Heilala Festival – Nuku’alofa, Tongapatu, Tonga

A Royal Birthday Party

With his Thirty-three Nobles of the Realm, King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV rules the last pure Polynesian chiefdom in the Pacific, and you are invited to his birthday celebration, the Heilala Festival, held every July 4 since his elaborate coronation in 1967.

Unlike other South Pacific nations, the Kingdom of Tonga was never claimed, nor even invaded, by a Western power, and the octogenarian King Taufa’ahau can trace his lineage back more than 1,000 years. The affection the Tongan people feel for him and their pride in the cultural heritage of this tiny island kingdom is everywhere evident during the weeklong festivities, which include dance and beauty contests, military parades, float contests, concerts, yacht regattas, sporting events, and parties. The entire country turns out for the fun, and Tongans living overseas often come home to attend.

Everyone seems to be caught up in some competition – whether in nabbing the scale-­tipping dogtooth tuna or in vying for the Bartender of the Year award—or at least using friendly rivalry as an excuse to hoist another Royal (the local Tongan beer) to another year of health and happiness for Polynesia’s last surviving monarch.

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