Ofa "Mary" Faiva-Siale

With Barbara Burns

 

Euless, Texas was first settled in about 1867 as a small farming community in North Central Texas.  The City is located midway between Dallas and Fort Worth Texas, just west of DFW International Airport.  It was incorporated in 1953 and at the time of the 2000 U.S. Census had a population of 46,005.  The City of Euless encompasses approximately 16.3 square miles. (42.1 KM2)

 

Ofa Ki-Vava'u Faiva-Siale "Mary" was born in Tonga and migrated with her family to the United States in 1976.  She moved to Euless in 1984 and graduated from Trinity High School in 1986. She began working for the City of Euless in 2000.  At the time of this interview, she was one of the liaisons to the Euless Historical Preservation Committee.

 

Barbara Burns at the time of this interview was a resident of Bedford, Texas and an instructor in the Senior Education Program at Tarrant County College.  Barbara and her husband were teaching a Texas History course and conducted several interviews with people who were from other countries and became Texans. 

 


 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

            Today is August 1st, 2008. This is Ofa "Mary" Faiva-Siale, I am talking today with?

 

Barbara Burns

            Barbara Burns.  I am a Tarrant County College Senior Ed Program teacher.  We're going to be talking about people who came to Texas from other countries; I'm very interested to hear Mary's story.

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

            Okay, let's just start.

 

Barbara Burns

             Were you sad or scared to be leaving home?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

            Well, not really, I wasn't scared when we left. I was afraid of the big huge 747 we had to get into in Hawaii but I wasn't fearful to leave home.

 

Barbara Burns

Where did you live?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

We first lived in San Mateo, California, and then lived in L.A. for about four years then moved here to Texas.  Just to back track a little as to why I moved here to Texas. My brother, Pila Faiva, moved here back in 1979. He had recently gotten married and wanted a new start and a new life for his family. My dad had a relative named Siupeli Netane here and he had heard about how the economy was thriving and employment at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport was readily available; he contacted Siupeli, who was, as we know it, the first Tongan to permanently move and settle here in the Mid-Cities back in 1971. After Pila got here, I remember him constantly telling us about how the cost of living was so inexpensive here, homes were affordable; employment availability was in abundance and so forth, he talked about wanting family here as well. In comparison to California, I believe for the adults, Texas sounded like a great prospect. Around that time, my family had decided we were all going to move here. Testimonial wise, my brother loved it here. Culturally, Tongans are extremely family and community oriented, you'll seldom find Tongans living anywhere where they have absolutely no relatives whatsoever. They usually always bring other family members along to live in new areas, so that's what happened with us. We all initially planned to all relocate here, my brothers and sisters, dad, etc. Unfortunately, our plans didn't fall through because my eldest brother, Isileli, came from Tonga and passed away less than two weeks after he got here. That was in April, 1981. That kind of threw a loop in our plans. Anyway, the story is pretty much the same with most Tongans. We move to a new location for a better opportunity to provide for our families and then we get everyone we can get to move over also so we won't be so lonely (laughter). Pila convinced my newly married sister, Anabella, to move here, so they came, that was in 1984.  My brother had wanted family members to move here for a long time. My family drove down and brought me with them. Sadly for me, my other sister Lufi, my dad and Isi's family never made the move.

 

Barbara Burns

            And, were you still in high school when you arrived?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

            I was still in high school when I arrived here.  We lived in Watauga, Texas and I went to 11th grade at North Richland Hills.  When I first moved here, Tongans were kind of scattered in between Watauga, Irving, Grapevine and Arlington.  In fact, there might have been more Tongans living in Irving than here in Euless at the time. There were approximately seven or so families in Watauga; Euless wasn't the "hub" so to speak at that time. After a year or so, we moved from Watauga to Euless and I enrolled at Trinity High School, I was a senior. Anyway, the essence of my story is this, my brother moved here for a better opportunity to provide for his family, my sister and I moved here because he sold us on Texas and we wanted the same opportunities he had described to us. As for the large number of Tongans who migrated here since the early 80's, I suppose the story is very similar to mine. We came because of family and a better opportunity to provide for our families. The fact that the first Tongan church, the Siasi (Church) Fakatahataha (to come together or be gathered together) was first established here in Euless, I'm sure this is the reason so many of my people ended up settling in Euless, to be near it.  Right now about three thousand or so Tongans live here.  There are nine Tongan churches within a five mile radius of each other. Because of the culture's communal and familiar tendencies, let's say a couple moves here because of the telling. Each couple that comes has two sets of families each, the husband's mother and father's side of the family and the wife's mother and father's side of the family. So, as the saying goes, "And they told two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on…" so as you can see, the number jumps exponentially (general laughter) with each person's coming. The story is pretty much the same for our people; we came from Tonga to America for better opportunities to provide for our families, then came to Texas for an even better opportunity and then told other family members to come also. Most of the people are basically inter-connected if not inter-related one way or another. It's very rare to find Tongans living off by themselves in some part of the world without another Tongan in sight; it's what makes Tongans, Tongan.

 

Barbara burns

            So the language, probably everything, felt comfortable and not too strange?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

            Majority of people that come from Tonga actually came to the west coast, and got acclimated out there so to speak.  English is taught back home and ninety-five percent or so of the country is not only literate in Tongan but in English also. Majority of the people lived first in Salt Lake, San Francisco, and Los Angeles and kind of spread east from there. Now as for Texas, the weather is extremely different from Tonga, it's extremely hot and it's extremely cold in the winter and in the summer.  Many of the older Tongans don't like it here; they don't care for the extremes in the weather at all.

 

Barbara Burns

            I'm from Chicago so, when you say extremely cold I say, it's not nothing (general laughter).

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

            I'm sure. But most people come to the west coast and then migrate east from there. In general, a Tongan's sole existence is to provide and to take care of the family. It's not unusual for some kids to stay home till their mid to late twenties, especially unmarried females. 

 

Barbara burns

            Now is sending money back to Tonga still a part of the culture?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

            Extremely.

 

Barbara Burns

            So that's another reason that…?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

            Yes, how do you know about that?

 

Barbara Burns

            That was in the book I was telling you about, it's about Tonga.  The lady who wrote the book lives in California and the book talks about the Tongans in California. She did mention Salt Lake City now that I think about it. And she certainly talks about the family importance.

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

            Um hum.

 

Barbara Burns

The importance of the money coming back to the family. That's important, the festivals and cultural things?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

A lot of that is a general custom or feeling I think. It's almost like an ingrained trait of Tongans.  Most Tongans all live about the same lifestyle. To be too rich is almost frowned upon, the general feeling is, one should share what ever material possessions or skills one has. As a culture it's considered somewhat selfish to hoard material possessions. It's about the community, the family. There's times I pick up and help my family. My sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, they do the same. Most Tongans share in that general feeling, not all but majority do, especially those that grew up in Tonga.  Parents often pass that feeling on to their children, even the ones that were born here in America.  This concept or view, I suppose, we call this "kavenga" or "fua (to bear, handle, or meet) kavenga". Fua kavenga is like a person's financial obligations or duties in sharing of wealth, talents, skills, etc., whether it's for the church, the family or the country.  Many Tongans would say "life is only enjoyable if one has kavenga to bear". In any case, it's not unusual for people to do without for a week or two to meet these obligations.  If a church or school comes from Tonga to raise money to repair a building or something, everybody is on that, and seemingly without a care for the next day.  Our way has its benefits; it also has its draw backs depending on one's views.  For Americans, this takes a lot of adjusting to.

 

Barbara Burns

Do you see much less of that?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

Yes I suppose. There are signs of it starting to become less important, especially for second and third generation Tongans who grew up here. Actually, a Catholic School (‘Api Fo'ou College) visited Euless in December of 2007. They played at City Hall for the Mayor and the staff. While here in Euless, they raised over $40,000. When they returned to Tonga after a two months tour, they had raised over half a million dollars. All of it raised by various Tongan communities in the US. I guess some can argue that, the fua kavenga spirit is kind of dying away, but on the other hand, with so much accessibility to cash here in America, I suppose Tongans still have that spirit of communal sharing of wealth. They still give and stuff like that, perhaps it's fading away, maybe, but I think very slowly. Mostly, I think its people who are more fakapapalangi (European or westernized in ideas, view, etc.) that chooses not to participate in this very Tongan way of life.

 

Barbara Burns

And that's in contrast to a lot of the American population I think who are not raised with all of that?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

Correct.

 

Barbara Burns

By the way, I don't know if you happen to know any teenagers who go to KEYS Learning Center?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

 I don't know any right off the top of my head, I can find out though.

 

Barbara Burns

No, no, my husband David teaches there and he gets the biggest kick out of the Tongan kids.  He says, "I just enjoy them so."

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

(Laughter)

 

Barbara Burns

They may be relatives of yours.

 

Ofa Faiva–Siale

Maybe.  (Laughter)

 

Barbara Burns

So, did you live for a while in Tonga before California? Or is California as far back as you can remember?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

I grew up in Tonga so I remember Tonga. I moved here when I was eight or so, I remember Tonga well enough.

 

Barbara Burns

Ok, and what did you miss about coming to the United States?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

You know, quite honestly I personally didn't miss a lot and the reason is because I was too young.  My mother passed away in 1973, my father left Tonga in 1974 and came here to work and to bring us here. The main idea being, free education, better opportunities to provide for us and earn a living and so forth.  He left in 1974; I heard he rode the public bus between two to three part time jobs at any given time to earn the money needed to bring us here.  By 1975, he earned enough money to bring my oldest sister, Lufi, so she can help him work for our fare. By then there were four of us left in Tonga. My oldest brother ‘Isilelei was twenty-two, he was married with two kids and he couldn't come with us, Pila was eighteen, my sister Bella was thirteen, and I was eight. 

 

Barbara Burns

And you were meanwhile, living back in Tonga?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

We were living back in Tonga.

 

Barbara Burns

With whom?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

We lived with family, with my eldest brother ‘Isi a part of the time.

 

Barbara Burns

He was kind of the family head once your father came here?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

Yes, he was. We lived with him; we lived with our first cousin Finau Sekona for a while after Lufi came to help my dad.  By 1976, they made enough money to pay for our fare so Pila, Bella and I flew here via American Samoa, Hawaii and San Francisco. So, quite frankly when I came here I was ready, I was very young and didn't have much left in Tonga and I missed Lufi and my dad too much.  I was exited about the newness of the U.S., and the availability and the variety of foods, and toys and what not. That was more my concern, and to be with my family again. So I didn't really miss too much of Tonga at the time I left

 

Barbara Burns

And I suppose you were eating lots of the same things; I mean it wasn't a total change?

 

Ofa Faiva Siale

Some things were a total change of diet, others were similar.

 

Barbara Burns

Familiar things?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

Yes, some were familiar; some foods were different and a little difficult. Not so much that the food was too odd or tasted bad, it wasn't that difficult for me to eat, it was just having to get used to some of it. For example bread, we have bread back home, we have butter. On Sundays everyone gets a good meal which means you probably got chicken or lu sipi (taro leaves with meat or fish, etc.) with onion and coconut milk, things like that in it.  I got used to the food here pretty quick.  Ice cream was ice cream you know (general laughter). Hamburgers were good.  I had a hard time eating pickles, applesauce and mustard; I remember those were terrible, I finally acquired a taste for them though.  Some of the vegetables and fruits were a little difficult, cantaloupe especially; not a large variety of vegetables and fruits in Tonga. 

 

Barbara Burns

Was the move to Texas a big transition?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

I was a teenager by then so yes, it was a big, huge transition.  By that time I had lived in California most of my life so coming to Texas was difficult to say the least. I had never been to another State outside of California prior and had always assumed that all of America was exactly like California. I thought the topography, the weather, and the people were all the same, I didn't know it was almost like moving to a whole new country (laughter). As I remember it, the people of Texas were extremely slow. I mean the pace was slow, very laid back and people weren't rushing around everywhere and a lot of open land with plenty of trees and cows in the city limits, I liked that a lot and it was odd at the same time. I liked all the open land and so many green trees and undeveloped land. On Sundays, grocery stores opened for a few hours later in the day because of the Sabbath. I was lonely and sad at first though, having to leave Lufi again and all the friends I had made in California, plus I thought it was too slow here. Being a teenager, it's a hard time anyway; I don't think kids at Richland High School ever saw Polynesians with long black hair before me (laughter). They weren't used to seeing Tongans back then; people were really not too open towards me, I was different. I learned to toughen up and say to hell with people's opinions.  I was one of the first few Tongans to attend high school in the Metroplex; there were, about six to ten others before me I think. I remember writing home, talking to my friends on the phone about how everyone looked the same at school, they were mostly all dressed in Wranglers, Ropers and Stetsons and I was so odd (general laughter).

 

Barbara Burns

You are sounding just like my daughter did when we moved here from Minnesota, she said, "I got to get all new clothes, cut my hair." 

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

Oh yes, I can understand that. Around that time I think is about when I chose never to change anything about myself.  I liked my appearance, who I was and the things that made me different, even if others found me lacking (laughter).

 

Barbara Burns

You felt like "I'm a stranger in all this."

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

I did, I felt that.  And I remember none of the lockers had locks on them. I remember laughing about that with the kids back home, I was like, "There's no lock on the lockers, and no body steals from them!"  I attended Chaffey and Alta Loma High Schools back in California and we regularly had locker raids and stuff like that.  Anyway, it was so odd that no one stole from those lockers, what I thought was the slower pace was just good honest folks. I felt that people were tolerant of me at Richland.  I was a curiosity, it was an all Caucasian school and I don't know, there may have been one or two black kids there but they were "cowboys" too and one other Tongan girl there. I was an oddball Polynesian from California dressed in open toed sandals and big, bright colored baggie clothes. I didn't enjoy high school at all my first year here in Texas. That Texas winter storm of "84" didn't help at all either, it was so cold and I was sad and depressed a lot.

 

Barbara Burns

You sort of touched on something.  What would you say are your most important connections here, I assume family? 

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

My most important, no, at this point in my life, it's not family really.  Since my eldest brother passed away and our plans to all live here never worked out, my brother Pila moved back eventually and Bella and her family also moved back to California.

 

Barbara Burns

Oh, how could they do such a thing?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

I know, it's terrible, they're crazy (laughter). They missed being near all the family back in Cali. I wanted to stay here though, Texas snucked up on me and plus I had moved around so much in my early life, I felt like I'd been dragged around the world by life and was tired of it. Anyway, Lufi had always been like my mom, I worked up the nerves to ask her and my dad if I can stay here; I was tired of being dragged around since mom died and I was heavily involved with Loaves & Fishes at the time, feeding homeless people in Fort Worth. I was unmarried but in my 20's, it was a heated time, my dad and brother vehemently objected but they eventually caved in to Lufi.  I later got married, and I have my nephews Numi and Siate, they live with us now. I love Texas and Euless and consider it home.  My most important connections here I suppose is my church and then work. I love my church community very much.  We're Catholic and we have a Tongan Community at St. Michael Catholic Church.

 

Barbara Burns

I just heard about the service and your singing at Good Shepherd Church and I wondered if I could go? I don't look Tongan (general laughter).

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

No, no, you can come, absolutely, in fact this Sunday we are singing at the 5 p.m. Mass.  But, yes, when we first moved here it was for the opportunity to improve our living situations, raising family, employment availability; the cost of living and so forth. Homes are inexpensive here compared to California. 

 

Barbara Burns

That's interesting.

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

Its funny but I've noticed, and I think others who moved here back in the early 80's and 90's, I think are the same way, I think many of us have picked up and even change somewhat, becoming more Texan, thinking like them, taking on some of their traditions, their views and ideals…you know, the old, laid back, slow paced, southern, bible belt love of God, Texas and Friday night high school football games (laughter, especially that Trinity High School football game on Friday nights (general laughter). Yes, I do see Texas ideals and viewpoints in my personality now, and according to my nieces, there's even a slight twang to my speech (laughter) as well. Many of the original people living here have changed too, I think.

 

Barbara Burns

The author of the book "Gorgeous" said, "Living alone was not considered desirable".  Is that something that's true in Tonga? Is that true here?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

Absolutely, it's true that living alone is not at all desirable in our culture.  I don't have any blood relatives here in Texas except my nephews.  All my family lives around each other in northern and southern California, Salt Lake and so forth. I think my family has accepted that I love Texas and will probably die here.  There was a time when my sisters strongly, encouraged me to move back near them.  "What happens if you get sick?" they'd sometimes ask.  There are those things to consider since it is faka'ofa (state of being pitiable or to feel or be felt sorry for) when you have no family. For Tongans its faka'ofa to be alone, its faka'ofa if you get sick and there's no family to take care of you, it's very faka'ofa when you're old and there's no have family to care for you. The norm is, if you're seriously sick or hurt, whether you're in a hospital or at home, there should always be one to fifty (laughter) family members there twenty-four hours a day to look after you, especially during fatal situations, no one should be alone during illnesses.  Now a days, honestly, circumstances doesn't allow for our traditions and customs because of how we have to live, living hundreds of miles apart, with work and travel distances, etc.  In 2001 I got in a car accident and developed a lot of complications resulting from the accident.  I was in the hospital for over a week and then was homebound for another month.  Lufi came from California, left her work to come stay with me for while, my other sister from California swapped off with her for a while, one of my nieces moved down here for about a month to take care of me at home. This is typical for majority of Tongan families.

 

Barbara Burns

You probably know things that I wouldn't think to ask that are really apparent to you about living here. Perhaps something that many people who are used to American life don't…?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

Realize?

 

Barbara Burns

Don't even realize.

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

Is there anything in particular?  There's a difference in how we view and treat the elderly, there's a difference in our family dynamics, there's a difference in our community setup, there's differences in how we raise our kids. There's that, is that what you're asking about?

 

Barbara Burns

Well, what do you maintain in the way of, I don't know if there are Tongan traditions? When you look at Scandinavians for instance, it might be Christmas traditions they maintain and certain foods that they always fix for something.  But I'm not sure it applies to all cultures. What do you maintain as a Tongan?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

Well, after Christmas and during the first week of the New Year, that's a big to do for Tongans, especially the Methodist.  We have nine Tongan churches that are all in Euless, well except St. Michael's, it's in Bedford, but that's only because Industrial Blvd. is on the wrong side of the church (laughter).  Churches are not only a place for spiritual growth but it also serves as the base for people's social activities as well.  Traditionally the first week of the New Year is ushered in with feasting and prayer services and "lotu" (church, prayer, all things related to church). There's lotu everyday of the first week of each New Year.  As with all important events, pigs are roasted, a feast is prepared for the church community to enjoy after the fifty hour (laughter) "malanga" (preaching of the bible, sermons). After each day's malanga, everyone sits down to eat and then the speeches begin.  Speeches are an important part of most Tongan festivities.

 

Barbara Burns

What do the speakers talk about?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

Oh, they could talk about the scripture that was recently heard, many speeches are to thank those that did the malanga, or the family that provided the food. It's pretty much open season on almost any subject or any one, but, only in good fun though.  It could be about folklores, or tales of old legends, or an ancient saying of some sort.  It could be a serious or a sad speech, most of the time it's a lot of ribbing of the host or the honoree of a "katoanga" (feast, reception, celebrations of special occasions in a person's life or community; generally birthdays, religious accomplishments, weddings, etc.). The stories could be made up or an actual occurrence, some times it's a lot of "he said, she said" stories when in actuality no one said such a thing.  They are usually voluntary and sometimes given on the spur of the moment or it could be a well prepared one. Sometimes someone says something about a person and that "eggs" that person on to get up and give a speech to reproof what the other person might have said.  If a feast or celebration doesn't have speakers, it may be considered faka'ofa or "not a very good affair".  When a family has a katoanga or a funeral, everyone has a role to fulfill. The fathers' eldest sister has a role, the father and mother's brothers and sisters and their children all have a role, etc.  Depending on whose function it is, this will dictate the role each member of the family plays. With speeches, usually the ‘ulumotu'a (eldest living descendant on the paternal side of a family) gives it, it just depends. Women can also give speeches.

 

Barbara Burns:

Interesting.

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

At katoanga's that's when the extended family and a person's standing within the community comes in to play.  For example, let's say there's a wedding. If the family doesn't participate in community functions or they come from a small family, then the roles people hold are not fulfilled. People to give speeches or sit at the head table as the person of honor, people to do tau'olunga's (traditional dances performed by unmarried girls), or do the cooking, etc. those role's are left unfilled and one's family is considered faka'ofa. If a lot of people attend an event including funerals, the family whose function it is, is generally viewed with a certain amount of respect, seen as a family who shares their talents and wealth with the community. With that respect there's also a sense of honor for the family as well. During funerals and katoanga's; every single body within a family has a role to tend to. From cooking (considered lowest in ranking in an event) to sitting at the front or the head seat which is considered a great honor not only for that person but for the hosting family as well. Funerals are big elaborate events and seem to be even more important than one's accomplishments in life. Back home in Tonga and even here to a certain extend, funeral rites could last up to ten days and nights after burial, well, they could actually sometimes last longer than that. In the case of a monarch's death, the whole island must wear black (a sign of mourning) for one full year. If the island gets lucky the royal family may decree six months enough for the mourning period, that's their prerogative though (laughter).  There's the presentation of pigs, kava plants, cows, sugarcane, taro, yams, and so forth.  There's also the presentation of koloa fakatonga (highly valued hand woven mats, tapa cloth, etc., typically made with natural plants and fibers of various trees and plants).

 

Barbara Burns

So the mats are still important? It was a big thing in the book.

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

Yes, still a huge part of the culture.  Koloa fakatonga still represents a family's wealth and status, how much and how nice the koloa fakatonga is, is a reflection on a woman's rank and reputation, her standing within her family and the community.  Fine mats, ngatu's and so forth are still considered some of the most valuable gifts one can give.  The process of making the different varieties of koloa fakatonga takes an extremely long time, so, yes; I think for many and the more traditional Tongan, it's still valued by the people.

 

Barbara Burns

It's like a dowry?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

Kind of like a dowry, similar.  It's sort of like this, if one doesn't have koloa fakatonga, some times people may say, "What has your mother been doing with herself." It's generally viewed negatively on a person's mother or the maternal side of the family, as if a woman is lazy or an idle wife, mother, etc. Since the mother's side of the family (including all her sisters, maternal aunts and their female children) is generally responsible for providing koloa fakatonga at important events, it's sort of a dishonor if a wife or mother doesn't own koloa fakatonga to present as gifts at functions.

 

Barbara Burns

And so big families are normal?  Here it's been common for generations for people to have two or three children.

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

(Laugher) I grew up in a family of five and we were considered a very small family. Here in America things are changing.  It's obvious when I look around with the availability of birth controls, the cost of living and parents having to work two jobs to make ends meet that a large family is no longer feasible or as desirable as it used to be in the olden days. In general, for Tongans there is honor and respect in having a lot of children. It's also considered a great blessing from God. Because of the dynamics of our culture's set up, having a large family is good for "business" so to speak. It was also needful in olden times to have a lot of children during warfare and for the daily operation of family and village life. The idea and cultural viewpoint about having a lot of children is still predominant in the culture, yes.

 

Barbara Burns

Plus religion, I mean if Catholic and Mormons are a part of the religious make up of the country that affects the number of children they have too, probably.

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

Yes and the Catholic faith is still the Catholic faith, no birth control!  But, things are changing.  There's a great many Catholics and Mormons with just two or three kids, don't tell me there's no birth control going on somewhere (laughter). Living in America greatly affects the people's views too on family size. Affordability, time and other concerns now enter in to the equation.  My sister Anabella has five boys and a girl, Lufi has four girls, Isi, has three boys and a girl and Pila has three girls and a boy.  We're still considered a small family compared to my mom's brothers and sisters. As for me (laughter), I made a choice a long time ago not to have children; I'm a little untraditional in some things.

 

Barbara Burns

You're modern.

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

Maybe modern to Americans, (laughter) to Tongans, very, very stupid! The make-up of a family's life is also different from Americans. Its not just mom and dad and dad is the head of the household making all decisions for his household. For the sake of explaining something, let's say there's a generation #1, #2 & #3 and each generation has one set of parents and 5 children. For Tongans, all 3 generations are generally considered one family. A father may be the head of his household on daily decisions, however, during katoanga's and funerals let's say in generation #2, the father's eldest brother from generation #1 is in authority and is also considered head of household in all of his younger brothers' household, etc; this includes all nieces, nephews, cousins, etc. Families are structured in a patriarchic type of system, well shoot, okay, sort of. Females actually have a place of honor in Tongan families also. See if I can explain this…sisters' and their children let's say in generation #2, especially the eldest sister, is considered "'eiki" or "higher" in ranking than all of her brothers and their children thus making them "tu'a" or "lower" in ranking to her and her children. However, when these sisters marry, they become tu'a in ranking to their husband's family.  So, if anyone in generation #2 has a katoanga or dies, their father's sister from generation #1 would be ‘eiki over them. Now, if someone in generation #3 should have a katoanga or dies, the eldest sister from generation #2 would be the ‘eiki or "fahu" at that katoanga. Simple, all makes sense, huh ( general laughter)?

 

Barbara Burns

 What makes this female ‘eiki, is it age?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

No, not age, her gender makes her ‘eiki, just the fact that she is female.  This makes her ‘eiki over all of her brothers, their children, and some times, their children's children. She may also be ‘eiki over all her uncles (maternal side only) and their children too. About a year ago, I read some writings of one of the first Europeans to visit Tonga and it had to do with what we're talking about. Because of the many ruling chiefs in Tonga at the time, Europeans had a difficult time determining who was actually in authority or highest in ranking.  After studying and observing the people, it was finally determined that the Tu'i (King) Tonga held the highest socio-religious and secular position on the land and his authority was absolute. He had power over life and death and when he went amongst the people; they all sat down and bowed their heads, it was considered disrespectful to look at his face. It was also forbidden to stand in site of or to be above the Tu'i Tonga's head.  If the Tu'i Tonga deigned to stop and allow someone to pay him "moemoe" (act of worship, display of respect), he would stop in front of a person, picked up his foot behind him and presented his heel and the sole of his foot to the subject. The subject would then touch his or her forehead to his heal then touched his foot with the front and then the back of the hand. Well anyway, this European wrote about their amazement when one day a female walk in to a gathering (she visited from a different island) with the Tu'i Tonga present, she never bowed in his sight and in fact presented up her foot to him and he paid her the act of moemoe that everyone else on the island exhibited for him. This caused a lot of confusion for the Europeans and more questions. I thought that was funny, what they were confused about is this whole ‘eiki, "fahu" thing, a female's higher ranking over men within a family. It's safe to bet that she was his "fahu" (father's eldest sister).  A sister being ‘eiki over all her brothers and their children doesn't give her ruling or administrative authority over them but she does have higher ranking than all of them. This allows her and her children the prerogative to have their wishes obeyed by those that are tu'a to them. The ‘eiki or fahu is guaranteed gifts of fine mats, ngatu's and other koloa fakatonga at katoanga's and funerals and so on.

 

Barbara Burns

Very interesting. Did you see in yesterday's paper about the new king?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale 

I did.

 

Barbara Burns

It was very exiting to see a new king.

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

It's the first time in forty-one years or so that Tonga has had a new King.

 

Barbara Burns

The monarch lived a long time?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

A long time.

 

Barbara Burns

Which is wonderful?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

The previous King ruled for a long time so that was good, it's been very interesting lately though.

 

Barbara Burns

I will go home and say I should have asked her….

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

You can call me if you need to.

 

Barbara Burns

May I do that?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

Yes, that's not a problem.

 

Barbara Burns

I always make something to bring in to class with my discussions.  Do you know any simple dish or something that I could cook that would be Tongan that you can suggest?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

(Laughter) I can't cook worth a darn but I'll try to help you.

 

Barbara Burns

Normally I bake cookies or little cakes or something like that.  But if it would be slices of mango or something that would be typical of what you guys have back home?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

Yes, mango is typical.

 

Barbara Burns

Pineapple?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

Mango and pineapple are both found in Tonga.  Mangos are sold in the stores here when it's in season. We use very basic ingredients and natural foods when cooking. Coconut milk, onions, tomatoes, a certain variety of hot pepper some time is typical seasonings. We've been introduced to curry powder through Fijian contact and other things. It used to be, salt was ocean water; and the diet was mainly fish and other things from the ocean too.

 

Barbara Burns

A lot of lamb it sounded like.

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

And lamb is a new thing, imported from New Zealand but yes we get a lot of that now.  In the old days, our main diet generally consisted of all things out of the ocean though.

 

Barbara Burns

Pig, no?

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

Pig, how can I forget that, yes pigs, huge, huge, huge part of our diet. It also holds a lot of ceremonial and cultural importance too. Sure.

 

Barbara Burns

I started thinking; I've got to find out how pigs got to Tonga.

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

How pigs got to Tonga?  Wild boars I think are indigenous to Tonga. Captain Cook left some domesticated pigs in Tonga on his second voyage, 1777 I think. They've become a part of the culture now.

 

Barbara Burns

I'm learning things like corn was never in Europe until the Spaniards came there. Thank you very much for your time, this has been very interesting.

 

Ofa Faiva-Siale

            You're very welcome.

 

 

Interview conducted at the City of Euless

Parks and Community Services Building

1314 Royal Parkway

Euless, TX 76040

 

August, 2008

 

 

Note to the Reader:

 

It may be helpful to note that to Tongans, the word "family" could and most often mean what Westerner's consider the extended family.  An individual's "family" not only includes mother, father, brothers and sisters but most often includes grandparents, great-grandparents, all uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews and cousins on both paternal and maternal sides of the family.

 

*Italicized words are added for flow.

 

**Italicized words in (parenthesis) are added for clarification.

 

 

 

This narrative history was produced through the efforts of The Euless Historical Preservation Committee with assistance from the staff of the City of Euless Parks and Community Services Department. -  November  2009