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Tonga: Tongan cemeteries

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Tongan cemeteries | Tonga | Oceania

[Visited: September 2012]

When I asked someone shortly after my arrival if he had been to a Tongan cemetery, he looked at me, and explained that there are many cemeteries in Tonga, or indeed, in most towns. I soon found out this was very true, when I started walking the streets of Nuku'alofa. And they are a unique sight. There are no neat rows of graves, in many cases graves are made in an apparently haphazard way. Moreover, there often are no tombstones (only once did I find a coral slab standing at one side of a grave, apparently acting as the tombstone); a cemetery often looks messy.

Picture of Tongan cemeteries (Tonga): Fake flowers on top of a blanket covering a grave

Still, they are a curiosity. There are tombs surrounded by beer bottles stuck upside down in the ground around them, there often is a cloth lying on the grave like a blanket, often with white and pink colours. There can be large banners on poles, or piles of coral, sea shells forming a pattern, and nearly always fake flowers. To compensate for that, there are often frangipani trees at the cemeteries, with their rich, sweet smell. What is striking is that virtually all mounds are made with white sand, which further underlines the connection between the ocean and the Tongans.

Picture of Tongan cemeteries (Tonga): Coral tombstone at sand grave near the coast of Vava'u island

At one time, I came across a small cemetery on an island in Vava'u, where a group of pigs and piglets so common on the islands was grazing around the graves; some of the piglets were scratching their backs using the coral stones surrounding the graves. To me, it was a most respectless thing to do, but no one seemed to care. I later learned that after a period of grief, and visiting the tombs of the deceased regularly, Tongans eventually abandon the graves since they believe the spirit is still around, and could have bad influences on those alive, even causing sickness or death.

Picture of Tongan cemeteries (Tonga): Coral covering a grave with fake pink flowers
Picture of Tongan cemeteries (Tonga): Grave covered with sand, seashells and fake flowers
Picture of Tongan cemeteries (Tonga): Banner over a grave with sand and fake flowers
Picture of Tongan cemeteries (Tonga): One of the larger cemeteries of Nuku'alofa
Picture of Tongan cemeteries (Tonga): Grave on Vav'u island with coral stones, sand, sea shells and fake flowers
Picture of Tongan cemeteries (Tonga): Grave marked by beer bottles in Lapaha
Picture of Tongan cemeteries (Tonga): Tombstone with angel and more traditional graves with banners and sand in Nuku'alofa
Picture of Tongan cemeteries (Tonga): Grave on Vava'u island with coral, sand, sea shells and flowers
Picture of Tongan cemeteries (Tonga): Piglets on a grave on Vava'u island
Picture of Tongan cemeteries (Tonga): Grave with blanket and fake flowers and banner on Vava'u island
Picture of Tongan cemeteries (Tonga): Fake flowers on blanket covering a grave on Vava'u island
Picture of Tongan cemeteries (Tonga): This more official grave also has sand and fake flowers on top
Picture of Tongan cemeteries (Tonga): Cemetery near Lapaha with mounds of sand marking the graves

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