COMMENT: The Princess and the Fob
I am related to nobility. I was told this by my Aunty Lahi. She sat me down in my Nana’s red velveteen lounge room, which was surrounded by framed pictures of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus, and said, "Your mother was part of a hou’eiki family from the village of Kolomotu’a. You’re not like us commoners from Malapo." Then Lahi laughed deeply, her stomach jiggling underneath a Lauryn Hill t-shirt. ‘See, if you weren’t ashamed of being Tongan, you could be a princess.’
When I was younger, I hated calling myself Tongan and not even the appeal of being a ‘noble’ could change that. As an island, Tonga needs a label to be seen on the world map and has a small population of 100,000 people. Each village has its own chiefs and from the 10th century to 1865 each island group of Vava’u, Ha’apa’i and Tongatapu had their own kings. Despite such a complicated and rich royal history, no one outside of Tonga gives any real value to our kingdom. This is because Western imperialism and white supremacy has made Tonga a third-world country with one of the highest obesity rates in the world. No one outside of the South Pacific gives two shits about fat Fobs who call themselves kings.
Growing up, I didn’t care either. My parents were, and still are, night shift security guards trying to feed their eight kids; all my clothes were second-hand, and I shared a room with my five sisters in a one-storey brick house between Rooty Hill and Mt Druitt. Back when my Aunty Lahi told me I was from nobility, all I said back to her was, "Isn’t every Tongan related? We might as well all be royals."
What exactly is the message here for young women of colour around the world?
To me, real kings, queens, princes and princesses were either Disney, white or both. White supremacy taught me that only women who looked like Belle from Beauty and the Beast or British women like Diana Frances Spencer, could ever be princesses. Many people are saying that things are different now because Prince Harry has taken a mixed-race African-American actress as his bride. But what exactly is the message here for young women of colour around the world? That you can be a real princess too if a white British prince decides to marry you? What about the chiefs, princes, princesses, queens and kings of Tonga who have always been dark skinned and indigenous? When King Tupou VI got married to Queen Nanasipau’u in July 2015, their wedding was not televised across the globe.
Despite this royal inequality, many Tongans believe that the British royal family are our friends, and there’s history to back them up. When Captain Cook first landed in Tonga he reported back to Britain about us as ‘The Friendly Islands’, and in 1880 Britain and Tonga signed a Treaty of Friendship that gave Britain control of foreign affairs and kept Tonga free from other predatory powers. Queen Elizabeth II has been documented as being friends with Tonga’s Queen Sālote Tupou III, after Queen Sālote rode in the London rain with her carriage down at the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.
Tonga is the only island in the South Pacific that has always maintained, at least to a degree, indigenous sovereignty. Tonga is also recognised by white imperialist standards as the only monarchy within the South Pacific. Through oral storytelling traditions, Tongans can trace our collective history all the way back to the Tu’i Tonga kings who were given power by the old mythological creator, Tangaloa.
What about the chiefs, princes, princesses, queens and kings of Tonga who have always been dark skinned and indigenous?
However, whilst Tangaloa is accepted as the source of our kingdom’s royalty, Tongans refer to the old religion as ‘the darkness’. ‘The light’ came in 1797, when the first Christian missionaries landed in Tonga to try and turn its people from ‘lawlessness and fiendish cruelty’ into ‘civil’ Christian society. Although the sense of friendship between Britain and Tonga is founded on the fact that Tonga was never officially colonised, the introduction of Christianity on our people still represented all the classic traits of white colonialism. Tongans today see the existence and presence of the British as a gift – they gave us the ‘true’ God and we got to keep our lands in the midst of rampant British colonialism of other nations such as: India, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, parts of East and South Africa and parts of New Guinea, Samoa and Micronesia after their German occupation. This is why Tonga’s national motto is, ‘Koe Otua mo Tonga ko hoku tofia,’ which means, ‘From God and Tonga I descend.’
In October 2018, Prince Harry and his new wife, Meghan Markle, visited Tonga as part of their royal tour. Upon their landing, every child in Tonga was given the day off school to line the main road from Fua’amotu International Airport to the capital city, Nuku’alofa, whilst waving British and Tongan flags. Then upon meeting with Tonga’s Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva and the Tongan royal family, Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan Markle bought a painting from the local handicraft markets and unveiled a plaque for Queen Elizabeth’s Commonwealth Canopy, which aims to preserve forests in the previous and current lands of the Commonwealth.
During this event, Prince Harry recited these words from his grandmother: “To this day, I remember with fondness Queen Salote’s attendance at my own Coronation, while Prince Philip and I have cherished memories from our three wonderful visits to your country in 1953, 1970 and 1977.” I found it ironic that the British were planting trees in a nation that is on the verge of sinking because of their contribution to climate change. I found it hard to watch a mixed-race black woman laugh at young marginalised Tongan men singing, even if the song was meant to be ‘funny’ – Markle has such a large global presence that I feel she should be using it to uplift the marginalised communities around the globe who have been almost irreversibly affected by the British empire. I found it saddening to see the whole nation of Tonga come to a standstill for our colonisers.
The British monarchy should not determine the standard of our aristocracy.
It is easier to accept the narrative that because Tongans kept their lands, the island kingdom has a ‘better’ and more ‘equal’ relationship with Britain in terms of our monarchies. The generally accepted term of colonialism is, ‘the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.’ It is this use of ‘partial control’ that determines my argument that Tonga was, and in many ways still is, a colonised nation. The presence of British Christian missionaries led to the Treaty of Friendship, which gave Britain complete authority over us for an extended period. Once that treaty was terminated, and Tonga gained independence, my people chose to remain part of the British Commonwealth. Through this ‘partial control’, Britain was able to economically benefit from tropical produce such as copra, sugar, vanilla, cacao, fruits and minerals like nickel, phosphates and guano.
When I rejected my claim to Tongan nobility on my mother’s side, my nickname at home became ‘Fie Palangi’, which means, ‘Wanting to be White’. As a second-generation Tongan-Australian growing up in Mount Druitt, I was raised around Disney films and images of a whitewashed Jesus. I believed that the only way to be important, to be recognised, was to be accepted into the Anglo-Celtic majority. For a long time, I deliberately applied whitening cream to my skin, covered myself up in the sun and told everyone that I wasn’t really a Fob because I was mixed-race with white ancestors. I came to unlearn this kind of self-hatred through my tertiary education and mentorships in creative writing with Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement. I discovered the importance of literacy, critical thinking, decolonialism, intersectionality, self-representation and self-determination. It was through my re-education that I could critically reflect on the rise of Meghan Markle and understand that no woman of colour should ever need a white prince to turn her into royalty – the British monarchy should not determine the standard of our aristocracy. Royalty has existed in many different forms and cultures for centuries – they are equally special and equally useless.
For Tonga, I believe it is time to start saving ourselves from climate change, poverty and colonisation. It is time for Tongans to gain back and retain our complete sovereignty over colonial and imperial powers that seek to dominate us. Some of that, starts by understanding that Fobs are princesses already.
Winnie Dunn is a Tongan-Australian from Mount Druitt. She is a Manager and Editor at Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement and a Bachelor of Arts graduate from Western Sydney University.