- The Artist
In August, Jim and I checked off an important box on our bucket list- swimming with humpback whales on the island of Tonga in the South Pacific. I have always been mesmerized by the beauty and grace of whales and they were often the subject of my early intaglio pieces. Jim convinced me that it would be worthwhile for me to use some of my latest techniques using whales as my subject. And what better place to observe whales in their native habitat than Tonga!
Tonga is a small nation of 130,000 folks in the extreme southern Pacific Ocean. Is the only island nation that was never colonized and has maintained its independence throughout history. Since it's about halfway between Fiji and New Zealand ,It's a regular stop for boats sailing around the world on their way to New Zealand from Fiji.
The pregnant females come to Tonga to have their babies and prepare them for life in the Arctic oceans. Warm, clear water, deep channels and no predators( other than man) make it a perfect nursery area for the giant ,10 ton humpbacks.
The people of Tonga have a lot in common with the people of Africa. Both are intricately linked with the wildlife that surrounds them. Both have faced, and are facing, crucial challenges in preserving their wildlife. Pollution and trash, shrinking habitat, and protection of wildlife from poachers are common threats in both places.
While in Tonga, we made contact with the Vava'u environmental protection Association and set up a conservation and creativity course for students from eight schools all over the island. Just like African kids, the children were excited by guidance in art and discussions about conservation.
The Tongan people are incredibly generous and kind people. There are no homeless people in Tonga since anyone in need is immediately helped by the local people regardless of whether they need a ride, a place to stay, or roof over their heads for weeks at a time.
Although we have been to some pretty primitive areas in Africa, Tonga represented a different kind of poverty and educational challenge. Despite having very little, like Africans, the Tongan people are extremely happy and satisfied to share whatever they have.
Like African people, the heritage and future of the Tongan people lies in preservation of their wildlife and protection of their reef and ocean habitat.