Queen Sālote of Tonga’s poetry

This week Auckland Libraries are celebrating Uike 'o e Lea Faka-Tonga, Tongan Language Week with a range of events across our libraries. This year also marks the 50th year commemoration of Queen Sālote's death and Tonga's Coronation of King Tupou VI.

As the theme for Tongan Language Week this year is "Fakakoloa Aotearoa 'aki 'a e faiva 'a e Tonga - Enriching Aotearoa New Zealand with Tongan arts" an appropriate way to pay tribute to the 50th anniversary of Queen Sālote’s passing is to highlight some of the music and poetry that she wrote.

Historian and biographer of Queen Sālote, Elizabeth Wood-Ellem writes that:

“The Queen was… acclaimed as an extremely gifted poet. Queen Sālote spent many hours perfecting the words of her poems, and she invited groups of musicians to come to the Palace in the evenings to work with her. They often stayed until the early hours of the morning. Poetry that was set to music consisted of love songs (both happy and sad), laments for deaths of chiefs and those close to her, lullabies for her grandchildren, and songs written especially for the accompaniment of dance, such as lakalaka and mā‘ulu‘ulu. Love songs (hiva kakala) were often used as accompaniment to the solo dance for a woman, the tau‘olunga.

Queen Sālote’s poetry can be dramatic; for example; in the lakalaka called Sangone (her explication of an old myth about links between Sāmoa and Tonga), which was performed on the Queen’s fiftieth birthday, she sets a scene of Nature reacting strongly to the raising of the shell of the turtle Sangone:

Ne‘ine‘i hako mei he tonga
Tapa ē‘uhila mei lulunga
He na‘e mana ē Feingakotone
Fakahake ē‘uno ‘o Sangone.

No wonder the gales blew from the south
Lightening flashed from the west.
The Feingakotone thundered
For Sangone’s shell was brought forth. (pp.279-281)”

If you want to read more Queen Sālote’s poetry over 100 of her poems are collected in: Songs and poems of Queen Sālote / Sālote Tupou; translated by Melenaite Taumoefolau; edited by Elizabeth Wood-Ellem. There are multiple lending copies available in our system as well as a research copy at Manukau Library. A brief interview with the editor, Elizabeth Wood-Ellem can be heard on Radio Australia’s website.

In the other major biography of Queen Sālote, Margaret Hixon writes tha Sālote was recognised as the foremost classical poet of Tonga. For more on Queen Sālote’s poetry have a look at Maryanne Pale’s Creative Talanoa website and Te Papa’s blog.

For a summary of Tonga related heritage and research resources available at Auckland Libraries have at a previous Tongan Language Week blog post

Archives New Zealand has digitised ‘Tribute to Queen Sālote’ produced by the NZ National Film Unit in 1966:

Further reading:
Author: Andrew Henry