celebrations of the constitutional monarchy of Polynesia
The king is everywhere. On street posters, water bottles and arcades lit up like Christmas trees across Tonga. Illuminated balloons, flags and streamers from airport houses to the capital of Nuku’alofa. The face of King Tupou VI – looking a little bored and amused by the commotion – is on every crisp banknote.
Parents put dollars into children’s costumes as they perform for Her Majesty, ahead of her coronation on July 4. weeklong celebrations in Polynesia’s only constitutional monarchy.
Next come young men with wooden paddles, dancing to music, warns the official announcer, “in a largely unintelligible language”. Boys and girls gather near the royal palace, patting long sticks and singing something that sounds like – but almost certainly isn’t – “Hello Petunia”.
We’ve already feasted on long tables topped with grilled piglets, shrimp, lobster, beef, turkey, oysters, crab, salmon and grapes. Sparkling wine from Griffith in southwest New South Wales is served to nobles wearing flowers or tiny mice around their necks.
Hundreds of people overeating and not a Portaloo in sight. “You can’t leave until you’ve finished dessert,” said the man sitting next to me, who had flown from New Zealand, before starting his second plate of sweet yams.
Among the crowd of colorfully dressed voters is D’Arcy Wood in dark costume. The 78-year-old retired United Church minister from Gisborne, a small town northwest of Melbourne, has been specially chosen by the king to perform Saturday’s coronation.
“He’s a nice guy,” said Wood. “He’s quite humorous and informal. It’s nice to talk to him.” Wood watched a DVD of Tonga’s previous coronation in 2008 – for the king’s older brother, an eccentric bachelor who died with no eligible successors – with a view to crowning the monarch and anointing his hands and head with oil.
“Crowning a king isn’t something I’ve done before and it’s something I don’t expect to have to do again,” he says. “I feel nervous about doing this.”