22 September 2007

Book review: Queen Salote of Tonga (1999), by Elizabeth Wood-Ellem, *****


This is an extensive biography of Queen Salote of Tonga. It is also a political and social history of the kingdom of Tonga between the years of 1900 and 1965. Researched over more than 20 years and written with the consent of the Tongan royal family, this book draws on the author's knowledge of Tongan society especially the role of rank, status and the complex marriage and kinship relations among the leading families. It is an in depth account of Queen Salote's skills in building and maintaining the loyalty of her people and the instability of the kingdom and in overcoming resistance both within and without Tonga. It is also a perceptive portrayal about individual personality, and gives a picture of ordinary people and daily people.


This is the definitive biography of a queen that ruled Tonga for the best part of the XX century. It is a heavy volume and probably too much for most but the most avid readers about Tonga. However, the book is not just a biography. It is also an account of Tonga's history in the XX century. Many B&W pictures complete a beautiful and meticulously researched book. A must have for any Tonga lover.

The book also contains extensive personal statements and documents by the queen, as well as some of the poetry written by this highly cultured woman. A uselful bibliography at the end provides for further readings, and  a list of "who is who" helps pinpoint the roles played by the characters who appear in the book.

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