Tonga: The Last of the Victorians

By tradition the Tongan kingdom has been established for over 13,000 years; but one of its contemporary faces is distinctly Victorian, as discussed here by George Woodcock.

Outside Australia and New Zealand, the South Pacific peoples are numerically small, live in minute territories, and lack - in otherwise interesting cultures - the stabilizing influence of literary traditions.

Because of these factors the South Seas in the 1970s have become a reservoir region where, on the one hand, the classic imperial orders linger in bizarre and attenuated forms, and, on the other, archaic social patterns are reinforced or revived under the aegis of twentieth-century nationalism.

In surviving dependencies of the British crown, like the Gilbert and Ellice Islands and the Solomon Islands Protectorate, some of the last colonial servants enact, with a fair degree of pomp, the final days of the greatest of all the empires.

In New Caledonia and Tahiti the lesser imperial glory of France survives with a more defiant panache. And in the New Hebrides, the land of the celebrated Franco-British Condominium, the old colonial rivals sustain the strangest political show of all imperial history.

In a later article I shall discuss the New Hebrides and what their present condition tells about the nature of declining empires. Here I am concerned with the countries of the South Seas which in the last few years, towards the end of the process of imperial devolution, have become independent; very small in area and population, but possessing their own languages and cultures and recognized, according to current criteria of nationality, as being eligible for membership of the Commonwealth and the United Nations.

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