“Tomi, Tomi” (1930) by Kanui and Lula
“Tomi, Tomi” (1930) by Kanui and Lula
You were born in Nuka’alofa, Friday, 2nd May, 1930. Your father was a groundskeeper for the only hospital on the island and your mother was a loving, doting woman, to you and your four siblings: Sione; Soane; you; Siope and Lillieni. Your mother was related to Queen Salote via her own mother’s side. You all lived in a small house a few rows down from the hospital.
When you were 13 years old, you saw an American Brigadier tell off seven American soldiers for playing baseball close to your local cemetery. “Have you no respect for these people’s customs?!” It was the first foreign words you ever heard. They sounded like a crash; rigid. They sounded like that the time your father dropped a tray of spanners on the floor. The Brigadier said them with such force; you memorised and mumbled these strange words to y'self, all the way back home.
In 1952, Soane married a young girl from another village whose name was Sepi. At the wedding, you met Sepi’s second cousin – a tall, beautiful woman, with soft lips and high cheekbones. Her name was Sita and she will become your wife and the eventual mother of your two children. Your marriage to her will be your most cherished relationship.
After a successful apprenticeship as a driver, your son gained New Zealand citizenship. He came back home to entice the entire family to move over with him to ‘the land of milk and honey.’ You immigrated to Auckland in 1973, except for your father who died a few years ago, your mother who really couldn’t be bothered starting anew, your brother Sione, who was happy staying back home (he’ll look after Mum) and your sister Lillieni who was training to become a servant of God. Your brother Soane, and his wife, had already immigrated to Sydney. You all settle in Ponsonby.
You set up a small importing company with Siope, specialising in all Polynesian foods and products, in tandem with your brother in Sydney. It profits steadily. Some friendly Tongans who are already established have kindly found your wife a job at the local Breadmill off Richmond Road. Your youngest child is enrolled in St Pauls College, while your eldest son finds employment with a small company called Mainfreight. Everyone adapts successfully to New Zealand life, except your wife, who isn’t exactly pleased. She complains constantly about the colder weather, constantly about the speed and hustle of Auckland, constantly about pa’alangi people and constantly about how you can be so jubilant to this all.
Your son meets a pa’alangi girl named Fiona. You’re happy for him. To see him happy makes you happy. However, your wife doesn’t approve of the relationship. She expected a good Tongan girl for him. She tried unsuccessfully to force a Tongan girl at her work, on him. Every time he comes home with Fiona, you greet her nicely, whereas your wife greets Fiona with indifference and an exit.
Without his mother’s glowing support, your son eventually marries Fiona in 1979. It’s a beautiful wedding. He even made his uncle Siope the best men. You like her family too – you get on well with Ian and Matilda … and Margo and Ryan. This marriage will even provide you with three grandchildren – Lillieni junior, Sione junior and Soane junior. These are the three single reasons your wife can now suddenly tolerate Fiona.
For a month in 1991, your son decides to take Fiona back, for a holiday, to show her where he grew up. Your wife quickly offers to look after her grandchildren – any opportunity for her. During breakfast, she asks what her grandchildren want to eat for breakfast. They all ask for Marmite on Toast. She had no idea what they were talking about, but luckily Sione junior brought a jar along with him, in his backpack. As the toast was warming, the kids taught her that it was a spread, like butter or jam. She in time remembered hearing of the product, at her work and this would be the first time she would encounter it. She opened the jar. The fragrance to her was salty and stilted. She spread it on the hot toast. It melted like steaming faeces. She cut the toast up and handed it to her grandchildren, who munched it all up. She was disgusted.
You came into the kitchen about to greet your grandchildren, not before your wife tells you how repulsed she is in how Fiona could let her children eat such sickening excrement. Her voice begins wailing. But since she’s grouching in Tongan, the kids have no idea and continue munching - even stealing each others' toast. You tell her to calm down. You kiss the foreheads of your grandchildren. “Morning, Papa!” Your wife is shocked at how Fiona or New Zealanders can eat fresh shit. You look at the jar and then tell her it’s alright, it’s only Marmite – Kiwis have been eating Marmite for a very long time and that it’s not faeces. It’s just a by-product of beer. Outraged that her grandchildren could be eating alcohol, she tosses the jar across the kitchen bench. The kids notice Grandma’s swift shift in emotions, slowly back away from the table and quietly creep into the lounge. You tell her it’s not alcoholic and it’s only a special type of food. Either way, your wife thinks it’s disgusting. Fed up, you explode, in Tongan: “Oh, will you shut up?!" Then in the most perfect English: "HAVE YOU NOT RESPECT FOR THESE PEOPLE'S CUSTOMS?!" You continue arguing with your wife in Tongan:
"There is no reason to be angry over such a silly thing. They’re not gonna die. It’s only a type of food. This is what they eat. Get used to it ....
... But let’s be honest, it’s not the toast. It’s because you don’t like Fiona. You never liked her. Well, too bad. She doesn’t have to bring your grandchildren around here. She can send them to Ian and Matilda. But she brings them here to make you happy. You must understand that. She has done everything to try and make you like her. She's given you grandchildren. She's love your son. She's loving to all of this family. And you treat her like this! Your son will be home with Fiona in two days’ time. So, you better get off your high horse right now, Lady Muck, and show her some gratitude.”
By the end of that month, your wife becomes apparently nicer to Fiona, though never to the idea of eating Marmite.
By the end of tomorrow morning, your six year old great grand-daughter, Fiona junior, with help from her mum, Lillieni junior, will make you five Marmite toasties, that you will munch up – however, none of which your wife is keen to eat still.