Pacific Heartbeat


For My Father's Kingdom

FOR MY FATHER’S KINGDOM follows Tongan pensioner Saia Mafile’o and his family as they are stretched to breaking point by the commitment and passion to God that has driven Saia’s life. This debut feature documentary offers a rich view of how contemporary secular families deal with the rigors of devout Christian tithing, as well as a unique insight into traditional Tongan culture.

AIRED: May 03, 2021 | 0:56:46

-Mom taught us to love Dad for who he is and what he does.

-He's a hero. -Is he?


-I can go in peace knowing I do my best.

-It's pretty frustrating, really,

scratching up to pay bills,

and then you hear he's just handed the money

that you've given him straight to the church.

It's a bit painful.

You can't afford to go giving $2,000, $3,000 to the church,

up to $10,000 a year to the church.

Well, I mean, seriously, what a joke.

-[ Speaking Tongan ]

[ All singing in Tongan ]

-Biggest thing for a farmer is not enough hours in the day.

It's a bit of a nerve-racking time.

I don't really know what's going to happen with the farm.

The farm's for sale.

They can't give me a definite answer

on whether or not I've got a job here next year.


wee bit stressful.

The worst case scenario is

they bring their own staff,

which will definitely throw a spanner in the works

from my point of view.

And yeah.

Then it'll be panic stations for me.

-I caught Dad doing his paper run at 2:00 in the morning

and he was just like "Haha."

He actually said "Haha" to me.

-Did he have his vest on, though?

-That's so not funny.

-So Dad's group has to fund raise

$10,000 for the anniversary.

There's still $3,000 for the Misinale coming up.

So there's still a lot of money issues

that we have to figure out.

-That's actually three grand minimum.

And you know that he is going to give more than that.

Oh, and this morning I got a call from his diabetes clinic,

and they've upped his insulin.

And he has to lose 20 kgs.

-What are we going to do in Tonga, then?

-Well, we're just going to have to monitor him really carefully.


-We're all gonna have to watch what we eat.

-That's a true story.

-Dad lives with me. We live in the same house,

him and his wife Vasa.

That's why you're not feeling well.

It was really quite devastating to see your father

become bankrupt after he has worked his whole life.

I always knew that it was my job to look after Dad.

I just didn't expect it to happen so soon.

-[ Laughs ]

-They were great.

They were really good to me,

especially when we went up to Ha'apai.

I suppose I was different and I was --

But if I --

you'd have somebody totally different.

Well, he was extremely good looking

and very tall and handsome.

And I was attracted to Saia at the beginning

because we were teaching together at Nukunuku.

I'd like his commitment to his culture

and also his mother --

his commitment to his mother.

[ Laughter ]

-[ Speaking Tongan ]

[ Indistinct conversations ]

-...which was in Hamilton in 1986,

we were farming, we were paying 19% interest

on our loan account.

We didn't do anything.

We just put food that we needed on the table, and that was all.

We don't spend money on anything else whatsoever.

Till Saia had his first malanga, and I said, "That's okay.

I will make cakes and we'll have an afternoon tea.

I am not going to pay for a great big feast.

We can't afford it."

So that was agreed upon

and that was actually agreed upon

with Saia as far as I know

and the people in the church.

He did his malanga.

I brought a whole carload of cakes that I had made.

I walked into the hall and those tables were laden with pigs

and all sorts of food.

And I was so upset,

I turned around and I walked out.

And people said, "Why did you do that?"

And I said, "Because those people have less money

than we have, and look what they have done."

And I knew that after that,

the children would be suffering.

You know? Because they thought

they had to put on this great big feast.

They didn't have to put on a great big feast.

The man only stood up and said something.

But then after that, I thought, "I can't change anything.

I can't do anything and I can't change it."

-So, we have a bit of a problem

because we don't have any boys here at the moment.

They're all down with Rob working on the farm,

and there's only me here.

We have the grand church hall opening tomorrow.

Dad has pigs to cook,

which means we have pigs to cook.

And I'm a frickin' vegan.

-[ Speaking Tongan ]

-This one?


[ Congregation speaks indistinctly ]

-[ Laughs ]

-We wanted to -- I wanted to

actually give you children an experience of Tonga

not as going back to see family

where you were all spoiled by everybody.

But to see what it was like to actually live there,

which is a totally different thing.

So we both decided to go to Tonga under VSA.

Saia went as a farm adviser and I was a teacher.

-Here are the staff for Tupou College for 1991.

-Being at Toloa was really good.

I really enjoyed it.

It was really very, very sociable.

We had a really good, nice social life as well.

And I enjoyed teaching too,

and having Elizabeth was no trouble.

I used to take her to school

and the big boys would all look after her.

-Just a huge adventure, really.

And it was awesome.

In Tonga, being [Speaks indistinctly]

you get spoiled rotten.

Like, you get away with anything.

-Alright, so, Robert, how do we do 18 equals 15...

The only problem, actually, with being at Toloa

was your education

because you could not get into the English-speaking school.

It's 5, okay?

Take it away. We're not playing with it now.

We came back to New Zealand for the children's education

because Emily was going to start secondary school.

-[ Crying ]

-Smile, Mum. Smile.

-Well, so I was coming back,

and then he was coming back and then he was coming back,

and then he was coming back and it went on for about four years.

When Saia came home, he had changed,

so I found it really difficult to change my life

and make another place for him in it.

It was really hard.

And I thought, "Well, also,

if you can stay away for so long,

that must have been what he wanted as well."

He didn't want to be with us, obviously.

Other things were more important.

And in my mind, it shouldn't have been.

[ Alarm beeping ]

-Putting on.

Mum and Dad brought Mum's parents down often.

You know, done all the hard jobs, developed the farm,

got it all sussed, basically had it, well, pretty much freehold.

I reckon life would have been way different

if Mum and Dad would have stayed together

and we would have been on the farm.

So I probably would have taken over the farm.

Get out.

[ Whistles ]

With the sale of the farm,

I felt like I lost my identity.

You grow up on a farm,

and that's the way you know it.

Like it was selling the dirt was selling your bloodline.

I think my mind-set changed after that.

I was antsy, man. I was angry.

I didn't feel like I was even related to anyone after that.

I couldn't really have anything to do with family.

I disappeared for five years.

I wanted to stay away from anything, and I did.

[ Congregation singing in Tongan ]

-So, how are you feeling

about coming on this trip with everyone?

-It's pretty cool because I don't think

I've ever been here with Dad.

Apart from, like, when I was younger.

-Yeah, you were only a baby when we were at Toloa.

-Yeah, it's really special because when we picked Dad up

from the airport, he's like, "I'm so happy everyone's here.

Like, I'm the happiest man in Tonga."

And it was really nice to, like, experience that.

[ Applause ]

-I can already sort of understand

what the fuss has been about our whole life, you know,

and why he spent so much of it over here.

[ Applause ]

There's heaps of resentment there,

but I suppose that's what this trip is about,

is about sort of understanding why.


-What was your stay? 11?

11. So it's gone up only 1 after one feast.

-Yeah, that's not bad.

-[ Laughs ]

-He turned around to me and he said,

"You know why everything's come easy in my life?

It's because for what I do with the church."

But I said "It's because Mum's good with money."

I said, "I'm not going to let the church take any credit

for that because Mum gets full credit for it."

-My mother, she will ask, like, her children, like,

"Can you give something for my Misinale?"

-Yeah, yeah.

-This year, I gave $300 to my mom for her Misinale.

-The pressure that I see, it's not from the church.

It's from the community.

What's given in, the amount is written down

and it's read out for everyone to hear.

-Missionaries been like that, like, even with churches --

Forever, even when the church is [Speaks Tongan]

brand-new church, and it's still the same.

The competition will never stop.

It's an ongoing thing.

Like, I've seen it ever since --

Every year, the savings is taken up

for Misinale, for this competition

because it's the competition.

-So the amount that they give to the church

does not allow them to save.

-Yeah, that's what I'm saying, yeah.

-We're talking religion here. -Yeah.

-They must give because they believe that one day.

-Yeah, I understand that. But all it does is

make it harder for the future

of the next generation.

But the all life in general in New Zealand

has to depend on money.

Otherwise, you live in the gutter.

-Most of the families, whatever they have,

they give it all, and they ask their relatives

overseas for more.

So it's you budgeting how much you have and figuring out

how much you should give.

-Can give. -Yes. What you can give.

And that is very hard for Tongans.

Very, very hard.

Saving is still a foreign concept.

-Oh, yeah, tell me about it.

-Giving is the way.

[ Laughter ]

-Normally, you're going to get...

-Before we went to Tonga,

he was president of the Hamilton Tongan Society.

He was talking to the mayor sometimes, David Long.

He used to ring him up for things.

He was out there in the community.

He was making decisions. He was translating.

He would go to the prisons and translate.

He would translate for the Justice Department

in the courts.

-[ Singing in Tongan ]

-He was a JP.

He did lots and lots of community work.

He was very, very busy.

He was well respected.

But he was too busy with his Tongan people

and the church,

and he had no time for us.

And I was really hoping that going to Tonga

would actually change that.

-I guess an aim of mine on this trip

was to connect with Dad a little bit more

because he was over here when I was growing up.

It was nice to be able to see,

[Voice breaking] like, where he was.

And I guess, like, how he was helping others.

Since he's getting a bit older

and is getting more and more health conditions,

like, I should be spending more time with him.

And I guess it's something that

this trip has made me realize.

-Hi. -Hello.

[ Indistinct conversation ]


-Meet lots of people you know?

-I met lots of people that know us.

-He's trying to talk to Nana.

-Oh, you want to see Mum?

-Are they all there?

-Yeah, they are.

-[ Speaks indistinctly ]

-Say, "Hi, Nana."

Wait, Mum, he's trying to talk to you.

Say hi.

-What did you get for your birthday?

-Gave me a big old bouquet of flowers.


Hey, we've got to go to the 7:00 service.

-♪ Happy birthday to you ♪

♪ Happy birthday to you ♪

-Hip, hip! -Hooray!

[ Laughter ]

-Mum didn't say a bad thing about Dad.

Through everything, you know,

Mom taught us to love Dad for who he is and what he does.

And I didn't see that till we got to Tonga.

She built this unconditional love.

How hard would that have been for her?

-[ Singing in Tongan ]

-We used to get one phone call a year on our birthdays.

And it just made everything better.

I don't know if he realizes

how much the one phone call on your birthday means.

But it means the world.

I'm half him, you know?

He made me.

It looks like there's some good grass over here.


-What did you bring over? Did you bring over all Friesians?

-All Friesians. -Yeah?

That's very impressive.

This is pretty much exactly the same

as a small shed in New Zealand.

At least I've, like -- I don't know.

Taken a wee leaf out of his book, I suppose.

Tongan emotion, like, you either cry or you laugh.

Two types of Tongans --

the laughing Tongan and the crying Tongan.

[ Sniffles ]

Guess what one I am.

-Come on. Eat some more.

Oh, look at how much you've eaten.

Good boy.

[ Speaks Tongan ]

Want some toast, E? -No.

-Are you full? Should we get you changed?

-[ Fusses ]

-Just grab it. It's in here.

-We're taking a vehicle, aye? -Yeah, we're taking the van.

So what do we need?

-Got to go upstairs to get more money.

-How much do we need? -$500.

-Yeah, we've got to find $500.

-$300. -$400, $500.

Sweet. Let's go.

-They've changed the day in which our church

from New Zealand goes up to give to the school.

This is Dad's big moment.

You see that everyone will be out there.

See how much he loves his school.

And we don't really know what is going on

and the way they go about it...

[ Cheers and applause ]

-[ Singing in Tongan ]

-On this trip, I've actually seen, like, the huge positives

that the church does bring to the community, which is awesome.

The pride that these guys carry in their school

was just second to none.

That would be like the pride

that was the most hardcore All Black fan carries

in the old days.

It was huge.

[ All chanting in Tongan ]

-One more special thing.

We would like to thank you, Saia,

for your leadership. -Yeah.

-Not only on the rugby field,

but of the whole school.

-I sort of wish I knew

or I understood it a bit earlier,

and then maybe I wouldn't have strayed so far.

[ Laughter ]

How long has it been since you've been in the sea, Dad?

-Still the place to be, aye?

-This is freaking annoying.

Let's do it.

-I'll take this too.

-We have a system. -It's alright.

I just want to get it over and done with.

This is what I do every single frickin' time.

-Yeah, but do you use this bag?

-No. -Well, do you use a pram?

-Oh, my --


-No, this is alright.

So you're going up Greatstaff.

-Up Greatstaff, down that way.


-When I do it with Dad and say we walk down a street

that I've done, he'll check all the papers

that have been put into the letter box

to see if they've been put in the right way.

That's Dad's mate.

Hi. -[ Speaks indistinctly ]

-The Tongan culture, you know, obviously...

I'm learning every day.

I feel I understand the notion of serving.

It's about sacrifice.

I can see why Dad did what he did all those years ago,

and I'm at peace with that.

-Who's doing the paper run while you're here, Dad?

I think if we kept the farm, you know,

financially, I think it would have been better.

It would have been easier.

Definitely would have been easier.

Same. Same. I never -- you know?

I let you down then.

You know? Because that's when...

I don't know.

That's when I should have got into it.


At that time, I was...

I just remember being so angry.

So it was my fault.

It's heaven, heaven.

You know, I didn't feel anything anymore, you know, because...

Yeah, that's it.

Well, should we have a cup of tea?


It is cold, eh?

Oh, well. Thanks for that.

I never talked about that before.

Let's go have a cup of tea, aye?

Rain, rain.

-[ Singing in Tongan ]

[ Cheers and applause ]

[ Cheers and applause ]

[ Choir singing in Tongan ]

[ Applause ]

[ Cheers and applause ]

-♪ Hu ♪

♪ Hu ♪

♪ Hu ♪

♪ Hu ♪

♪ Hu ♪

♪ Hu ♪

♪ Hu ♪

♪ Hu ♪


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