Special Collections Twenty at 20: Letter from the Tongan Royal Household

To mark this year’s 20th anniversary of Special Collections, the curators have selected some intriguing items for the Twenty at 20 series. Here is number 13.

Written in lea faka-Tonga

This 1912 letter announcing the baptism of Princess Elisiva Fusipala Tauki’onetuku is held in the Western Pacific Archives. It is part of a set of letters from the Tongan Royal Household to the British Agent and Consul in Tonga which have always enthralled me, not only because of their content but because of who wrote them.1

Letter from the Secretary to King Tobou II to The British Consul, Tonga.1 (Click to expand)

The letters, many written in lea faka-Tonga, range from simple meeting invites to discussions of complex constitutional matters. They are a rich resource for those studying the language, history, and culture of Tonga, and what better time to highlight them than during Uike Kātoanga’i ‘o e lea faka-Tonga – Tongan Language Week.

A princess with an Auckland connection

Princess Elisiva Fusipala Tauki’onetuku was born on 26 July 1912 at the Royal Palace Nuku’alofa. She was the daughter of King George Tubou II and his second wife ‘Anaseini Takipō Afuha’amango. Princess Fusipala, as she was known, was named after her grandmother and her elder sister who died in infancy.2 Her birth was marked by the firing of a royal salute by the Tongan police, and the Government flagstaff was dressed for the occasion; her baptism at the Zion Church was also undoubtedly a grand event.3

Sadly in 1918 both Princess Fusipala’s parents died. After their deaths, the young princess was cared for by her elder half-sister Queen Sālote and her maternal aunt, Muimui. Like Queen Sālote, Princess Fusipala was educated at the Diocesan School for Girls in Auckland. Later she attended the Methodist Ladies’ College in Melbourne where she was known as a talented musician, playing the piano, organ, violin, and ukulele. Princess Fusipala died after a long illness, aged 21, in Sydney on 21 April 1933.4 Her body was embalmed and returned to Tonga for a state funeral. A detailed account of the arrival of her body in Nuku’alofa aboard the Tongan Government vessel Hifofua can also be found in the Western Pacific Archives.5

Katherine Pawley, Special Collections

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Featured image: Letter the Secretary to King Tobou II to The British Consul to Tonga, with accompanying English translation.

1. Letters from the King (Queen) of Tonga, Sept 1909 – Apr 1943. BCT 1: General correspondence and miscellaneous records. Western Pacific Archives MSS & Archives.2003/1, BCT 1/3.
2. Ward-Ellem, E. (1999). Queen Sālote of Tonga: the story of an era, 1900-1965. Auckland University Press.
3. Imogen (1912, September 18). Women’s World: birth of a Princess. Dominion, page 3.
4. Fusipala, Princess, Sister of the Queen of Tonga: Death of. From: Burns Philp & Co. Ltd. Sydney, 21 April 1933. Western Pacific Archives. MSS & Archives 2003/1, WPHC 4/IV 1933, 1260/1933.