It’s not hard to tell when the Tongan rugby league team is in town.
Photos by Edith Amituanai.
You can’t deny the fact that Tongan people are the best fans in Aotearoa, especially when it comes to rugby league. Proud, cheerful and always going the extra mile showcasing the national flag – as seen in the impromptu parade of vehicles decked out in Tongan flags, tooting their horns and blasting Tongan pop songs in the township of Ōtāhuhu on Saturday.
Normally in sports the home team’s supporters pack out the venue, but in the last few years Tongan supporters have been stealing the show whenever they play New Zealand. At Mount Smart Stadium, as Mate Ma’a Tonga ran out to face the Kiwis in Saturday night’s rugby league test, Tongan supporters once again painted the sold-out stadium red. Many had been there for hours – the curtain-raiser match between the Kiwi Ferns and Tonga women’s national rugby league team reportedly saw the biggest crowd ever for a women’s rugby league match.
Mate Ma’a Tonga translates to die for Tonga. It’s a common slogan that holds a strong cultural and traditional history. According to Kaniva Tonga, the slogan dates back to the establishment of Tonga College in 1882, where it was used as the school’s motto after a dispute between King George Tupou I and the founder of the college, Dr James Eagan Moulton.
For Tongans today, to see our national rugby league team adopt a historic motto as a team name has conjured up feelings of pride for generations who have schooled at Tonga College, for the respect or faka’apa’apa of the Tongan royal family, for the sacredness of the culture, but also our deep admiration for the country’s heritage and the unique family dynamics and roles established that we give thanks for.
For Tongans, it’s not just about rugby league. It’s about the passion for being Tongan and the families we represent. How timely for the match to occur during Matariki long weekend, as a lot of the pride felt during the week leading up to the match stems from remembering our families who have gone before us and paved the way for us culturally, being grateful for our families of today and praying for a prosperous future.
Ask any one of the MMT players why they chose to represent Tonga when they could’ve been selected for the Kiwis or Australia, and they’ll respond with their love for their parents, their family and making them proud by wearing the jersey of their homeland. As Tongan captain Jason Taumalolo said in his post-match interview: “To see the red flags fly again, there’s no better feeling.”
This is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.