Cultural Vandalism in Tonga? Who cares!
An open letter to the people of the “Friendly Isles”
An incident of cultural Vandalism occurred in Ha’ apai on Tuesday the 13th November, that should make Tongans very angry. But who really cares?
Today In the National Cultural Center, a once proud indoor exhibit, of the only sailing Kalia left in Tonga, an Icon, so closely connected to the very roots of a once proud sailing Nation of brave warriors and explorers, is left to rot and die, hidden from view behind some bushes. Tourists are shown instead, how to open a tin of beef, to make an Omu! But who really cares?
Cultural Heritage and National Treasures define a nation clearer than words. This living history directly connects us all to our ancestors. Nations around the world understand this and proudly displays their heritage to tourists and at times of great importance, like Coronations or Olympic games.
Much of Tonga’s past maritime history has been lost. Many old sailing ships, “killed” and plundered by warriors for Iron and cannon, hundreds of years ago, remain hidden beneath the ocean. In 2009, an anchor believed to belong to William Mariner’s ship, the “Port Au Prince” was discovered in Ha’ apai. This discovery was widely reported around the world, as the ‘Port Au Prince” is a famous ship. The Dive company ‘Fins and Flukes” who made the discovery, attempted to have the area declared a heritage site, but no one cared? They turned it into a successful tourist attraction for divers.
Earlier this year, the discovery of the wreck of the “Port Au Prince” in Ha’apai made headlines all around the world. It was exciting news. This wreck and the stories surrounding it, changed the course of Tongan history forever. The wreck site is of national significance and is woven into the very making of this nation and should be considered a “National Treasure” and subsequently a Heritage site. This wreck deserves a full archeological survey, investigation and accurate documentation, with every item recovered, going through a detailed conservation processes, to ensure the artifacts are preserved for posterity and achieve appropriate values if they are to be sold.
Ultimately, a site management plan should be developed, which may allow it then to be utilized as a world class heritage dive site, attracting divers from around the world.
At 11am on Tuesday the 13th November, unannounced to the people of Ha’ apai, the ferry “MV Pulupaki” positioned itself above the anchor of the Port au Prince. With the support of a foreign dive team, the anchor was brutally ripped from the bottom and dragged up the stern of the ferry, using its mooring winch. No assessment of impacts caused by the removal seem to have been undertaken. No attempt was made to survey and document the site before removal. No attempt was made to handle this priceless icon gently, with the care and the respect it deserves, mitigating further damage. No conservation of the anchor was carried out at the surface to stop the immediate attack on it, by the effects of exposure to air? This is archeological vandalism of a National Treasure at it’s worst! But who really cares?
If you belong to the Kingdom of Tonga and are proud of its special place in the world, or are just a friend of Tonga, you need to careand ask questions. Tonga may have just lost more than a dive site!
With another Coronation scheduled and the Pacific Games coming to Tonga in years ahead, Tonga ‘s cultural heritage will be on display to the world. But who really cares?
Mark and I are humble guest in the Kingdom of Tonga. We respect and admire the rich cultural heritage and tread gently where we go. We love everything about the “Friendly Isles”. In the years ahead, we hope to work with the people of Eua and Nomuka, to uncover some of this lost maritime history, in an archeologically responsible, accountable and transparent way. We will always place great importance, on the cultural and environmental sensitivities of any wreck site. We will never claim a wreck or anything on it for ourselves, as they are all owned by the people who should care, the people of Tonga.
But who cares? We both hope you do.
Don McIntyre & Mark Belvedere
Tonga Blue Ltd.