By Pat Rusich
I am so honored to have been the caretaker of THE INTERNATIONAL PEACE BELT on its first trip to the Kingdom of Tonga (and my first too!) Even though I was originally there to partake in a rather royal affair (the Coronation of King George Tapuo V), I was privileged to share TIPB with many people of all walks of life. In one short week, on the other side of the world, TIPB was introduced to:
- A native Tongan named David, a master carver and artist of traditional Tongan bone carvings;
- Chris, a Kiwi (New Zealander) transplant of nearly 25 years and artist & performer of traditional Tongan dance;
- my fellow travelers from the USA, five of whom are retired Peace Corps Volunteers;
- an elder, a Tongan woman who I met in the church after the Coronation Ceremony, who was so passionate in her prayer with TIPB in her native tongue;
- Feauna, our Tongan destination advisor and activity director J and her family, especially the young girl who obviously felt very honored to wear TIPB and send their thoughts of Peace;
- Carolyn and Tim, our hosts at the Deep Blue Lodge, a young married couple with their first baby on its way… how very special it was for TIPB to lay across the swollen belly of Carolyn as she said her message of Peace.
And many others along the way…
Although Tonga had recently suffered the destruction of much of their capital city of Nuku’alofa during the riots of 2006, the people of Tonga truly lived up to their slogan of “The Friendly Island”.
Everywhere I went from the restaurants to the open air markets, I met the nicest people with the warmest smiles on their faces and happiness in their hearts. “Welcome” was not a word that needed to be spoken here. The warmth of our welcome was something FELT everyday. The energy was so wonderful. I knew that the Kingdom of Tonga was a good place to be. And it is my hope that this energy will be passed through TIPB during its travels and to YOU NOW, as you read these words.
I first heard about The International Peace Belt through my friend and fellow Middle Eastern dance instructor Hala, of Hala Dance Studios, an Egyptian woman currently residing in Santa Clara CA. Hala’s newsletter caught my eye when she announced back in 2007 that she would be the honored caretaker of TIPB on a trip to Egypt. I remember thinking “GOOD NEWS!!!” !!! What a great mission TIPB was on. It is always so promising to learn of people making positive actions in this world of ours instead of the usual news we hear day to day.
Now—fast forward to 2008. Much has happened in that year. Troupe Mirari & the Living Breathing Dancing Color Wheel – A Dance of Positivity is taking shape. The San Francisco version of PURE DANCE became a reality again after a year of rest. And I was invited by a friend in the Retired Peace Corps Volunteers to go to the Kingdom of Tonga V. A real coronation! In Polynesia! How could I pass that up! Almost immediately I thought of The International Peace Belt and thought… I wonder, has it been to Tonga?
And yet, I had some reservations about going to Tonga. After a little research, I discovered the reason the coronation had been delayed almost 2 years was due to rioting, looting and the destruction of the business district in the capital city of Nuku’alofa. Apparently the violence was politically motivated. I was not certain this trip was meant to be. I began to have some doubt. Fear was seeping into my thoughts.
So I decided to not make any quick decisions. To go or not to go? I determined that I would go as long as my intuition said it was safe and the right thing to do. I would continue to check the travel advisories. For months I had the intention of going without making a firm commitment to the trip. Although I was hoping to present the LIVING BREATHING DANCING COLOR WHEEL, it was impossible to solidify the plans. It was not until about 3 weeks prior to my departure that I contacted my friend Hala and inquired about the availability of The International Peace Belt. Hala put me in touch with Wendy Black Nasta of Artists for World Peace. And I discovered that YES… TIPB was available at the time of my travel and it would be it’s first trip to the KINGDOM OF TONGA.
I had a wonderful trip in Tonga. Most of the people who I introduced TIPB to were awed by it. At first because of the shear beauty of its design with all the foreign coins and gemstones, and then even more so by the realization that people from all over the world were sending their message of Peace and Harmony through this work of art. The history behind TIPB and all its travels… All the ceremonies of peace that it had participated in … All the meditations and prayers that it assisted in… It doesn’t take long to realize that TIPB is a very special artifact with a very special mission.
When I headed to Tonga I was not quite sure how or where we would serve the mission. I was hoping to find some native Tongan dancers to wear it during their performances during the many ceremonies. I connected with a few people involved in the activities before the trip.
However, I had to remember that I was entering a world where the most important occasion since the 1967 crowning of the previous King was taking place; the coronation of the new King George Tapuo V. The Kingdom of Tonga had been preparing for this very special event for years. My connections regarding the arrival of the International Peace Belt were very much consumed with the Royal Coronation Ceremonies. The visit of the International Peace Belt would need to play second fiddle to the coronation. It was very apparent that we were now on Tongan time and things would unfold the way they were meant to be.
My second day in Tonga I met a dancer named Chris and her artist/ husband Shane. Together, with our group of travelers, we shared the most wonderful pizza dinner, the most beautiful sunset AND THE INTERNATIONAL PEACE BELT. They were the perfect people to introduce to the TIPB. Not everyone you encounter has the same appreciation for the concept of TIPB. However, THEY GOT IT!
Chris is originally from New Zealand; however she has lived in Tonga for nearly 25 years. Together she and Shane own and operate the Blue Banana Lodge and Gallery. For many of those years she studied native dance and was scheduled to perform with her village before His Majesty during the coronation festivities. We discussed the possibilities of her wearing TIPB during the dance. However, after much careful thought, she decided, in respect for the Tongan traditions and authentic dance attire, she would wear the Tongan coin and hand carved whales tail during her dance and not TIPB itself.
On Saturday, August 2, 2008 she danced with hundreds of other Tongans from villages throughout the Kingdom of Tonga in a special performance for His Majesty and guest dignitaries from around the world. Although we were unable to make the International Peace Belt the focus of the ceremony, Chris’s personal message of peace will be carried on through the presence of the addition of the Tongan coin & hand carved whales tail.