The Tongan National Cultural Center, a complex of Polynesian-style buildings beside the Fanga'uta Lagoon opposite Vaiola Hospital, was built in 1988 using Japanese aid money. Here you'll see handicraft demonstrations (tapa and canoe making, woodcarving, basket making, mat weaving), and historical displays.
The Center's impressive Tonga National Museum contains a well documented collection of historic photos of Tonga and Samoa, archaeological objects, cultural artifacts, war clubs, and carvings. Objects from the royal collection and the museum of Tupou College are kept here. Of special interest are the many examples of lapita pottery and a full-size oceangoing canoe (kalia) built for the millennium celebrations in 2000. The museum is open weekdays 0830-1700 with a reasonable admission charge.
Weekdays at 1230 the Center prepares a barbecue lunch and traditional fashion show, and at 1400 the excellent two-hour guided cultural tour begins, featuring a kava ceremony, the telling of ancient legends and myths, and traditional Tongan dancing in the 450-seat amphitheater. The handicraft workshops will be operating at this time, and craft items may be purchased. Some of these activities are curtailed or canceled when not enough visitors are on hand, so you might check beforehand. Tuesday and Thursday are the usually the best days to come; otherwise just visit the museum and craft shop and come back for the evening performance another day. Advance reservations are required if you want to take lunch or dinner.
Not to be missed is the dinner show put on Tuesday and Thursday nights. The dancing is scheduled to begin at 1830 but it usually starts at 2000. The package includes string band entertainment, kava drinking, an all-you-can-eat buffet dinner of authentic Tongan cuisine, and some very good traditional dancing (take small banknotes to give to the dancers). A small additional charge is collected for minibus hotel transfers. Reserve the evening shows before 1630 at either the Tonga Visitors Bureau or Friends Tourist Center. Admission for children under 12 is half price to all of the above events.
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