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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An Eagle Scout in Tonga

This happened a few weeks ago, but I haven’t had a chance to write it!  We had a wonderful visit from Taylor, a Boy Scout who made Tonga his Eagle Project.  His grandfather accompanied him, and we had a week together, showing off Tonga and marveling at the scope of the Eagle Project of this remarkable Scout.
Taylor and his grandfather Van, in the craft section of the city's indoor market.
But first let me tell you about Taylor’s grandfather, Van Johnson (yeah, like the actor – he didn’t have trouble getting restaurant reservations, back in the day!).   Van has had connections with Tonga for years.  He is one of two Palangi (pah-lang-ee) that I know of who have been given a Tongan name.  Several years back, he arranged for half a million dollars’ worth of medical supplies to be sent to Tonga.  He came here and spent a week, and at the end of the week was notified that a ceremony was to be held in his honor.  He went and enjoyed the dinner, but then was pulled into a circle of village chiefs and informed that henceforth, he would be known as “Shooting Star”, because his presence was short but his influence would be longlasting.  And it has.  

So when Taylor asked his grandfather for ideas about an eagle project, Van thought of the “outer islands” where even fewer medical supplies exist.  He and Taylor got together with some medical supply companies, and some charitable foundations, and gathered a quarter million dollars’ worth of supplies.  Taylor’s fellow Boy Scouts, and the Young Women (teenaged girls) of his ward/congregation spent a day packing all the supplies in a warehouse, and filled a Conex container to be shipped to Tonga.  

When the arrival date was close, Van and Taylor flew to Tonga.  They stayed here on the Liahona campus, and of course the senior missionaries found them.  We took them to the beach and went snorkeling with them.  We took them for a picnic lunch.  Then we started showing off the little island.

This one is actually on every tourist map of Tonga.  Every coconut palm I have ever seen has had a single “head”, but this one has two (and as we all know, two heads are better than one!) – so we made sure we all got pictures of it.  You can’t tell from this picture, but the tree actually has a third head, a small one.  So who knows what the future will bring?  In 20 years, this may be the “octopus coconut palm tree!”  

Then we took them to see the flying foxes,the ones I wrote about in my “Wild Kingdom” entry.  We watched them launch from their trees and return for about an hour, but we got a bonus.  We saw about a dozen ekiaki (eh-kee-ah-kee), white terns, known in Hawaii as fairy terns.  These are fishing birds that do not build nests.  They simply lay an egg in the crook of a tree branch, or even on the ground, and when the chick hatches, its overgrown feet enable it to grab hold of a branch and stay safe, even when it sleeps, for the first two months of its life, until it is ready to fly.  Because these birds have all-white feathers, they edges of their wings look translucent when they fly, and because they can hover, they have a reputation for being magical.  Whatever – they’re gorgeous.  
Can't take credit for this one - thank you Google images.  But you see what a wonderful fantasy-like creature the white tern is - no wonder people think they're magical!

Taylor and Van traveled all over the island on their own, too, and gave me a couple of pictures.  Not far from Liahona is a church farm, where cattle are raised.  Frequently, the bulls are tied up across the street from the cows, and the day that Taylor and Van drove the road, sure enough, here was a bull tied to a tree.  So Taylor, teenager that he is, had to get out of the car and tease the bull, removing his own red shirt and playing toreador.  Star Trek fans will fear for Taylor’s life, seeing him in a red shirt, but he survived.  

Taylor is the most open-minded American teenager I know.  He readily accepted the native custom of wearing a tupeno (too-peh-noh) and a ta’avalo (tah-ah-vah-loh).  Not only did he wear his scout shirt with the native skirt (far cooler in this heat than slacks) and mat, he didn’t let it slow him down when he decided to try to climb a coconut palm himself!

Well, on to the official ceremony.  Taylor and his grandfather brought gifts for the officials at the Ministry of Health, as they celebrated the arrival of the Conex shipping container.  They met with Ministers, hospital administrators, and Parliament members as they talked about the design of Taylor’s Eagle project, and how it would benefit the hospitals on the outer islands.  Most Tongans recognize the Mormon Church as Christian, but the little beautiful statues of Jesus Christ presented by Taylor(hard to see in this picture, but it's there)  will remind them of the Christian service that this young man provided to many, many Tongans.

After the meeting, a reporter from Tongan Television interviewed Taylor, who explained his project and acquitted himself well on the news that night, teaching the Boy Scout Law and Oath, and explaining his personal beliefs.  In this culture of “respect your elders,” it was wonderful to see a young man gain the respect of so many of his elders, including me!


  1. As always, informative and beautiful. Makes us feel like we are almost there with you!!!

    1. Thank you both for your comments. Yeah, this was truly an Eagle project of awesome proportions. Glad you enjoyed the story.