Exploitation In The South Pacific Island Kingdom Of Tonga


Exploitation In The South Pacific Island Kingdom Of Tonga

On Friday, February 7, 2014, the XXII Olympic Winter Games officially opened in Sochi, Russia, and history was made. There were 88 countries represented with a total of 2,800 athletes. Seven of those countries made their Winter Olympic debut. One of those countries and one of those athletes were from a tiny group of islands named Tonga located in Oceania, also known as the South Pacific.

In the South Pacific climate, there is no winter (at least not in the sense of “Winter Olympics”). The weather is tropical with the average temperature in Tonga at 73° F (23° C).

In Olympic President Thomas Bach’s speech at the Opening Ceremony, he asserted that the “Olympic Games are a sports festival in praising human diversity in great unity” and all people are welcome regardless of their national origin. In reality, he failed to acknowledge the role of power and money. The Olympic Games are anything but a place where human diversity is truly represented, and certainly not an actual goal.

To be part of the festival of “human diversity in great unity” one must have access to an adequate amount of money and power, either from family wealth and/or sponsorship. If diversity and unity were the Olympic Games’ goal, then it failed to recognize countries and persons unable to participate due to lack of resources or funding.

It seems that countries around the world are not represented by their human capacity at the Olympic Games, but by countries that flaunt their power and money in the elite development of their athletes, or better yet, by a display of selected human athletes from particular countries who are blessed with winter seasons and mountainous terrains.

Thus, it seems rather odd that a country from the South Pacific would even consider or blink an eye at a chance to participate and be represented at the Winter Olympic Games. But Tonga, that tiny group of islands barely visible on the world map, taking part in the Winter Olympics in Sochi was exactly what happened. It was a dream come true for the tiny island kingdom and its solo athlete in luge, a sport unheard of in the South Pacific, nonetheless Tonga.

If imperialism and colonialism are defined by acts in which a dominant culture marginalizes subgroups and exploits a minority group, then this is precisely what happened. Subjugation of the island kingdom by misuse and abuse of power and money by the hegemonic culture is what took place, an unjust practice all-too-often familiar to people of color.

While the physical presence of Tonga was clearly represented at the Olympic Winter Games, the name Bruno Banani is anything but representative of the island kingdom and its rich culture and traditions, where naming is one of its core values and beliefs. While a small percentage of Tongans hold German surnames due to their ancestral heritage, Bruno Banani is not one of them. Rather, Bruno Banani is a German men’s underwear company that made a shrill business dealing with Makai Inc., a Euro-American marketing company, in the name of global capitalism and in overt exploitation of a marginalized group’s inspiration.

Clearly, corporate responsibility and human dignity were not the goal, especially not for a young company like Makai that is zealous to make a name for itself with experiential strategies.

“The domestication of the corporation into local society serves only to further mystify the location of power, which rest not in the locality but in the global headquarters of the company which coordinates its activities. Global capitalism is not a site for liberation but manipulation. It is the site the inhabitants of which must be liberated from themselves (stripped of their identities) to be homogenized into the global culture of capital” (Arif Dirlik, “The Global in the Local”).

As the tale has been told, Makai Inc came across this mischievous golden opportunity as an experimental marketing tactic in 2008. The company had a connection with Tonga’s Princess Salote Mafile’o Pilolevu Tuita, who desired for her country to be represented at the Winter Olympics.

A search for a luger was conducted in the island kingdom. There were at least 20-30 other athletes that showed up and tried out, even when they did not understand the sport of luge. Who wouldn’t if one might be given the lifetime opportunity to represent their beloved country in the Winter Olympic Games.

The selected luger was Fuahea Semi, a 26-year-old computer science student, who played rugby as a hobby with his friends. He was chosen not only for his athletic abilities but also for his humility. Who knew that humbleness was to be part of a sport’s qualification! Perhaps it is a necessary criterion for a Western marketing firm with its white executives’ coercion and exploitation of a brown body, with less chance of any protest from the brown-skin Polynesian man.

Makai Inc explained to Fuahea Semi that luge was an expensive sport and that he would need a sponsor to cover the expenses. To attract the right sponsor, Fuahea Semi, would need to change his name. This is when Makai approached Bruno Banani, the German underwear company with their scheming creative marketing ideas.

The Tongan athlete, Fuahea Semi, who had never experienced temperature below 60° F and snow, moved to Germany in 2009 to train. Many questions were raised about this dark-skinned man’s name being Bruno Banani, and they were all given the response that it was his name, and his passport was proof.

After a year of training, Bruno Banani came within one point of qualifying for the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, but he crashed in his last attempt and ended up in the hospital.

In December 2013, Bruno Banani qualified for the Sochi Winter Olympics placing 28th out of 42 lugers, even after newspapers and websites from around the world suggested that Bruno Banani should not be allowed to compete for a spot in Sochi. Bruno Banani finished 32nd in the luge final in Sochi.

This story has made world headlines. Even Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympics Committee, called it “a perverse marketing idea….done in bad taste to change your name to that of a sponsor. This has nothing to do with proper marketing.” Yet, since Bruno Banani qualified for the Sochi games, the Olympics Committee could not prevent him from competing. After all, his name was legally changed on his passport.

Even though Bruno Banani was the name that made history for the individual and the island kingdom’s debut in the Winter Olympics Games, the whole thing was ludicrous and disconcerting. As Frantz Fanon wrote in Wretched of the Earth, “The colonist also makes history and knows it. The history he writes is therefore not the history of the country he is despoiling, but the history of his own nations’ [exploitations, racism, and injustice].”

Tu’a ‘Ofa Atu, Sela E. Finau. Follow her blog @



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Give in the Season of Thanks-giving

In the wake of the typhoon in the Philippines, with thousands dead, 600,000 people displaced, and an estimated 11+ millions affected, those numbers seem overwhelming and difficult to digest. How can we relate or connect to such disaster from thousands of miles away? We really can’t. Unless you’re one of the millions then the seemingly horrific nightmare becomes real. No Food, No Water, No Medicine. Just waiting, desperately, for someone to come with aid.

My nephew, Solomone Finau, is in the Navy and is currently in the Philippines. Fresh out of high school last year, he eagerly joined the Navy. Isolated in the freezing tundra of Alaska, he’s had a blast traveling the world. An amazing and lifetime opportunity! But I wonder how this Navy mission in the Philippines will weight in on my nephew’s experience. Hopefully life changing, as he’s helping change and save lives.

Tonight at a Bible Study, one of our church members said to me that Tonga is ranked #2 on the list for the largest disaster risk worldwide. I looked it up and sure enough, it is. I knew that Tonga and the Pacific Islands were at high risk of sea-level rise, but I didn’t know that it was made official. Rank #1 is Vanuatu and ranked #3 is the Philippines. The ranking is from the World Risk Report, 2012, and is based on extreme exposure and high vulnerability due to proximity to the sea, with high exposure to cyclones, flooding and sea-level rise. A moment of reflection is needed here if you’re a Tongan or a Pacific Islander reading this. A moment of reflection here is needed if you don’t believe or know anything about climate change.

Anyway, it’s so easy for us living thousands of miles away to go about our daily routine and not be distracted. But as you go about the rest of your week, consider saying a prayer for those in need, especially the people of the Philippines. We’re all connected to each other because we’re human beings. And from one human being to another, consider foregoing a meal today and give a donation.

As a United Methodist Pastor, I’d say simply text UMCOR at 80888 and donate $10. If you can give more, you can always go to Another organization that I like to give to is the American Red Cross. You can also text them and donate $10 or visit their website Or, check with your church or other organizations for ways to give.

In the Season of Thanksgiving, find a reason and a way to give.

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Posted by on November 14, 2013 in Life


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A Post from the Countryside!

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Today, a few of Bethel UMC members and I drove to Millsap for a Bell Dedication Service at the Millsap Volunteer Fire Department. The dedication service was in honor and memory of Bill Guess, offered by his family. He is a late member of Bethel and also a War Veteran and Prisoner of War. His widow, Dot Guess is an active member and is a darling with a great sense of humor.

But if you’re wondering, “Where is Millsap?” Rest assured, you’re not alone. I didn’t know where Millsap was located either until today. Living and working in the country has been quite an experience. I have traveled to many small country towns in the last three months than I have in the last, oh I don’t know, maybe decade?

But here are a few things that I’ve learned since being here in the country: 1. The word “tank” in the country refers to an artificial pond or reservoir that holds water for animal drinking. Silly me, I had thought that they were natural and cute little ponds strategically located within each farm. 2. An average farm size is around 400 acres. Average ranch size is over 500 and going into the thousands. Wow! 3. Squirrels are everywhere, and there are too many dead ones on the road along with other roadkills. Yikes! 4. Although Weatherford in Parker County is part of the Dallas Fort-Worth Metroplex and only 30 minutes West from Downtown Fort Worth, some people think that it’s actually the West, as in West Texas. 5. Parker County is much slower in pace and stepping into the towns is like stepping back in time.

In any case, like the town of Millsap, each day in Parker County I discover more of its rich history and tradition with western and pioneer heritage.

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Posted by on November 2, 2013 in Church, Culture, Life


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October 29th – Awaken to Blessings!

October 29th – Awaken to Blessings!

There’s something about 7 a.m. and my dog, Philo. He never sleeps past 7 and I can always count on him to get me up with or without my approval. The exception is on Sunday mornings when I’m the first one to wake up at 6 a.m. to prepare for the day. Sunday is both a blessing and a paradox, for not only is it the climax of the week but also the end of the week, for me at least and perhaps other pastors.

It’s Tuesday morning and my week starts over. As I am sipping on my cups of coffee I reminisce over the significant of the date. Ahh, yes, it’s October 29th, the day that my dad died 12 years ago. I still remember it as if it was yesterday. I was in the garage with my sister-in-laws preparing Tongan mats and ngatus for dad’s funeral when my oldest brother came to get me. That morning, my brothers and I witness the end of my dad’s life and the date forever carved in memory.

I still remember what my brother said that morning, to remember that our parents sacrificed everything and left Tonga in order that we might have a better opportunity in life, particularly education.

Sometimes I look at some of our Tongan youth and young adults and wonder why is it that they don’t understand, value, and appreciate education? Don’t they know that their parents and/or grandparents also have similar stories to that of my parents? Haven’t their parents explained and instill this value in them? Don’t they know that thousands of children around the world fight for a spot to attend school, and even then parents pay a great sum, and, yet, many are still left without the opportunity? Don’t they know that Tonga have one of the highest rate of literacy in the world per capita at 99%? Tongans living in Tonga can read and write in Tongan, and many times they can also read and write in English. What does that say about us Tongans living abroad? Many do not even speak, read, or write in the Tongan language and are thoughtless to culture and tradition. Don’t they know that language is a key element to survival of a culture and tradition? Yikes! Makes my stomach turn!

In a society where it prizes individual accomplishments, we often forget that we come from a culture that thrives on family and community, that there’s no distinction between first and second cousins from our own brothers and sisters. Nuclear family indeed is defined differently in the Poly-nesian CommUnity.

I wonder, are we taking advantage of the endless resources available to us in our adopted countries? Why can’t they see what I see and take advantage of the opportunity? Yuk! 😦

But isn’t that true of life, we take things for granted when we have them. And we wish for things when we don’t. We don’t try as hard when we know there will always be something else. We complain way too much and appreciate way too little. We consume more than enough and waste a disgraceful and outrageous sum.

Ahh, life, we are infinitely blessed yet we do not know it. May we be awaken to that reality. May you be awaken to your blessings!

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Posted by on October 29, 2013 in Culture, Family, Life


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Friday Morning!

It’s Friday morning, and I’m awake at 7:00 a.m. My dog, Philo, is eager to get out. I tell him not yet, but he seems not to understand. So we get up and it’s still dark outside, cloudy, humid and cool. It’s supposed to be my day off, but I have a golf tournament with one of my church. I’ve never played golf before, so today will be a first.

As I’m enjoying my cups of coffee, I thought of checking this blog that I’ve neglected for the past couple of months. But it’s been a busy couple of months. For the month of August and September, I’ve presided and co-presided over 4 different funerals. I realize that’s part of a pastor’s job, but when a couple of those funerals involved family and friends, it’s more than just a pastor’s job.

I’ve traveled to Washington, D.C. for a board meeting with the General Commission on Religion and Race, and then to Boston where I co-officiated with a Catholic Priest at my niece, Amelia’s wedding to James, an Irish. It was a day of celebration, not just with our family, but to see Catholic and Protestant, Irish and Tongan, both immigrant islanders to the U.S. is an amazing story and blessing. A reflection of unity in diversity. A glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

It was nice and refreshing to be away. But since being back, it’s been endless meetings. The mileage I’ve put in my car is ridiculously not ecologically friendly. I could go on a little more in this area, but I will address that at another time.

Anyway, last week, after being on leave for the past couple of months, I officially resigned from my position with TD Ameritrade after 5+ years. It’s been a great experience dealing with people around the world and Wall Street. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned while working in the industry, is that the world does not sleep, at least not at the same time. And whatever happens here in the U.S. from sociopolitical, geopolitics to various market segments affects the world, and whatever happens around the world affects the U.S., financial or otherwise. The Global Market is cyclical, projecting, hopeful, tempting, doubtful, risky, costly, fearful, volatile, reactionary, and reflectionary.

I surely will not miss working 12 hours overnight. That was a killer to the body, mind, and soul. But the irony is that the overnight schedule afforded me the opportunity and flexibility to attend seminary. Two masters degrees later is not bad for a sleepless islander. While I will not miss the chaos of the market, I will miss the excitement. My series 7 & 63 broker licenses is now a thing of the past. And those 7 hours securities industry exams made my eyes and head hurt.

Now, instead of being asked about the DOW, NASDAQ, and S&P, I get asked about church membership, its offering and ministries. Moving onward and living out a calling in the business of Trust, Faith, Hope, and Love. The church ministry, an exciting, rewarding, yet difficult and lonely place to be at times.

Now excuse me while I go and play golf.


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Posted by on October 11, 2013 in Church, Culture, Life


Finding Balance in Faith and Work

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Annetta/Bethel UMC

Scripture: Luke 10:38-42

Sermon: Finding Balance in Faith n Work

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Posted by on July 21, 2013 in Church, Media, Podcasts



Love God, Self, and Neighbor

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Annetta United Methodist Church, Annetta, Texas

Bethel United Methodist Church, Weatherford, Texas

Scripture: Luke 10:25-37

Sermon_ Love God, Self, and Neighbor


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Posted by on July 14, 2013 in Church, Culture, Life, Media, Podcasts