So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Queen Salote of Tonga

Queen Salote of Tonga: The Story of an Era 1900-1965 by Elizabeth Wood-Ellem
Tonga is a unique place in being the only Polynesian kingdom to maintain its culture and government through the colonial period that brought down similar cultures in Hawaii and throughout the Pacific. Queen Salote adds to this uniqueness by being the ruling queen of Tonga in the first half of the Twentieth Century, an era dominated by male chauvenism. This story of her life and reign provides a wonderful view into the culture and history of this island kingdom. For papalangi (the Tongan word for people of Western society) this is not an easy book because there is a lot of Tongan names, geneology, and customs necessarily involved in the biography of their queen. Yet the very things that make it difficult also make it a rewarding book to read. What makes the book most enjoyable is the portrayal of this marvelous woman who ruled Tonga for almost 50 years. She ruled without use of force during a time of dissent from rival nobles and emerged one of the most revered leaders in Tongan history. She convinced her British advisors of her ability to rule and her island adversaries that their independence depended on her rule. I can recommend this book without reservation to anyone interested in women's studies, international biography, Polynesian history, or British colonial history.

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