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177 Nations of Tasmania - Episode 64 - The simple life in Tonga

As I mentioned in my last blog, I hadn't managed to find any Pacific Islanders until recently, despite many attempts. But once you get your toe in the door, and then word gets around, the door really opens up and it gets easier.

I initially had quite an extensive conversation on the phone, and he came across as quite a colourful character who was passionate about his cultural heritage. When I arrived at his house for the interview, I instantly knew my man from a distance, with his bright red Tongan rugby shirt and his striking white forked beard, which gave him the appearance of a Tongan wizard.

I had read up a bit about Tongan culture and migration to Australia, and discovered that though their numbers are no huge, just over 10,000 in Australia, it's about 10% of the population of Tonga and the number of Tongans living in Australia has increase tenfold or so in the last 20 years.

Manu, however, is not a recent migrant, having first arrived in Tasmania in 1986, like many, because of a relationship. Interestingly, when I was at uni in Hobart in the early/mid 90s, there was a notable contigent of Tongan students, and not surprisingly, Manu knew all the ones I remembered!

Before we started the interview, Manu had prepared a traditional Tongan lunch, which included casava and yam, so when we started we were both in the mood.

I'd have to say that Manu is one of those people I wish I had recorded on video, as he was a very visual communicator, with lots of expressive hand gestures and facial expressions. Nevertheless, one of the nice things I find about podcasts as compared to other media, is that hearing how a person expresses themselves can tell you as much as what they say sometimes. I think this is especially the case for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. For example, if I were to write Manus' words on a page, it would probably not mean much, but hearing him speak you really get a sense of his personality and what he cares about.

Manu grew up on a small island in an era where there wasn't even any electricity and lighting was done with paraffin lamps and cooking with wood ovens. For most people in Australia, this kind of lifestyle is almost unimaginable, which is what made it so fascinating. It also helped understand the Tongan mentality of sticking together and supporting everyone in the extended family/community. This is similar to what I've heard from others who've grown up in small island communities.

The big thread through Manu's life has been, of course, rugby, something for which Tonga is famous. It's also another example to me of how important involvement in sport ( and the same could be said for music, dance and other activities) can really help newcomers integrate more quickly into the local community. It's a source of friends, social networks, and even job opportunities. For Pacific Islanders, rugby is arguably an even bigger deal than soccer is for Africans and cricket for South Asians, as their community is so comparatively small. Manu is still heavily involved with rugby and has even represented Tasmania in national competition.

Photo attribution : Mike Cable, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, life has not always been easy for Manu in Tasmania. At the beginning, discrimination and racism was rife within local rugby, and later he had trouble with the law. However, now he speaks about how his experiences help him in his current work, helping disadvantaged kids, which you sense is a real passion for him.

It was also interesting to hear about Manu's connections with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community and the similarities in terms of culture and values with Tongans, especially in regards to collective mentality and extended family, something our own mainstream society lacks, with its focus on individualism and independence.

I hope in future to do more interviews with other Pacific Islanders, to share more about these interesting cultures and explore more their similarities and differences, and also to learn how they manage to adapt to life in Tasmania. In the meantime, please have a listen to Manu's story.

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