My Introduction to Tonga

Guest Post by Ruth Elayne Kongaika

By far, the most interesting experiences in my life have occurred in Tonga. We lived there for a total of thirteen years with a break after the first three. My husband taught school there, and later became an administrator at a high school.

When I first heard about Tonga, my mind conjured up spectacular scenes of sandy beaches in a tropical paradise similar to Hawaii. Tonga is indeed beautiful, and it does have many picturesque beaches. However, there were quite a few surprises that I had not expected.

Road Through Palm Trees, TongaAfter a long flight from the mainland United States, we finally flew over our future home. As I looked down, what I saw were rows and rows of coconut tress. Here and there you could see a dirt road weaving through the tress. There were a few shanties with an adjacent round cement tank for water, and clothes hanging on lines in the yard. There were no mountains on Tongatapu, where we were to live. In fact, there were no hills. The land was almost perfectly flat. Having been raised in the Rocky Mountains, I knew this would be a different experience, especially since we were almost at sea level.

When we finally landed (on a grass runway), the heat was intense, and the humidity level was obviously high. Mind you, we arrived there in January, which is right in the middle of the summer in Tonga. That was a shock, having lived with a snowy January all my life up until then.

Little wood and metal home in TongaMy husband’s brother picked us up at the airport in his “taxi”. He drove us over several miles of dirt roads. It had recently rained, or rather poured, and in some places the showers had left huge pools of water. The taxi would be semi submerged in these major potholes, and the car stalled a couple of times. My brother-in-law got out of the car, made a few adjustments under the hood, and managed to get us going again.

We passed the endless rows of coconut trees that we had seen from above. Pigs of all sizes wandered across the road as well as chickens and ducks. I felt as though I had traveled back in a time machine a few decades.

About a half hour later, we arrived at a little village called Liahona, that looked like it had been dropped right out of Southern California. Most of the houses along the way were made of wood or out of woven coconut fronds. The homes at this little church college (high school) were made of cinderblocks. They looked out of place, but I was so glad to find out this is where I would be staying while my husband taught school.

Liahona High School, TongaWe were taken to a little flat (apartment), and I was ecstatic to find we had running water (including hot), and then I got acquainted with my new wringer washer. Our little girl was six months old, so I knew that I would get to know this washer quite well. I was just glad I wouldn’t have to wash my clothes by hand, as I was informed that is how most of the neighboring village women did their laundry.

My first day in Tonga was a real eye opener. I realized how spoiled I had been, and gained a new  appreciation for my husband and his family. In the next three years, Tonga would teach me so many lessons as I became aware of the culture and traditions that had been orally passed down for generations.

Guest Post By :Ruth Elayne Kongaika

Ruth Elayne Kongaika was raised in the mainland, USA, but has been living in the South Pacific for the past forty years. She enjoys trying to capture the beauty of the islands through her photography, painting and writing. She has a blog which shares some of her art and favorite subjects at:




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