“When I was seven years old, my family was fortunate enough to visit the island of Tonga. Tonga is nicknamed “The Friendly Islands” which rang true for our visit. In Tonga, we stayed in a house that belonged to the Makahununiu family. I remember seeing children running around the unpaved streets with wild chickens and dogs. It was clear to me then that people in Tonga lived with much less than what we had in America. What was clearer to me is that having less did not bother them at all - if anything, they acted as if they had more to give. Our extended family was constantly making us food, we were given hand-sewn Tongan clothes and many more small treasures from my dozens of cousins. My Dad paid for an extra checked bag that he filled with clothes and passed out to family members and anyone else in need. My brother and I also ended up leaving most of our clothes behind for our cousins. That trip to Tonga was possibly the best gift my parents have ever given me. It taught me about my Tongan culture which has been conceived of faith, humbleness, family, and giving.
One misconception I have found is that many people believe that Hawaiians are the only type of Pacific Islanders. When I explain that my Dad was born in the pacific islands, people usually default to Hawaii since that is what they are familiar with. Tonga is just one of many islands such as Samoa, Fiji, and New Zealand. I’m never offended to be misconceived as Hawaiian. All Polynesian cultures are very similar, centered around family, God, music, and humbly helping those around you.
In these pictures you’ll see me wearing a traditional Tongan dress. They typically come in two pieces, the top part as a long shirt tucked into a wrap around skirt that goes to the ankles. Tongan culture is very conservative and girls typically only wear skirts or pants that are below the knees. The fan I am holding is made of coconut husk and is most often seen being used in church services - which can be very long and very hot!
The most common question I get is, “How do you say your last name? Oh, is that like… Hawaiian?” My full last name is Makahununiu (Mah-kah-hoo-noo-nee-oo). When my Dad immigrated to America, he shortened our last to name to “Maka” for convenience. My last name means “stone” or “rock” which I always thought was pretty cool!
My Dad grew up with 12 siblings on the Island of Tonga. He was a true middle child being the 7th oldest and 7th youngest. He told me when he was young, that he was going to move from the Island and in his late 20s, he did. After passing a citizenship test, he became an American citizen and moved to South Dakota. Knowing little english, my Dad started Taekwondo to gain some conversational skills. After a few years passed, he earned his black belt and learned English. Eventually, he took over the Taekwondo school and began teaching as well as working as a Diesel mechanic.
Since Tonga is so secluded and small, many items need to be shipped into the Island which means the cost of those items is very high. In my opinion, one of the most honorable acts my father has done in his lifetime, is help his family members emigrate to America. My Dad was the first of his family to migrate here and now there are dozens of Makahununius walking around the US.”