Country Focus: Tonga
Harpoon in My Hand
By Olaf Ruhen (1911-1989)
Published by Tower Publications, 1967.
About the author: Ruhen, an adventurous New Zealander, traveled extensively throughout New Guinea, Australia and the South Pacific. His many works of fiction and nonfiction were inspired by his journeys.
In a finishing operation I started punching the heads of the nails that secured the gunwale capping, but David stopped me.
“It makes a good job, Olefi. But then I have to use putty to fill the holes up, and I can’t afford putty. Drive the heads flush and leave them. They’ll rust, but they’ll last the season.”
It was the same with every finished job in Tonga. Americans particularly were quick to criticize and comment on inadequacies they saw. But these inadequacies arose not from laziness or ignorance but from the impossibility of buying supplies. They were caused by poverty, for which Tongans have always learned to find a compensation. Not a pound of putty was bought for Velata. The small amount we used was contrived by finding old hardened chunks of putty about the site, where people had worked vessels for a century, by pounding these to a powder, and by working the powder again to the appropriate consistency after adding fresh oil from coconuts and candlenuts and the rest.