Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Most Boring King in the World

AP Photo -- looks like the islands of Kao and Tofua, but I could be wrong.

Here are 13.5 remarkably excruciating moments, from the BBC, with the new King of Tonga, Taufa'ahau Tupou V (George V). He was crowned just last Friday. Sleepy Monarch

I'm interested in this quirky story because I spent two of the most memorable years of my life in this eccentric kingdom 3,000 miles southwest of Hawai'i. It was a time when Tupou V's father, Tupou IV, was about the same age as the new king is now. At least his father, a huge man with catcher's mitt paws for hands, kept life interesting: he cracked a smile once in a while and occasionally hoisted his 400-foot frame onto a specially-made surfboard. Meanwhile, this fellow, whom we always called Tippytoes, spent most of his time in London.

From the sound of it, he's ceding some monarchical powers to the Parliament. That may be the effect of pro-democracy riots and fires that destroyed much of the downtown of the capital city, Nuku'alofa, two years ago. While George V lethargically bemoans the instigators as demagogues, he reportedly feared for his life in the aftermath. Perhaps he felt deadened , facing the apparently enervating ordeals of his figurehead position. Or perhaps, being the imperious royal that he is, he simply didn't think he had to say much of anything to a mere reporter.

Thinking about this later in the day, I feel more empathetic. At the beginning of the interview, he says something like "One doesn't choose the job. The job chooses you." He follows this with a small, wry smile -- in my different mood tonight, I almost see it as poignant. Whether he wants this job or not, it has chosen him, and it must indeed be a heavy burden to bear.

So, in short, I wish the people of Tonga -- and George V -- much prosperity and happiness in their beautiful kingdom. It's a remarkable place and a remarkable culture. I wish them the best.


jeneva said...

You've been to some cool places! I envy your ability to travel!

Lopeti F. said...

Macy/Sanisi -- I've been busy the last couple of weeks and just had a chance to read this post, so naturally I'm going to comment, Tonga being our most common thread!

The aerial photo is a beauty and it challenged me to use Google Earth to confirm where it was taken. The volcanic cone is Kao to be sure, but the island in the foreground is not Tofua since it is just a small atoll (in the photo you can barely see a tip of Tofua to the left of Kao). I conclude that little atoll is Niniva, in the Ha'apai group, and the photo is looking west over Niniva toward Kao... doesn't that newfound knowledge just make your day?

Then there is our old friend Tupou V, who I agree gave one of the most underwhelming interviews I have ever witnessed:-(... thanks for sharing it, I think. No just kidding, the whole 3-minute ordeal was quite entertaining in a kind of sadistic way, for it was apparent that both the interviewer and Tippytoes suffered mightily throughout the whole thing. Tupou V had a case of indigestion, while the interviewer was absolutely confounded that he could not get his majesty to say more or show the least bit of emotion... a classic interview and probably some kind of a lesson (though I'm not sure what kind) for reporters-in-training!

FYI, Tupou was bluffing his way through the alternative energy part... I had to laugh at his completely false explanation of why we're not producing hydrogen from seawater. It has nothing to do with chlorine as a by-product, and everything to do with the fact that it currently takes more energy to extract the pure hydrogen than the energy value of the hydrogen produced... maybe that will change with some new discovery someday, but dem's de facts at present!

If I don't stop now, this comment will end up as boring as Tupou V's interview! So have a relaxing weekend and as always, 'Ofa atu. Lopeti

Macy Swain said...

Thanks, Lopeti -- You DID make my day. I know you're right on the geography, I see that little tip of Tofua -- thanks. And it's gratifying that you share my reactions to that BBC interview. I'm still waiting to hear from Roger Reed, who lives just a few miles from me here in SoCal, about how his trip to the coronation worked out. Have you heard from anybody? I trust Emile was in his glory photographing the whole thing.

Lopeti F. said...

Si'i Sanisi - I haven't heard anything from Emili or Lousa (the only two friends who confirmed to me that they were going) about their Tongan voyage around the coronation. My guess is that they've each had to "decompress" for a few days after returning, and perhaps they are now composing their trip summaries and photos to post to broader audiences that might include us:-) Maybe Emile will even take some time to update his "www.friendsoftonga.com" website with notes and photos of the adventure... Emile & Roger, are you reading this? I'll send this hint to you via email just to make sure;-)

I studied the 13-1/2 minute interview (correction to my post above) with King Tupou V again this morn because I found it much more interesting, after peeling back his understated and extremely detached manner, to focus on what he was really saying. As a result, I'm inclined to give His Majesty credit for several things-- most of all his stated desire to reform the Tongan government so that power and influence are exerted "less due to inherited privilege and more due to merit." Those are big steps for an ancient society based on inherited nobility and feudalism, and I certainly wish King Tupou V and the whole Tongan nation the best in moving the pro-democracy agenda forward in the most expedient and peaceful manner possible!

For we all must play the cards we've been dealt, and it's obvious to me by watching and listening to Tupou V that he's been dealt far more than he ever wanted to take on. He appears clearly motivated to starting releasing those royal responsibilities ASAP. And for that I say, "More power, NO, I mean LESS, LESS power to you, Royal Bro'!"

LATU said...

Hi there, I couldn't help commenting - i stumbled across this blog while googling something else. Personally would like the system changed it Tonga (I'm a Tongan born and raised there), but I think people take on too much of an unfair, simplistic, stereotypical, almost gloating attitude to see the king "fail" in some sort, and in this case, fail to entertain you in his interview.

Yes he could have put more into the conversation, perhaps even give the interviewer a big dose of BS if he wanted to, but um, he doesn't have to. Actually I like the way he can just choose to say one sentence, full stop, without being pressured to provide more just because it's some white guy from BBC. I don't blame him -- have you read the overseas coverage on Tonga in the weeks before the coronation? There are some out there from the UK, NZ and US that make one think, can people be THAT ignorant?

My personal opinions of him as a leader are besides the point... I guess I'm just tired of people making judgements based on his interview style, the way he talks, walks, his London taxi and monocle (which are quoted TOO DAMN OFTEN in Western news reports, as if it was his middle name or something) -- but I suppose it has something to with Western news values and needing something bizarre to make a tiny 3rd world country like Tonga interesting enough for non-Tongans to read.

Macy Swain said...

Thank you so much, Latu, for these thoughtful and justifiable points. It must be irritating that the new king was found so fascinating by the outside world -- in a way that lent itself to condescension.

Ambrand said...

Re: "the way he talks". The media also mock Prince Charles for having a posh accent, they say it means he is out of touch with the ordinary man. In hte case of Charles that matters little because the King of the United Kingdom has little influence on daily government. BUT, as it currently stands, and perhaps it will change, the King of Tonga does have influence on government, and thus those referring to his posh accent do so with a reason; to show his disconnect from his populace.

The King of Tonga thus finds himself in a catch 22 situation. On the one hand being a member of a royal family he must be aloof and command respect, but on the other he must not be aloof from his populace.

Macy Swain said...

Yes, I agree with your point, Ambrand. The King of Tonga is in an exceptionally complicated position; that's why, I hope is clear, while I began sort of making fun of him, I ended up with some sympathy. I hope he finds a way to serve his people responsibly and compassionately, even though he didn't ask for the job.