By John Kinley, Apprentice
April 29th, 2014
Tongans are renowned for their musical prowess and for their unmatched sense of hospitality. During the Picton Castle‘s stay in Tonga, the crew was treated to both in abundance. A fellow member of the crew, Vai Latu, is a Tongan from the very islands we were visiting, the Vava’u Group. She had arranged for her family to come out to the ship and put on a feast. Tongan feasts are reputed through the South Pacific as a special event and if you get a chance to attend one, do it. Tongan feasts are used to celebrate national holidays, arrivals, farewells, funerals, birthdays and well, just about everything. From what I gather, it doesn’t look like these friendly people need much of an excuse to have a good time.
It was arranged through Vai’s grandmother, Betty, that we would be having the feast onboard the ship with both Vai’s family and the ship’s crew in attendance. Word spread through the crew and the excitement was sparked. Apparently, the last time Picton Castle was in Vava’u, a similar event occurred and it turned out to be a highlight of some people’s voyages.
The feast was scheduled to be at 5 o’clock on a Friday and everyone was on board. The galley prepared drink and popcorn for the ship’s guests and I prepared my camera. It took three skiff runs from a dock in Neiafu to bring the family out to the ship and all the food. Vai’s uncles and cousins and friends and family all arrived with big smiles on their faces and kindness in their hearts. The crew started to socialize and our guests got out their musical instruments and started to play and sing some local style music. The band consisted of a guitar, ukulele, a banjo and drums. The music was flawlessly played.
The deck was full of people by the time the feast had started. Vai’s family consisted of both young and old but with so much popcorn available, we all turned into kids. Finn grabbed some chalk and divided it out among the youth who promptly started to draw on the decks, stairs and in the galley on the cupboards. Simon dressed up as an officer with a captain’s hat and surprised everyone. He stuffed a pillow down his shirt and with shoulder clefts provided by our engineer, Alex, he looked the part. Everyone had a good laugh as Captain John Beebe-Center shook his hand with a smile on his face.
It was time to start eating and it was customary for the captain to say a few words followed by a blessing from Vai’s grandmother. The blessing was beautifully spoken in Tonga’s native tongue and then the crew followed our captain to line up for the food. The fare was stretched out over the port pin-rail and barely fit. Vai’s uncle stood by carving a pig and there was fruit on the starboard pin-rail. In addition to the pork and fruit there was also chicken done in a variety of styles and all were delicious. We feasted and listened to the live music right there on the main deck of the Picton Castle. The crew continued to play with the kids and socialize. Just when we thought the night couldn’t have gotten any better the hatch was cleared and the family displayed all sorts of local dance. The show started off with a hand dance with both boys and girls and then split up into different styles. The girls would dance and then the boys would follow and each would be different and entertaining. The musicians played the their songs accordingly and with steady precision. The dancing was capped off with the crew being invited to all jump up and boogie down on the hatch.
The night was perfect and we thanked our guests for providing such an amazing meal and entertainment. Because of the effort made by this family I will never forget Tonga. Their hospitality and kindness may be legendary throughout the Pacific but now it’s also known in the Atlantic. I’ll go home and have nothing but great things to say about Vai’s family and the Tongan nation as a whole. What an amazing experience.