by Vance and Julia Hall
In 1967, after a four year assignment in Seoul, we returned to Washington for a home tour. I was assigned to the Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands desk of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. There were three officers in the office, and my main interests were Pacific Islands. The only Foreign Service post in the islands was a consulate in Suva, Fiji. The consular district itself included 3 million square miles of Pacific Ocean, from New Caledonia, near Australia, to French Polynesia—other groups were Tonga, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, the New Hebrides (an Anglo-French Condominium), and the Solomon Islands.
In 1970, the British Crown Colony of Fiji gained its independence, and the Consulate became an Embassy and the Consul in Suva became Chargé d’Affaires (the Ambassador to New Zealand was made Ambassador). About the same time, Tonga, which had the status of a British-protected state, chose to take over what responsibilities the British had and become an independent state, or as the King of Tonga, Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, preferred, “made its reentry into the Comity of Nations”. With that, the United States decided to add Tonga to the hat of the Ambassador in Wellington. However, the Ambassador at the time left his post before presenting credentials in Tonga.
We were assigned to Suva in 1973, and I took over the largest district with the smallest staff in the Foreign Service. There was myself, another Foreign Service Officer, a Foreign Service Secretary, and several Foreign Service Nationals, in a steep walkup office over an Indian-owned tourist shop on a small street in the middle of Suva. It was a post of diverse jobs—everything from dealing with the Fijian Government to burning classified documents in the city dump.
In 1974, former Congressman from Alabama Armistead I. Selden, Jr. was named Ambassador to New Zealand, and thus to Fiji and Tonga. The credentials ceremonies for both were worked out, Tonga first and then Fiji.
On April 9, the Ambassador and his wife and youngest son, and we boarded an Air Pacific flight to Fua’amotu Airport and from there to Nuku’alofa, capital of Tonga, and to the International Dateline Hotel. The next day, in the very hot early afternoon, Ambassador Selden put on his frock coat and striped pants and the four of us were driven to the Royal Palace, a white clapboard Victorianstyle house like many in the rural South—a red roof, lots of porches, and a turret.
We were met by a band that played the Star Spangled Banner and an honor guard in elaborate uniforms. After the Ambassador inspected the guard he was escorted into a drawing room of the palace where he presented his credentials, and then the three of us were invited in. The room was right out of the 1900’s—oleographs of royal ancestors in oval frames lined the wall, lace curtains, potted plants on stands. At the end was a large dark velvet sofa, on which the King was sitting, he too in frock coat but instead of striped trousers a striped wrap skirt, and on his feet black patent leather sandals.
The King was a very large man who filled up most of the sofa. On both sides of the sofa were lines of three overstuffed chairs, also in velvet, with antimacassers. We were seated, a servant bowed himself in with a tray of five glasses, a bottle of Champagne, and a bottle of orange soda, which was poured and given to the King, then the Champagne glasses were filled and served to us. We had been told we should not drink before the King started, and the King was chatting with the Ambassador—World War II, American history, mathematics (he had instituted the use of the abacus into the schools and thought they were perfect for teaching). We sat, our Champagne gradually losing it bubbles, but then the King took a sip of his soda and we were able to sip too.
The audience over, we bowed ourselves out; another rendition of the Star Spangled Banner was played, and we returned to the hotel. There was a reception by the Prime Minister (the King’s younger brother) and his wife that night. The next day we had lunch with the British High Commissioner (the only diplomat resident in Tonga), and in the evening the Seldens gave a reception for just about everybody (we were told it was the largest ever held in the hotel). On our last day we were taken by the head of the Peace Corps to a beautiful beach for a swim, and back to the hotel to pack up and return to Fiji. The Seldens went off to a nearby resort and retumed to Suva several days later for the presentation of credentials as Ambassador to Fiji. That, too, went well with lots of receptions and calls, but somehow it lacked the charm of Tonga.