Go in Melino, Girl!

By Jheri St. James


When this writer gets the file on a participant country, some time will have passed, with so many countries to write about. In the case of Fiji II and its simultaneous collections from Tonga, Tuvalu and Nauru, about five years went by, so looking at what happened those many years ago is especially fascinating.

Mr. Brian Siler of the U.S. Embassy in Fiji collected soils from Fiji, Tonga, Tuvalu and Nauru. A later email indicates his willingness to also gather precious dirt from the Solomons, Vanuato and Micronesia. Mr. Siler is one of the few multi-collectors for the project, and we are so very grateful! We note that he says in regard to his efforts: “Gary, I didn’t realize that the samples needed to be taken from significant sites. In the cases of Nauru and Tuvalu, this isn’t a problem since its phosphate mines are what Nauru’s all about and, in Tuvalu’s case, there are no significant sites, just the place, perhaps the first country to be swallowed by the sea because of climate change, so sand from the beach seems ‘significant.’ . . . In the case of Fiji, I collected from the site of the Great Council of Chiefs’ new complex, the Bose Levu Vakaturaga Complex. In Tonga’s case, I gathered within sight of the royal palace, though outside the fence. That’s as close as a commoner would get really and be able to collect soil.”

Thank you Brian Siler! This is a rich trove of soils from an endangered area, Oceania.

The Fiji II file, the main file for this Oceania collection, has a 3-page Permit to Receive Soil, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which is an unusual form. Also the Origin and Value Declaration, which says the soils from Fiji, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Nauru have a total value of $25.00. Value is certainly a subjective, fluctuating abstract. These soils rest proudly among the other 193 countries’ soils, with each country’s flag flying by its jar. And to us, these soils are beyond measure in value, priceless. Fiji, Tonga, Tuvalu and Nauru are all island countries in the area of the Pacific Ocean known as Oceania, formed through volcanic activity started around 150 million years ago.

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Tonga Beach

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South Pacific

The Kingdom of Tonga is a sovereign state and an archipelago in the Southern Pacific Ocean—176 islands scarred over 270,000 sq. mi. of ocean in the South Pacific. Fifty-two of the islands are inhabited. Tonga became known as the Friendly Islands because of the “friendly” reception accorded to Captain James Cook on his first visit there in 1773. He happened to arrive at the time of the ‘inasi festival, the yearly donation of the first fruits to the Tu’i Tonga, the island’s paramount chief, and received an invitation to the festivities. According to the writer William Mariner, in reality the chiefs had wanted to kill Cook during the gathering but could not agree on a plan.



Tonga Map


Tonga operates as a constitutional monarchy. Reverence for the monarch replaces that held in earlier centuries for the sacred paramount chief, the Tu’I Tonga. Criticism of the monarch is held to be contrary to Tongan culture and etiquette. A direct descendant of the first monarch, King Tupou VI, his family, some powerful nobles, and a growing non-royal elite caste live in much wealth, with the rest of the country living in relative poverty. The effects of this disparity are mitigated by three factors: education, medicine, and land tenure. Tonga provides for its citizens:

  • Free and mandatory education for all.
  • Secondary education with only nominal fees
  • Foreign-funded scholarships for post-secondary education.

Following the precedents of Queen Salote and the counsel of numerous international advisors, the government of Tonga under King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV monetized the economy, internationalized the medical and education system, and enabled access by commoners to increasing forms of material wealth (houses, cars, and other commodities), education and overseas travel.

The King of Tonga

The King of Tonga, Taufa’ahau Tupou IV

In Tongan tradition, women enjoy a higher status than men, a cultural trait that is unique not only among the insular societies of the Pacific, but also in the world. Women and men have equal access to education and health care, and are fairly equal in employment, but women are still discriminated against in land holding, electoral politics and government ministries. Below is a picture of the Royal Palace of Tonga from which location the soil was collected for us by Brian Siler.



Some women dancing in Tonga. Go, girls! The word for peace in Tonga is “melino.”

Women dancing in Tonga







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