my duties are fulfilled
My spirit will return to the land of my birth
Where you will find me no more
Except for the weeping willows along the shore.
Dr. Konai Helu Thaman