Thursday, March 19, 2009

From scourge to public conscience

By David Robie: Pacific Media Centre

Publisher and broadcaster Kalafi Moala, the scourge of the Tongan establishment for almost two decades, has turned his pen to the challenges of the kingdom’s future in an optimistic new book being launched in Auckland this weekend.

In Search of the Friendly Islands also reflects on the ‘Black Thursday’ riot in November 2006 that devastated the heart of the capital Nuku’alofa.

Moala launched the Taimi ‘o Tonga on 13 April 1989 with the objective of bringing alternative perspectives and voices into Tonga’s public sphere.

Little did he realise then that he would face unlawful imprisonment in 1996, lawsuits over trumped up charges, being banned from his own country for more than four years and death threats during his long campaign for a free press and freedom of speech.

His newspaper was raided 12 times at one stage over a three-year period. However, his campaign ultimately contributed to greater media freedom and progress towards political and democratic reform.

Moala’s 2002 book, Island Kingdom Strikes Back, gave a vivid and revealing account of his newspaper team’s struggle for a more open society and his family sacrifices for the cause.

He was awarded the inaugural Pacific Media Freedom Award that year by the Auckland-based Pacific Islands Media Association (PIMA) and won the award again in 2003.

Now back in Nuku’alofa publishing Taimi ‘o Tonga after its stint in exile in New Zealand, Moala has turned to contemporary political, cultural and social issues and dilemmas facing both his beloved and resilient kingdom and the Tongan diaspora in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

In Search of the Friendly Islands covers a broad canvas of challenges and problems in search of some solutions.

Starting with a chapter dealing with violence in different diasporic settings, he delves into traditional conspiracies dating back to the “Dark Age” of Tuka’aho that led to the assassination of the warrior chief and the killing of his wives.

After a series of feuds, Tuka’aho’s grandson, Taufa’ahau, united Tonga through “brute force, ingenious leadership and new found faith”.

Other chapters deal with domestic violence, the monarchy and leadership, Christian spirituality, economic development and globalisation.

In perhaps the most contentious chapter, Kalafi analyses the rioting in November 2006 when “a demon was unleashed”, leading to eight deaths and the destruction of downtown Nuku’alofa.

He blames the riot on some political leaders and activists whom he accuses of losing sight of democratic reform and responsibility while seeking personal gain.

Moala’s final chapter offers hope for the future based on social reconstruction founded on justice, good governance and spiritual leadership.

For more than a generation, Kalafi Moala has inspired the Pacific region as a newspaper publisher and social conscience. This book is another important contribution to debate and reform about the Friendly Islands and journalism’s role in a “challenge for the soul of our very civilisation”.

>> In Search of the Friendly Islands (Pasifika Foundation Press) will be launched at the Onehunga Community Centre and Library, Auckland, at 11am on Saturday. Co-publisher Pacific Media Centre. ISBN 978-1-877314-75-9. NZ$34.95. Order from South Pacific Books.

Dr David Robie is director of the Pacific Media Centre, AUT University. This article was originally published in the Scoop Review of Books.

New book by former Tongan dissident

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