YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Tongan Traditions

September 02, 2000|NORINE DRESSER

Greg, a non-Tongan, accepts an invitation from his high school classmate, Epafasi, to join him and other Tongan schoolmates after school at Epafasi's home. While the guys are sitting in the living room, Epafasi's mom returns from work.

As soon as she spots Greg, she loudly scolds her son in Tongan. Although the language is unfamiliar, Greg senses the mom is talking about him.

She then proceeds to place a large bowl of food in front of Greg; she serves no one else. Because it is such a large quantity, Greg offers to share it with the others, but they refuse. Although he feels awkward, Greg begins eating for fear of insulting his hosts. Again, he asks the others to join him, but they decline.

After stuffing himself, he announces that he cannot eat any more. Then he again asks if the others would like some. The boys dig in.

What does it mean?

In Tonga, when a chief visited a home, the hosts served him enormous portions of food and no one else could eat until he finished. Then they ate the leftovers. Later, that custom was extended to the missionaries, and today it applies to non-Tongan guests as well. It is a custom that has carried over to Tongan families in the U.S. Additionally, Tongans will not accept food until it is offered at least three times.


Norine Dresser's latest book is Multicultural Celebrations (Three Rivers Press, 1999). E-mail:

Los Angeles Times Articles