ENJOY the following stories excepted from “Tales of the Tikongs" by Epeli Hau’ofa, a delightful book out of Tonga:
Truth comes in portions, some large, some small, but never whole. Like our ancestors we are expert tellers of half-truths, quarter-truths, and one percent truths. When Tevita Alanoa stole his neighbor’s pig and protested, after being caught, that he had only eaten one leg, he was telling a quarter-truth. And when he affirmed that his victimized neighbor was his mother’s brother and that therefore he, Tevita, was not really a thief, he was telling a half-truth. And furthermore, when he got carried away and said that his mother’s brother’s pigs were for him to take without asking, and was punched on the nose by his uncle, Tevita was telling a one percent truth.
You can get away nicely with half-truths and quarter-truths, and indeed most people do so with joyful frequency; but it is not so easy to escape unscathed with one percent truths, as Tevita discovered with a bloodied nose. Even the act of telling a one percent truth requires a good measure of sophistication, acquired only after having completed six years of modern education at a church college.
Consider the case of Inoke Nimavave who forged and cashed a check for $100. When hauled into court Inoke argued, after he had sworn on the Bible, that it was all the fault of the cross-eyed cashier at the Bank of Tiko. According to the defense, the defective clerk had misread the check as $100 instead of the correct $1, the small amount Inoke needed for his taxi fare to the hospital to visit his dying mother. And why did he not return the ninety-nine point zero zero dollars to the cross-eyed clerk at the Bank of Tiko? asked the police magistrate. Inoke wept and replied with a question so phrased that it tore the heart of everyone in the courtroom on that warm, warm October morning. How, he appealed, could he think of money when all the thoughts in his head were with his poor mum who was one her way to heaven? How could he indeed, and the angels wept, and the police magistrate wept and gave Inoke a six-month sentence with hard labor. Poor Inoke; his fellow inmates called him Zero Zero, which was most misleading since he was a brilliant arithmetician and a top graduate of Potopoto College.
If telling a one percent truth is difficult, telling less than a one percent truth is telling lies, which is almost impossible. That is why there are so very few liars in Tiko; they can be smelled out quickly, and everyone calls them “loi’elo” which means “stinking liars.” And as our people hate a bad smell, especially when it emanates from the mouth, they rarely tell lies.
After lunch one afternoon Semisi returned to his office before anyone else. He was a typical civil servant: semi-honest and half-trusted. As he snaked his way among the desks and filing cabinets Semisi bumped into something from which a large brown envelope fell onto the floor before his eyes. He picked up the envelope, opened it, found $200 and, being half-honest, put back $100. After work he went home, set aside $50 for his annual missionary contribution, asked God’s forgiveness, spent $25 on beer for himself, and the rest on filmy pink panties for his ladyfriend. Semisi always did everything by halves.
BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He currently resides on the mainland U.S.