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My Humbling Visit to the King of Tonga Tupou IV
King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV had absolute rule for more than 40 years. It was in 1967 after the death of Queen Salote that the new King inherited the loyalty that the people had shown for his mother. As he would drive by in the royal vehicle, commoners would stop whatever they were doing to face the street and stand at attention while he passed. It was fascinating to see lines of school-aged children in their uniforms lined up to show their respect for their monarch.
The King was quite an athlete in his earlier days as a proficient pole-vaulter, cricketer, and rugby player. He was also credited with introducing surfing to his island home. However, at one time weighed the King weighed over 400 pounds, and was told by doctors that he would not see his 50th birthday. He then led a National Get Fit campaign and his example was an inspiration to many as he rode his royal custom-built bicycle. Members of the Tonga Royal Defense soldiers would run beside him. He also would exercise in the harbor in Nuku’alofa, the nation’s capital, by rowing a boat, paddling round and round in large circles. I personally witnessed him on his bicycle and rowing his boat.
The King had been the first Tongan to receive a law degree. He tried hard to lift the kingdom’s educational standards.
King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV died in 2006 after which his eldest son, George Tupou V, became the reigning King.
My first official visit to the King, Taufa’ahau Tupou IV was in 1989. My husband had just been called as the new mission president over the small island kingdom of Tonga. Our mission office contacted the spokesperson for the King to arrange for an audience with His Majesty for us and for a group of our missionaries.
Our formal meeting would take place at His Majesty’s Royal Summer Cottage. In order for our party to have this audience with the King, we were expected to prepare a meal for him and his royal family. The food we prepared in response to the King’s request, included turkeys, ham, potato salad, and trifle (The King’s favorite dessert). We arrived with about twenty of our missionaries each carrying beautifully decorated offerings.
We entered the receiving area, and His Majesty sat nearby on a large throne flanked on both sides by his royal spokesmen. My husband had informed me that I would have to crawl in to the King on my hands and knees, and then kiss the King’s hand. Being from a democratic society, this tradition was very foreign to me, but wanting to be a good wife, I obeyed. Having worn nylons and a long dress, crawling on the large woven mat on the floor was a challenge, but I somehow managed to make it all the way across the floor to find myself at the King’s feet.
The King held his hand out towards me. My little hand was swallowed up in his humongous ring-fingered hand. I gave the back of his hand a kiss, and he lifted me up and looked into my face. It was considered bad manners in Tongan custom for me to look into his eyes, so I looked down. In his low booming voice, he asked me if the man behind me was my husband, and I replied that he was. He then asked me to sit down beside him on the floor while he greeted my husband and our missionaries. I was very nervous, but I enjoyed watching as each person in the party took their turn showing their honor and respect to the Tongan King.
Afterward, we proceeded with the program we had prepared which included reading scriptures from the Bible and singing hymns. It was a very enjoyable experience and one I will always remember. I realize what a rare experience it was.
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