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Tonga Travel Guide

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Tongan Music

Tongan church music is renowned and the singing of choir and congregation is often backed by a Salvation Army-style brass band. Traditionally a lali (slit drum) is beaten just before the service to call the faithful to prayer.

The Tongans transformed the hymns taught by early missionaries, singing in minor instead of major. They also created hymns of their own, called hiva usu, which are closer to traditional chants than the imported hymns. The hiva usu are now most commonly sung at services of the Free Church of Tonga and the Church of Tonga, the more conservative of Tonga's four branches of Methodism.

Harmonious Polynesian singing can also be heard at kava-drinking sessions (faikava), when groups of men sing popular Tongan songs to entertain themselves.

Tonga's traditional string bands (guitar, violin, banjo, bass, and ukulele) have been upstaged by modern electric pop bands, though the former may still be heard at hotels, private parties, or even faikava. Public festivities and parades are animated by college brass bands.

The traditional fangufangu (bamboo nose flute) would probably have died out had not the 'Atenisi Institute in Nuku'alofa begun to teach its use.

The 'utete (jew's harp) is a child's toy formed from a coconut leaf held horizontally across the mouth by a palm leaf midrib, which is twanged.

Other Tongan instruments include the nafa (skin drum), kele'a (conch shell), and the tutua (tapa-beating mallet). The mimiha (panpipes) seen by Captain Cook are no longer used.

Continue to   Arts & Crafts: Tongan Dance   »