Heather Young-Leslie
Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
University of Alberta, Canada


The maternal family in Tongan culture is responsible for 'pushing up' a child's well-being and social status, through love, nurturance, gifts of ceremonial textiles, and at public ceremonies such as this First Birthday feast. In this photo, taken in 1992, Sefita, the second child of Talahiva and 'Inoke, sits on the lap of Susana, his "fa'ehuki," while Vito, the minister blesses him. Slightly behind Susana is a mound of traditional textiles --barkcloth and pandanus mats referred to as 'wealth' or koloa-- which were donated by Sefita's maternal relatives, and upon which he was enthroned until the time came for the blessing. I believe the fa'ehuki and the textile koloa signify each other, and mutually symbolize the entirety of Sefita's maternal relatives, present and past. Thus Susana and the textile wealth both embody the essence of the maternal kin who, figuratively speaking, 'push up' each child (Sefita's blond companion is my daughter Keli, to whom Susana also adopted the role of fa'ehuki).