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Time Begins in Tonga

Updated on November 20, 2016
elayne001 profile image

Ruth Kongaika was born in the Rocky Mountains and has lived most of her life in the South Pacific. She travels, gardens and writes.

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Fana pitu - bamboo cannonsTonga is just west of the International DatelineUmu - underground oven
Fana pitu - bamboo cannons
Fana pitu - bamboo cannons
Tonga is just west of the International Dateline
Tonga is just west of the International Dateline
Umu - underground oven
Umu - underground oven

The first country in the world to greet the New Year, each and every year, is Tonga in the South Pacific. That is because it lies very close to the 180th parallel (12 hours ahead of Greenwich). It sits directly on the International Dateline.

Tongans value their relationship with God and others. The whole first week of the New Year is called Uike Lotu (prayer week). Every day church congregations meet and pray morning and evening, and in between they feast together. Bands all over the island take their instruments, sometimes-homemade banjos, bass and guitars, and go from home to home hoping for some provisions in exchange for their music.

The people of Tonga take the New Year very seriously. When we lived in Tonga, at 12:01 the first minute of the New Year, people would start walking, trying to be the first to greet their relatives. You could see people walking all over the paths and roads looking for their kin. When they would meet, which may be halfway between their homes, they would embrace and uma (kiss). Then they would sit down and have some cookies and Milo before leaving to find other relatives. It was a time of meeting, praying and feasting. The older people would talk and reminisce about the old times and express their gratitude for being able to make it to the New Year.

The young men would construct fana pitu (bamboo cannons) and you could hear them all over the islands booming as their kerosene contents are lit. The boys will try hard to outdo each other in this cannon marathon. It sounds like a war is going on in the villages with all the cannons going off.

After greeting all the relatives, and a long nap, most everyone heads for the beach. January 1st is during the hottest time of the year in Tonga, unlike the white snowy Christmases others are used to. The whole family will go to the beach and have a swim. Food for the New Year is usually baked in an umu (underground oven), and may include lu pulu (beef, onion and coconut milk wrapped in taro leaves), root crops like taro, kumala (sweet potato) manioke (tapioca), and seafood. The men fix the umu, and every one enjoys it.

Not only the villagers celebrate the coming of the New Year. On January 1, 2009 members of the royal family as well as cabinet ministers and distinguished guests received an audience with his Majesty King George Tupou V shortly after midnight. Even the monarch tries to strengthen his relationships during the new years celebration.

Truly, the people of Tonga are proud that time begins in their country. Their monarch, Taufa’ahau Tupou IV fought for them to have this distinction so they would be the first in the world to offer up their prayers in the New Year. They even have a hotel called the International Dateline Hotel.


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  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    I agree lita. Thanks for commenting. Hope you get to go back to Tonga soon.

  • profile image

    lita 7 years ago

    OMG this makes me want to go to Tonga again. Miss it out there. I am trying my best to go nxt yr. 2011. Beautiful island and yes of course it gets really HOT out there at this time. And there food, man so BOMB!

    ofa atu to you all! HAPPY NEW YEAR!

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Yes DeeBee3. I went back and forth across the Dateline several times when we lived there. That's quite a trip!


  • DeeBee3 profile image

    DeeBee3 8 years ago from United Kingdom

    You certainly like your island living. So you went from the first dawn of the planet to the last.


  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Thanks DeeBee3 for your comment. We lived in this little known place for 13 years - seems like another world. Aloha!

  • DeeBee3 profile image

    DeeBee3 8 years ago from United Kingdom

    Heaven on earth. Thanks for a great informative hub on such a little known place.

    Regards Dee.

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Thanks bevtracy. You are right - the beaches are so pristine and you can find lots of shells which I love to collect.

    James - Thanks for reading my hub. Glad you enjoyed it. Aloha!

  • James A Watkins profile image

    James A Watkins 8 years ago from Chicago

    Very interesting. I enjoyed learning about Tonga and seeing your pics. Thank you for a fine read.

  • profile image

    bevtracy 8 years ago

    Tonga is one of the most beautiful places on earth!!

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    thanks keira7 for your comments. I try.

    We were planning to go back to Tonga next year, but not sure if it will happen. Thanks kysnoopyq42. Aloha!

  • kysnoopyq42 profile image

    kysnoopyq42 8 years ago from no where

    I want to go there now. Too bad I can't afford to. I could use a vacation, or two, or three. The food sounds delicious.

  • keira7 profile image

    keira7 8 years ago

    Great hub Elayne, you are a very good writer. Thanks for the info. God Bless.

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Thank you for all the comments. I appreciate it and have a Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!

  • profile image

    Jake 8 years ago

    oh man you just made me so hungry for some Umu food! :). New Years in Tonga were pretty awesome. The Pitus were always fun to mess with hehe :)

  • profile image

    Tammy Lochmann 8 years ago

    Wow how wonderful to be able to be a part of such a different way of life. How luck you have been. Thanks for this I really enjoyed reading this.

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 8 years ago from London, UK

    Another interesting information I have learned and thank you very much for writing it.

  • breakfastpop profile image

    breakfastpop 8 years ago

    Very interesting hub. I learn so much from you..


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