Monday, March 19, 2012
The King of Tonga
There is more than a hint of condescension in most of the obituaries that have appeared this morning following the death yesterday of His Majesty King George Tupou V of Tonga. As I have mentioned before, this appears to build on depressingly persistent attitudes that were first prompted by the appearance at the Coronation of the King’s grandmother, Queen Sālote Mafile‘o Pilolevu Tupou III. Today’s press dwells in some detail and apparently with some surprise on the King’s habits of dress, always elegant. A taste for spats hardly seems objectionable in a monarch, and pith-helmets are simply practical in the tropics. There is also much emphasis upon on His Majesty’s use in and around the capital, Nuku’alofa, of a customized London taxicab. “An English taxi,” His Majesty once explained, “is extremely easy to get in and out of wearing a sword, a spiked helmet, and spurs. I realize these are not primary considerations for most people buying a car, but they are for me.” What ought to be underlined, however, is that through his relatively brief reign this gentle King voluntarily relinquished most of his executive powers, and introduced to Tonga for the first time in her history a measure of functioning parliamentary democracy—something that his father, King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, resisted for more than forty years. This was no small achievement, and promises to be the King’s proudest legacy. He is succeeded by his younger brother.