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BYUH Pacific Institute premieres final video in Tongan trilogy

Friday, 20 April 2007

Mike Foley | University Advancement | 20 April 2007 

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The BYU-Hawaii Pacific Institute invited students and community members to enjoy the free premiere of Tuku Fonua — The Land Given to God, during two screenings on April 19.

Tuku Fonua is a 46-minute video on the modern significance of the historical establishment of the Tongan nation. It was produced by BYU-Hawaii and the Polynesian Cultural Center through the Pacific Institute and includes interviews with the late King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV (upper left), the present king and other royalty, various religious ministers, and Tongan faculty and students at BYUH.

It is also the final installment of a trilogy the government of the Kingdom of Tonga commissioned 10 years ago. The commission resulted partially because of high regard for BYU-Hawaii President Eric B. Shumway, who still bears the chiefly title Faivaola given to him when he was a Latter-day Saint missionary in Tonga in the early 1960s.

Tongans also regard Faivaola — executive producer of the trilogy, as well as script author and narrator of Tuku Fonua — for his exceptional oratorical skills in the Tongan language. President Shumway is the author of Intensive Course in Tongan, which he developed for the U.S. Peace Corps. He will become president of the Nuku'alofa Tonga Temple following his retirement in June after 41 years at BYU-Hawaii.

The two earlier parts of the trilogy are Kava Kuo Heka — Royal Kava Ceremony of Tonga, which features Tongan students at BYU-Hawaii who put on a royal kava ceremony when the late King Tupou IV visited the campus; and Haka He Langi Kuo Tau — We Dance in the Ecstasy of Singing, which was filmed in Tonga and explains the significance and intricacies of the lakalaka and other Tongan art forms and celebrations.

"This film was designed to focus on that which Tongans are most noted for. Every speech seemed to perfectly fit in that wonderful tradition of tuku fonua," President Shumway said after the first screening. He added that some of those featured in the film have since passed away, and that the Queen Mother Halaevalu Mata'aho came to Hawaii twice to insure that her portion was done right. "You can see her sweetness and dignity," he said.

President Shumway also explained the film was not designed in response to recent political unrest in Tonga. "This is really a film to celebrate the moment in history that King George I memorialized, and as [the late] King Taufa'ahau IV said, still remains in the minds and memories of the people."

Dr. Vernice Wineera — Director of the Pacific Institute, producer of the trilogy and assistant editor — also explained Tuku Fonua "is tremendously significant. It could have been the first video, because it sets the history in place from the first king of Tonga who metaphorically lifted a handful of earth and gave his country and people to God."

"This third installment reminds Tongans and the world that this defining act was a unique situation that forms the Tongan character, history, the way they socialize with each other, and their beliefs in the future."

She also explained, "what took us five-to-six months on the previous films only took us about five-to-six weeks on this one because the [computer and digital video] technology is so different from 10 years ago."

"It's been an enjoyable, creative experience," she continued. "You can't help but be influenced by the Tongans that we interviewed, including old men with long history in their minds that share it with us, and young children. There are dances and poets, the royal family, so it's quite exciting."

Gary B. Smith, an alumnus ('76) and communications consultant for BYU-Hawaii who directed, filmed and edited Tuku Fonua, agrees. "This program is perhaps the most significant of the three," he said, adding he is particularly touched by the segments that include the comments of "people who have passed away since we started this project, including His Majesty King Taufa'ahau Tupou the Fourth."

"The great thing about this documentary is that these people live again, and their words will have great significance in the future as this program is screened throughout Tonga and the world. To do a show like this is a great blessing."

Tuku Fonua production teamPresident Shumway recognized the people in the audience who volunteered to participate in making Tuku Fonua. After the first screening, BYU-Hawaii art professor Viliami Toluta'u, who did the sketches used in the production, said, "It was a powerful film. The message was well put together, and every Tongan in the film is well represented."

One of them is BYUH Tongan language instructor Mele Nunia Ongoongotau, who said she was "excited to watch the film. It was very spiritual and educational. I know for sure the people in Tonga will love it. It will remind them again of the message of Tuku Fonua."

Smith explained the three documentaries will eventually "all be put together in a compendium on one DVD, and marketed through the Pacific Institute on behalf of the government of the Kingdom of Tonga."

President Shumway said since the Kingdom of Tonga holds the copyright on the film, "proper protocol must be followed," and estimated the DVD might be available by the end of June.