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The Contemporary Pacific 14.2 (2002) 486-488

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Salote, Queen of Paradise

Salote, Queen of Paradise, by Margaret Hixon. Dunedin, NZ: University of Otago Press, 2000. ISBN1-877133-78-7; 239 pages, maps, tables, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index, appendix. US$39.95.

This is a beautifully presented, informed, well-illustrated, and, above all, accessible biography of Queen Salote of Tonga: a public figure who, as the author makes clear, was not always so easily accessible as a person. The author, who has produced a number of works documenting life in traditional communities, first visited Tonga in 1987 and began researching this biography soon after. The project's approval by the present king made possible the extensive collection of oral histories concerning his late mother, and an impressive list of over [End Page 486] sixty people, including the queen's close relatives, who shared their memories of her is appended. The result is a rounded and frequently moving account that incorporates an array of sources, including Salote's personal papers, poems written at various times throughout her life, and newspaper accounts as well as scholarly sources. Skillfully interwoven are eyewitness accounts of key events. The book includes a number of photos, including family photos, I had not seen elsewhere. The artful inclusion of personal reminiscences of the queen by many people who knew her, including grandchildren and former attendants, enlivens the account and warmly brings to the fore domestic matters that inform all lives.

The focus remains on the woman who was queen; the politics and events of her time are sketched deftly but form only a backdrop against which her life was played out. Divided into fifteen relatively short and easily absorbed chapters, the book details what is known of Salote's birth and childhood, and traces her friendship with the Kronfeld family in Auckland and their home, Oli-Ula, from which she attended the Diocesan School for Girls in Epsom. This time she later described as her happiest years (61). One feels for her the wrench when, in 1915, her father, Tupou II, abruptly terminated her education and required that the teenage schoolgirl become a woman and prepare for marriage. By the time she was eighteen, she had borne her first child, the present king, and taken the crown as Tupou III.

Thereafter, affairs of state (for which she was not well prepared) and church matters became her concerns, together with a succession of family events, visits of dignitaries, and overseas trips. The Second World War opened an outside vista that Tonga had not experienced hitherto, and the queen herself put Tonga on the map ina different way when she took London quite by storm at the time of Elizabeth II's coronation. Throughout it all, despite some failure of nerve, she remained seemingly serenely in control of her ever-increasing extended family, which is the way she saw her kingdom.

The queen's efforts on behalf of her people and her special interest in women's progress in the kingdom gathered pace over the years despite periods of deep loss and grief, particularly over the premature deaths of both her husband and her second son. In the 1950s, she began Langa Fonua to promote women's welfare, and the Tongan Traditions Committee to preserve the culture. She actively supported these and other organizations such as the Red Cross, Girl Guides, and church schools. One of her triumphs was to have Tonga host the 1964 Conference of the Pan-Pacific and South-East Asia Women's Association. Despite a lack of formal accommodation in the kingdom, the queen determined that outsiders would come to get to know and understand the people of the region by staying in their homes. She used her considerable charm and persuasion to get people in Nuku'alofa to prepare for their overseas visitors. Not only was the conference a stunning success, but the standard of houses and hygiene took a sharp upward movement. In many ways her swansong, the conference summed up her powers of organization, [End Page 487] her capacity to mobilize her people, her ability...


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