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News from Brisbane - 7

Date Added:6 March 2012

Progress in Tonga

From Queen Salote Tupou III’s vision in 1954 to establish the Tonga Traditions Committee in 1957, archives, libraries and museums were something you only heard of here in Tonga.



Tongans in the 1950s – 1960s partially understood what archives were, you had to travel overseas to really see an archive, library or museum for a Tongan to know that there are such place as archives, libraries and museum. Only those Tongans studying overseas in colleges, institutes and universities who used these places knew about their importance and understood their usefulness. From the 1960s – 1970s with students returning home after studying overseas, they partially comprehended the important of Archives and what they could get from an Archive. From 1970s – 1980s, the majority of Tongans still didn’t understand what archives were for, how to get to an archive, let alone manage an archive.

In entering the service of the Tonga Traditions Committee in 1979 I thought myself lucky I got this job, which I thought then an easy job with nothing much to do. Dr ‘Epeli Hau’ofa, the Secretary to Tonga Traditions Committee at this time, who was also the Deputy Private Secretary to His Majesty Tupou IV, spent most of his time at the Palace Office rather than the office of the Tonga Traditions Committee, which meant I was free to do as I pleased and of course I was my own boss.
To my horror, with no experience on archives, libraries or museums and no one to guide me, I thought to myself then the first thing I’ll do in this office, is to sweep the place, clean the boxes of papers and all the loose and torn papers be put in the rubbish to be burned. But when I started doing the sweeping I picked up pieces of papers which I found to be very interesting. Well, this changed my whole view from sweeping and burning to dusting and putting everything into folders. Later I classified them into dates and subjects, books and documents, genealogy and periodical and the rest joined in naturally.

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In the new Archival Building

From the 1980s – 1990s two new recruits join the workforce and in 1995 Lord Vaea took up the post of Secretary to Tonga Traditions Committee. There was a big improvement to the management of the office of the Tonga Traditions Committee. Communications with overseas organizations were established and the relationships with the locals were developing with their understanding of the usefulness of archives, library and museum.

In 1997 the significant development made at the Tonga Traditions Committee was the construction of a separate building dedicated to archiving, so instead of Palace Office Records it’s now the Tonga Traditions Committee Archives. The building has three rooms, one for photographs, one for the records and library and the third is the office. There was always a problem when one is fortunate enough to get a new building, you need furniture and equipment and then there’s the moving.

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Inside the new archival building

 Because Tongans will always be Tongans, not used to working with records, they would just fill a box from one place and dump it in the new place, no consideration whatsoever, but that was what happened to our new archives.

In 1982 the Tonga Traditions Committee was fortunate to participate in the PARBICA seminar held in Suva, Fiji and again in 1985 in Mosman, Sydney. When Lord Vaea became the Secretary in 1995, the workload started to expand and the workforce was shrinking, so we had to schedule Lord Vaea’s timetable so that he could travel to attend as many meetings, seminars and workshops as possible with organisations such as PARBICA, PIMA and the PACIFIC ARTS FESTIVAL, to name a few. He also represented the Royal Family overseas and attended some of the local functions that requested his attendance.
In 2009 before Lord Vaea moved to his new post as Minister for Agriculture, Fishery, Food, and Forestry, the Tonga Traditions Archives will planned to be moving again. The new archive will be at the Royal Palace which is quite a big place; it’s a complete floor for us. We are waiting for the shelving and furniture and the date for the moving is not yet confirmed. The workplace is getting bigger, the workload is expanding some more, only the workforce isn’t, but remembering part of Queen Salote’s speech on the 20th celebration of Her Coronation on pg 160 TGG No. 22, 7/11/1938 “……. Although I feel I had no special gift to bring to this charge and that I have not been able to accomplish very much, nevertheless I have always endeavoured to make my service to my people my first duty”.

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The new archival building from outside

The Tonga Traditions Committee office were fortunate to recruit to our staff in 2005 a JICA Volunteer Mr Toshi Goto and in 2007 a VIDA volunteer Miss and presently another VIDA volunteer Miss who started working in 2009. With the service of these volunteers we got to divide our attention between our various commitments and to my belief the Tonga Traditions Committee Archives is getting on fine.

Ami Latu.