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.
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.
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.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Tongan cemeteries (Tonga). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Tongan cemeteries. Read more about this site.