This week is the annual Tongan Language Week in New Zealand (1 – 8 September). The theme for this year is Fakakoloa ‘o Aotearoa ‘aki ‘etau Hiva Fakatonga – Enriching Aotearoa with Tongan Music. As part of this weeks celebrations, Te Papa’s Pacific Cultures curators (and a guest writer or two) will be blogging about artefacts and events at Te Papa that are associated with the islands of Tonga.
To start the week off, I have posted a photograph taken by New Zealand photographer Glenn Jowitt. It is part of a series of photographs titled “Polynesia Here and There” collected by Te Papa curators in 1983. I was drawn to it because of the big white sousaphone being carried one of the men in the group. I like how the whiteness of the sousaphone and shirts contrasts with the almost “brass-like” colouring of the taovala (waist garments). There is a formality here interrupted by the big bizarre curves of the oversized instrument…a great image!
The photograph reminds me of the importance of brass bands in Tonga and in Tongan communities in New Zealand. I am most familiar with Tongan brass bands associated with churches or schools. I enjoy their often loud and spectacular presence at parades and cultural festivals. When you see Tongan brass bands on such occasions there is no doubting the importance of music and song in maintaining language and transferring cultural ideas and knowledge.
However, organised musical groups such as brass bands (and choirs) are also important in themselves. They give visibility to the people and schools they represent and they create an atmosphere for celebratory events such as parades or more sombre occasions such as funerals. They also represent Tonga internationally at a wide range of venues from the United sates Capital to military festivals in Scotland. Check out this link to a Tongan brass band at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo(2009). Link: Tongan Brass Band at Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2009
To view previous blogposts related to Tongan music please click the following links:
Queen Salote: Tongan composer and poet
Fangufangu: Tongan nose flutes