Richard Kurin is the Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture here at the Smithsonian Institution. He is a cultural anthropologist specializing in the study of knowledge systems, folk arts, museums, and development. He is currently Study Leader on our Extraordinary Cultures – An Epic Journey Around the World tour, and will be blogging periodically while traveling. This post is seventh in a series. To see the other posts, click here.
Smithsonian curator Adrienne Kaeppler and Tongan official Albert Vaea introduced a Lakalaka program featuring a poetic and musical dance tradition designated a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage by UNESCO. The dancers did not disappoint—their voices soared, the dancers were graceful and our travelers most appreciative. We presented a Smithsonian publication on the Ocean to Albert and also Smithsonian books and recordings for the King and the Princess.
We were then off to a brief visit to the King’s palace, a modest but graceful Victorian style, and the royal burial grounds—also with Victorian style statues of departed leaders coupled with a Polynesian burial awning. The Tongan kingdom has lasted for centuries, and while never colonized, is nonetheless in the midst of democratization.
As we stood by the palace we spotted a mushroom-like cloud billowing up at the edge of the horizon. There had been an earthquake days before, and this looked like an eruption emerging from the sea, though given its white color, and cumulus shape, at least gave the appearance of something far-off and benign.