Elder Hawley and I love our calling as ITEP couple missionaries (International Teacher Education Program) for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Tonga. It was a delight to be invited to the Liahona Alumni Celebration for 2009 where we could learn to appreciate the Tongan people and their culture:
Inoke Kupu, Liahona stake president and CES Country Director, welcomes the alumni and Her Majesty, Queen Mother of Tonga to the opening fireside of the Liahona Alumni Celebration 2009: Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Halaevalu Mata’aho, speaks to alumni: Moana Kupu, our stake president's wife enjoys the parade of alumni around the campus square: President Inoke Kupu is one very busy man!The flag raising ceremony on Liahona campus begins another day of celebration: 1000's attend the 9 days of festivities across the island. Our Bishop Vaitai and his wife Ola smile greetings. Ana, secretary at Havelu Middle School, and Bishop Vaitai are Liahona alumni.Elder and Sister Hawley with Sione Tafuna, Liahona High School's principal: Vika Kaufusi is a delightful Liahona Middle School principal: Our friends, Sera and Simiti Leqakowailutu, stand by the Fijian flag. Sera teaches English at Liahona HS and Semiti is a retired school teacher, a temple worker, and member of our bishopric. The Tongan flag ceremony begins in front of the high school:The Tafuna family displays wreaths in memory of their son who died with 5 others in a tragic car accident on graduation day 2008. Tongans wear black with woven mats as a sign of respect for those who have passed on (Bird of Paradise wreath) Spontaneous dancing is common when the band plays: Luncheon is Served--and this was only the beginning! After lengthy ceremonies on the Liahona front lawn, we were seated at the tables near the Queen Mother who was served queenly dishes. We were fed the best of Tonga---lobsters, huge shrimp with bulging eyes, fish, pig, lupulu, ufi—(large yams), cakes. President Nau's wife, Winnie, helps prepare the tables. We would have enjoyed spending more time with ward members including Elder and Sister Heimuli: Everyone awaits for the Queen Mother to arrive before luncheon is served. Sila, a cute gal who works at the Liahona bookstore fans away the flies: Here comes the queen. Let the feast begin: President Nau, a cousin to the king, sits by the queen.
A student welcomes the Queen Mother to Liahona: Here come the gifts for the queen mother. A large pig in a crate, with ufi (root vegetables) as a traditional gift to royalty:A Kava tree is presented to the Queen.