DANICA KIRK, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — Tonga’s top diplomat to the United Kingdom will be thinking of two monarchs this weekend as the UK and Commonwealth celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.
There is, of course, Elizabeth, who will celebrate her 70th birthday on the throne with four days of parades and spectacles.
But High Commissioner Titilupe Fanetupuwawa’u Tuivakano also remembers his great-grandmother, Queen Salote Tupou III, who fell in love with the British when she rode the streets of London in an open carriage during Elizabeth’s coronation parade in 1953.
Despite heavy rain, Queen Salote refused to close the roof in deference to the new monarch, drawing applause from the revelers who lined the streets.
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“Every Tongan knows about this experience,” Tuivakano told The Associated Press. “People even come up to me (in London) and ask me, ‘Are you Tongan? These are the ladies who were there 70 years ago. … They still remember what happened.”
Tonga is an example of how Britain’s relationship with the world changed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.
An archipelago of 170 islands in the South Pacific was a British protectorate at the time of the coronation. It became fully independent in 1970 and became part of the Commonwealth, a voluntary association of 54 countries that grew out of the British Empire and is headed by Elizabeth.
The UK has worked closely with Australia and New Zealand, two other Commonwealth countries, to provide relief to Tonga following the volcanic eruption and tsunami that devastated the islands earlier this year.
Queen Salota was only 18 years old when she ascended the throne in 1918. She is credited with laying the foundations for independence, although she died in 1965 before she could see it become a reality.
According to the diplomat, her actions at the coronation helped strengthen ties between the two countries.
“There were crowds and crowds of people who witnessed this momentous event and this sign of traditional Tongan respect that has been passed down from generation to generation,” she said. “I think it reflected in a way the relationship not only between the United Kingdom and Tonga, but also between the people of the United Kingdom who were there and also the people of Tonga.”
One of the witnesses to this event was David Hodge, a young soldier who participated in the parade. Somerset Hodge’s light infantry unit, fresh from what was then Malaya, positioned themselves directly behind the Tongan monarch’s carriage.
“The crowd loved her sitting in the open carriage, completely oblivious to the weather and all the while with a wonderful smile on her face,” Hodge wrote on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the coronation in 1993. day for so many people that day.”
Hodge died in 2013. But his daughter Susan Duddridge will be dancing in Sunday’s anniversary competition, providing a direct link between the coronation parade and this weekend’s celebration.
She will be thinking of her father as she joins 10,000 artists for the procession that ends at Buckingham Palace.
“My dad was very proud when he was chosen to march to the coronation, so to be able to follow in his footsteps is amazing,” she said. “And I’m just as proud to be a part of this amazing day.”
The preparations for the anniversary have also been a time of reflection for Tonga’s high commissioner, who has a small print of Queen Elizabeth II on his desk and a huge black-and-white photograph of her great-grandmother hanging on her office wall.
Tuivakano sees a similarity between the two queens from opposite corners of the world. Both were crowned at a young age and took their places in a male-dominated world. However, both have become iconic in their own right and command a respect that transcends generations.
As she removes a portrait of Queen Salote from the wall to pose for a photograph, Tu’ivakano gently touches the edge of the frame, handling it with great care. As if the spirit of the queen is somewhere nearby.
The great-grandmother, whom she never met, still serves as a guiding light. When asked what she would say to Queen Salote if she had the opportunity, she answers quietly.
“I would tell her that she left a great legacy, not only for our family, but for Tonga and the Pacific region, and for the whole world,” she said. “We all tried to follow their example. I would tell her about it.”
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