By Kalafi Moala
Nuku’alofa, Tonga – Theft and burglary have always been dangerous crimes to any society, but in Tonga it has become rather dangerous and life threatening. When violence accompanies these crimes, lives are at risk.
It has been confirmed from the Ministry of Police that the number one crime reported in Tonga is theft and burglary. This does not necessarily mean it is the highest number of crimes committed, but rather the highest reported.
The rationale here, according to a Police Officer is that it is easier for people to report crimes of theft than other crimes like assault, domestic violence, drug dealing, and rape.
It is not every day in Tonga that someone is raped, found dealing drugs, or commit violent acts; but there are crimes of theft and burglary committed in Tonga almost every single day. And it is getting worse.
“We can say that because for every crime of theft reported, there are those that go unreported,” the Police Officer said.
A recent housebreak and theft that involved a violent attack on the homeowner, is still unresolved as the burglar is still at large. And it has been three weeks since the incident.
Lord Dalgety, a law lord, and former Supreme Court Judge, and one of the most well-known legal minds in Tonga, was attacked by what was alleged as a thief who broke into his house.
The attack left the 76-year-old unconscious and had to be rushed to hospital for treatment. He told this writer a few days ago that he still suffers from pain as he was kicked in the head after he was knocked to the floor.
The Police are still investigating but there has not been any arrest yet. The crime of theft is not one that normally gets co-operation from the community unless you are the victim. But even that, it is so common, that most people do not report it. If they can retrieve what was stolen, they would be grateful, but it is not common for them to pursue justice. Most thefts are committed by relatives of victims or by people who are known to the victims.
It is an indictment on Tongan Society, however, that theft is the most common crime, and getting worse, particularly where there are now armed robberies, as well as those associated with violence, as in the case of Lord Dalgety.
It has been a problem from history
From two and a half centuries ago, the famous Navigator, Captain James Cook, wrote flattering remarks about Tongans, as he found them. In fact, missionary Harold Wood in his 1975 book said: “Cook’s flattering opinion of the Tongans supported his belief that they were “Friendly Islanders.”
Here is Cook’s account: “Their countenances very remarkably express the abundant mildness, or good nature, which they possess, and are entirely free from that savage keenness which marks nations in a barbarous state… Upon the whole, they seem possessed of many of the most excellent qualities that adorn the human mind – such as industry, ingenuity, perseverance, affability, and perhaps other virtues which our short stay with them might prevent our observing.”
Critics often raise the question that Cook did not know Tongans well enough, thus his flattering remarks. But then Cook did point out one weakness he identified among Tongans.
He said: “The only defect sullying their character that we know of is a propensity to thieving.” (Cook, Voyages of Discovery). This insightful observance by Cook, do not necessarily negate the positive remarks he made of Tongans. He bravely pointed out an apparent weakness of character among Tongans, which is thievery.
Looking more into history, a ship named the Pandora in 1791 called at Tofua, Vava’u, Niua, and Nomuka. Hamilton, who was a surgeon on the ship wrote: “The people of Nomuka are the most daring set of robbers in the South Seas and with the greatest respect and submission to Captain Cook, I think the name Friendly Islands is a perfect misnomer.”
And of-course there are many other accounts in history, in which thieving was accompanied with such violence, as suffered by the Port au Prince in 1806 just off Lifuka in Ha’apai. They massacred the crew, stole what they wanted from the ship, and then burnt it. The young Mariner survived to tell the story.
And so, the reputation and shame Tongans must live with regarding stealing is nothing new, as this shameful and criminal behavior can be traced back to the distant and near past.
Here is one of the latest from the Supreme Court
The latest thieving story from the Courts involves a woman by the name of ‘Ana Katokakala Mapili Siale of Longolongo who burglarized a house in Nukunuku in June of 2020. She is the mother of seven children; her husband is an officer in the Army.
It was brought up in Court that ‘Ana Katokakala went to an address in Nukunuku to apply for a loan. But when she got there, she noticed there was no one at the house. She decided to break into the house and took the mats and other Tongan valuables worth over $14,000 pa’anga.
The Court also stated that the defendant has been found guilty with previous crimes of theft. One of these thefts was committed at the house of a religious Minister where she took mats and other valuables. She seemed to specialize in stealing fine mats and valuables usually worth thousands of dollars.
In fact, she was serving a jail sentence for four months. She came out of prison in December 2020 to face charges in Court, and the verdict of that case was pronounced this month.
The defendant has had trouble with the law since 2004. She made it a habit of stealing, from relatives, friends, or whenever she found the opportunity to commit a crime.
Obviously for almost twenty years, since she was at age 20, she has committed crimes of theft without any change to her behavior. It is also alleged that the defendant has other charges of theft she will be facing in Court in the future.
In fact, it was only last week that a victim of ‘Ana Katokakala’s alleged crime posted her photo on the internet, pleading with her to return goods that she has stolen from her.
However, the Court have decided to take it easy on this convicted thief; and Supreme Court Judge Laki Niu sentenced ‘Ana Katokakala for a 5-year imprisonment, but fully suspended on a 3-year good behavior. In other words, if she commits another crime during the next three years, she will have the full prison sentence impose on her. In the meantime, this convicted thief is free to roam.
The question remains, how will Tonga begin to solve a social and criminal problem that seems so imbedded in society? And, we have not even touched the many cases of theft from businesses by workers and employees. This has become one of the chief problems of doing business in Tonga. But that’s another story.