By Josephine Latu: Pacific Media Watch
Tongan publisher Kalafi Moala uses real-life examples for storytelling about sensitive Pacific issues in a new book launched in New Zealand at the weekend - such as elitism, religious hypocrisy, child abuse and domestic violence, racism against Chinese immigrants and the exploitation of tradition.
“It’s an uncomfortable truth,” Kalafi told Pacific Media Watch about his vivid Tongan examples.
One story in his book, In Search of the Friendly Islands, is a gritty childhood memory of a boy getting his earlobe clipped off by his own father – because he “wouldn’t sit still” during a haircut.
“But that’s part of transparency. We have to bring up those issues – we’ve got to face it, we’ve got to embrace it so we can come up with certain solutions,” said Moala.
The courageous book by Taimi ‘o Tonga publisher Moala - arguably the kingdom’s most prolific media figure - was launched at the Onehunga Community Centre and Library in Auckland on Saturday.
The event brought together various Pasifika media personalities, including New Zealand Herald columnist Tapu Misa, Spasifik publisher Innes Logan, Radio 531 PI founder Sefita Hao’uli, Pasifika Foundation Hawai’i executive director Ana Currie, Pacific Media Centre director Dr David Robie and MP Carmel Sapuloni.
It also marked the launch of Pasifika Foundation Press, which published the book along with AUT University’s PMC.
In Search of the Friendly Islands, is a candid critique of Tonga’s political, social and cultural challenges, and deals with many misconceptions that the public – including the foreign press – may have about the issues.
The book is also so outspoken that University of the South Pacific Professor Ian Campbell predicts “many Tongans will be embarrassed by what Kalafi has to tell them”.
In a separate chapter, Moala talks about the notorious riot of 16/11. Rather than a freedom protest, he claims the crisis was driven by self-interested “pro-democratic” leaders wishing to seize political power through mob force.
Overseas “parachute journalists”, Kalafi claims, got it all wrong.
The two-time Pacific Media Freedom Award winner said much of the reporting about Tongan politics by Western media are “very shallow”, often pushing a simplified “one size fits all” democratic model that ignores the complexity of the Tongan situation.
His message is that social and political problems will not be solved simply by changing the political and economic system – it involves a spiritual and ideological dynamic as well.
Associate professor David Robie described the book as “brutally honest” and a “reality check on Tonga today”.
“While some might see Kalafi’s message as pessimistic, I see this as essentially an optimistic book – one that is a challenge of how to be far more constructive about change,” he said.
As a long-time advocate of democratic reform and media freedom in Tonga, Moala is indeed positive about the nation’s future, and is opting for resolution and reconstruction in his campaigns.
In addition to operating the weekly Taimi ‘o Tonga and TV channel TMN-2, his newest venture is taking over operations for the government-owned Tonga Chronicle (after being threatened, sued, and banned by the government in previous years).
“I’m far more optimistic now about Tonga than ever before in my life. I see a lot more togetherness, in the political, social and religious spectrums,” he said at the launch.
Pictures: Top: Kalafi Moala with columnist Tapu Misa; Middle: Sefita Hao'uli; Above: Josephine Latu interviewing businesswoman Salote Lilo. Photos: Del Abcede.
In Search of the Friendly Islands, by Kalafi Moala. Published by the Pasifika Foundation Press and AUT Pacific Media Centre. ISBN 9781877314759. NZ$34.95 South Pacific Books Ltd.