Jason John calls for Australia to have a prodigal moment, a Zacchaeus moment, turning around now.
Rallying for God's Beautiful Earth
Fonua. Connection. Reciprocity.
My name is Tau’alofa Anga’aelangi, I come from the island of Holonga Vava’u, Holopeka, Koulo, Ha’apai and Vai-Ko-Puna, Pea, Tongatapu.
In Tonga, when a person is introducing themselves to others through formal or everyday interaction there’s often an expectation to include the name of their fonua. This is not only to identify their place of origin. In fact, to include fonua in ones speech on Tonga and many other islands, is to trace family lineages, locate where your umbilical cord was buried, because that is the place where you and the rest of your family are rooted.
Because the fonua is the womb, the place from where you entered into the world and also the fonua is the whole earth community. In this sense it is the fonua who gives birth to the human: in your mother’s fonua you were nurtured, it is a part of you, and you are part of the fonua. The gravesite is also called fonua loto, meaning the centre of the fonua. This means someone entering through the fonua of their mother, and departing into the fonua loto. Therefore, in Tongan tradition, when we introduce ourselves and identify our fonua, it means we do not exist as individuals with the fonua. As a matter of fact we the people are the Fonua and the Fonua is a part of us.
The current protest of the native people of Hawaii to save the most sacred site of mount Mauna Kea from the construction of a thirty-meter telescope is a repercussion of the appalling ignorance of one’s relationship to land and people. Mauna Kea in Hawaiian tradition is the umbilical cord that connects Hawaii to the heavens and connects humans to land.
The Hawaiian educator, and nationalist Prof Haunani-Kay Trask says:
“Our story remains unwritten. It rests within the culture, which is inseparable from the land. To know this is to know our history. To write this is to write of the land and the people who are born from her.” (Trask, 1999).
Like the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders of Australia, the Hawaiian people have a long history of fighting for the sovereignty of their land.
One of the major issues is the profit driven tourism industry whose main objective is to transform land into revenues. Haunani Trask argues that major corporations together with elite political parties “collaborate in the rape of Native land and people (…) the prostitution of Hawaiian culture.” (Trask, 1999)
The views of the people of Hawaii concerning the oneness of human beings and the land is not foreign to the natives of the South Pacific.
Land is more than the soil that we walk on. It is not just ground on which we establish ourselves with a beautiful home, a hotel, mansion or a telescope.
The word to describe land in most parts of the South Pacific correlates our islands with one another. While westerners have tended to view our islands as small, undeveloped and isolated, in fact we in Pasifika are surrounded and connected by the vast ocean as well as our humanity, history, language and so on.
Fonua as mother, womb and nurturer.
In accordance with our connectedness by ocean, we share common values and beliefs towards the land.
We say fonua in Tonga. Samoans say fanua, and Fijians say Vanua. On other islands, land is Whenua (New Zealand), Fenua (Tahiti), Kainga (Kiribas), ‘Āina (Hawaii) and so on. Despite the slight differences in its meaning and pronunciation, our common belief about our relationship to fonua anchors our identity together as the people of Oceania.
There is a feminine aspect on the meaning of fonua, which means not only land, but womb. “Polynesians to this day honour the fonua as a womb from which new life springs.” (Halapua, 2008).
In Tongan tradition, when the umbilical cord (pito in Tongan) of a newborn is detached it is an important rite for it to be buried. The ritual is to symbolise the deep connection and relationship of one to the land of their birth. Hoiore makes the point: “For as the infant was attached and nourished through the pito in his/her mothers womb, so also the child is attached to the land and all life from it.” Native Hawaiians have also been known to bury their umbilical cords on the mountain Mauna Kea as a way of connecting themselves back to the sacred land.
Every human’s wellbeing springs out of what the land produces, whether we acknowledge that or not. We are part of the land and the land is us,
“it is the Oceanic understanding that we do not own the ocean or the sea, we are owned by them.” (Halapua, 2008, p. 7).
Since, we all lived in the womb of our mothers we were nourished and protected by the fonua. This makes us connected to and inseparable from it, and indeed the whole family of creation. If she is hurt or disrespected it affects every one of her children.
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Fakatapu kihe tolutaha’i ‘Otua ‘oku ‘afio ‘ihotau lotolotonga,
Fakatapu ki he kakai ‘oe Eora nation moe kelekele tapu ‘oku tau fetaulaki ai he ‘ahoni. Kae ‘atā moau ke u fakamalumalu atu ‘i he talamalu ‘o e fonuaˊ keu fai atu ha vahevahe he ‘aho kolo’ia koeni ‘I Saione.
You knew me, before You formed me in my mother's Fonua,
Through the pito, You, nurtured and nourished me, with all that sprouts from the fonua, it was I,
I who didn’t realise...
You are my mother,
You are the Fonua,
You are the Giver of life,
But it was I, I who did not realise…
Thousands of years ago, You led my ancestors to set sail across the world into the deep blue seas of the South Pacific.
You paddled, with them through the fluidity and its powerful forces it was there,
they first encountered You, the Moana, the Ocean.
I took a sip of my disposable coffee cup, and tossed it into the ocean,
She spits it out, And says:
Do you not remember? It was I who taught your ancestors,
how to read the stars, feel the warmth and coolness of the sea,
I am the moana your mother, I am sacred, My waves are embracing they ripple to bring you all together, you are my family,
Your tears fell into the saltiness of the Moana,
It lamented together with the community’s
Known to us as the canaries of climate change,
But it was I, I who did not realise…
You graced our island and people with the gift of hospitality,
The grace and bonding between humanity and nature.
That bonding is a relationship we call the tauhi Vā or reciprocity.
The space you and I symbolised as a connection that is sacred and it is to be reciprocated,
I look to the narrow interpretations of the Holy book, it said,
Humanity is superior to nature, trees, water and animals shall serve you human creatures.
The Moana, fonua, animals, water and all of creation groaned her pain,
From the sins of anthropocentrism,
They all lamented together with their Creator.
She said, they said: Do you not remember the bonding I made with your ancestors in the fonua and the moana…
I formed you, nurtured you, protected you, taught you how to read, I graced you with hospitality, created a relationship between you and all creation…
It was I, I who did not realise…
Your change of heart for I, is not the change of heart I think about,
As if you’re a God whos wrath needs to turn into love and compassion
But rather love and compassion is already within you alone, for you are the source of all these things.
You bring us into a Settlement of wholeness and restoration.
As I go from here today, I will embrace the land fonua, ocean-moana, my relationship- the tauhi Vā all that you’ve created as a part of me and I am a part of them.
If we were together in person, I would lay out a mat, and invite you to join me in a time of prayerful, critical reflection on our own lives:
- Have you ever had an experience of ‘coming back’ to the Fonua- of seeing yourself as from the Earth and a part of it. What was the trigger? How does it sustain you?
- How do the ideas of reciprocity with nature, and God’s sustaining compassionate love affect your journey with Jesus into seeking justice?
This is it- rally week! Everything you need to know about locations and resources is here.
If you’re at a rally on the 20th, send us a selfie with your reason for being there, even if you’ve already put something on the gallery. If you can’t be there in person, be there virtually, and share your image with the virtual world.
Tau’alofa was one of the guests on a Pacific ecotheology podcast series, talking more about the Fonua and its challenge to western theology. She is also interviewed here expanding on several concepts in Pacific Theology.
The science stories of cosmology, and evolution, add their voice to Tau’alofa’s challenge to our anthropocentrism and sense of disconnect from the rest of the Earth community. In his thousand mile long walk across America, John Muir responded to the insights from the sciences through his Christian faith. You can read an excerpt, or listen to it set to beautiful imagery (There are two and four minute versions).
Halapua, W. (2008). Waves of God's Embrace: Sacred Perspective from the Ocean. Norwich: Canterbury Press.
Trask, H. K. (1999). From a native daughter: colonialism and sovereignty in Hawai‘i, revised edition. Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaiian Press.
This blog is part of our 2019 Season of Creation series: Rallying for God's Beautiful Earth.