Society in the Tongan islands is whirling, flooded by the demands of globalisation, debt, corruption, immigration and political reform. Within this chaos is an oasis of art, philosophy and science. ‘Atenisi Institute is a sanctuary of real education. Over 45 years the founder Futa Helu, created a haven for those who were brave enough to challenge conventions and controls. He named his school ‘Atenisi after the ancient schools of Athens and his classroom was wherever he found an interested soul.
From the beginning ‘Atenisi has been a poor school, perhaps the poorest in the South Pacific, but it is a very brave school with strong classical values. Futa’s children grew up immersed in the passions and principles of their father but at ‘Atenisi, classrooms are in disrepair and the meagre campus is constantly pounded by cyclones and flooding. Two of Futa’s old collaborators, an extremely eccentric Dutch astronomer and a New York sociologist, join the struggle to revive the ‘Atenisi ideal of a permanent tradition.
Tongan Ark is a surprising epic at a pivotal time in the history of a great Polynesian kingdom. It is an often disconcerting experience, as we are confronted with the sometimes bizarre minglings of the modern cultural marketplace. It is also a story about one man’s vision of what his people might retain from both worlds.
What will become of this lifeboat of culture, this synthesis of Europe and the indigenous, ahead of its time, abandoned on a sea of frenetic change?