Saturday, May 13, 2017

Tonga in Focus: Land Reform


Tonga's land tenure system is unique in the Pacific and probably the world. In 1862 Tonga's first king, George Tupou I, abolished a system of semi-serfdom and declared all land to be the property of the Crown. Thirty-three nobles were granted estates and commoner males were guaranteed a garden and town plot. It's a system that remains virtually unchanged to this day.

Early in 2009 the recently crowned King George Tupou V announced the establishment of a Royal Land Commission would spend the next two years reviewing the laws surrounding land tenure. Some people fear the changes will see Tongan land falling into the hands of foreigners for the first time in history.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Who copied from whom?

Ian Argus Stuart, one of's clients


Alvaro Cerezo of employs a very simple business model: deprive someone of a large part of their money in exchange for depriving them of all comforts of home on some God-forsaken island.

Come to think of it, that's exactly the business model employed by Cocomo Village and Seabreeze Community on remote Hunga Island.

So who copied from whom?


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tonga's first funicular railway


The only access to Hunga Island is via this long and steep roadway which is only for the fit and young. To attract more elderly investors, the promoters of Cocomo Village and Seabreeze Community want to build a funicular railway - Tonga's first - to the top of the island.



They are basing their design on the Penang Hill Railway and are even hopeful to acquire at a discounted price the old carriages from that particular railway.


Penang Hill Railway's decommissioned carriages GPL, Link


Who're you calling a bullshit artist? Look who started it:


What Life is Like In Cocomo Village

"Once you are settled in your new home in Cocomo, and still pinching yourself every time you gaze out of your bigger than big-screen, Imax view of the islands and sea below, you will wonder how long it will take you to believe it is really true. Guilt feelings may twinge you but “home-free” feelings will console you. There are 6-billion people on earth and just about all of them are not as lucky as you—fathom that platitude. Why me, you have to ask yourself? What latent and internal survival mechanism triggered you to find this haven? Whatever it was, welcome to the club, for you are one of very few on the planet to have this insight and foresight. Oddly, this was the answer even before we had need for the question. Yawning and stretching would be the first thing you might do to start your day in Cocomo, and even before the next thing, you will be curiously drawn to the veranda to assimilate that most incredible view, just to reconfirm you actually made it out from behind the office cubical and not still dreaming. How about breakfast on the awesome veranda? Always the choice since it is where we can consume nature’s most fulfilling gifts, her natural foods and the sight of her beautiful emerald islands set in vivid blue waters under azure skies. That combination can cure cancer, literally. This routine sets the stage for every new day. Breakfast is on; fresh eggs from down the lane or just fruit, maybe from your own trees, delicious. It all tastes better than the store bought and is so much healthier and cheaper too. Lemon grass tea for me please, or some fresh squeezed juice, all for free—whoopee, the billionaire has nothing on me ..." Go on; I know you want more.

So, who're you calling a bullshit artist now?


Friday, April 21, 2017

Is there life after Hunga?

Nico Neubauer BEFORE and AFTER Hunga


"Well, yes" (says I rather hesitatingly) "as long as you pull out before you have starved to death, been bitten to an itchy pulp by swarms of bloodsucking mosquitoes, or gone insane!" (to say nothing of the Zika virus, tropical ulcers, typhoid caused by lack of personal hygiene and proper sanitation, and the ever-present danger of personal injury).


Nico "der Waldmensch"


The nearest proper hospital is well over two-thousand kilometres away in Auckland, New Zealand, so pay close attention to what the previous "Waldmensch", Nico Neubauer, wrote about his life on Hunga Island in April 2016, "Während sich in Europa der Winter langsam ausdümpelt werden im Königreich die Tage wieder kürzer, die Hitze kombiniert sich jedoch mit feuchtem Regenwetter. Ein Wetter echt für harte Kerle. Wer da nicht widerstandsfähig genug ist, hängt in den Seilen. Menschenskind, wie die Zeit nun rennt. Nur das hier jeder Handschlag trotz dessen 3 Mal länger dauert! Gerade um diese schöne Jahreszeit, wenn die Südpazifische Natur in vollem Gange ist, lautet die Devise hier immer noch: 'MACH ES LANGSAM, sonst verbrennst du!' Der Herr im Himmel gebietet das. Nimm Dich in Acht vor Ihm. Willst du also länger leben hier, mach es langsam und wohl überlegt" (Translation :While Europe's winter is coming to an end, the days in Tonga are getting shorter and wetter.  It's hot and humid and to get anything done takes three times as long and requires a huge effort.  At times like these it's necessary to follow the motto, "Slow down before you burn out!"  If you want to live here and last, you have to pace yourself and take things easy.) - more here.


Nico (on right) after a year on Hunga
"You don't have to brush all your teeth, Nico, only the ones you want to keep."


While Nico was stuck on Hunga for want of a fare back to Germany, at least he never had to pay several thousand dollars for a few hundred square metres of wilderness.



He just paid tribute in the shape of a homegrown pawpaw (or two) to the Governor of Vava'u, Lord Fulivai, to be allowed to squat on some land at the end of the non-existing "Seabreeze Community".



Being on a 'Hunger'-diet on Hunga for most of the time, and given his lack of any real tools, it's quite amazing what he achieved there.


Nico's jungle hut, built with nothing more substantial than a hammer and a handsaw


Nico is now safely back in Germany and recovering from his South Sea island ordeal. For video clips of his life on Hunga Island, click here.

Is he ever going back to Hunga? I don't think so!


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Palangis in Paradise

From Fofoa Island looking towards Hunga Island


The Devil appeared to a man on his deathbed. “I’m going to give you a choice between Heaven and Hell,” he said. “And just to make it fair, I’m going to let you see them first.”

And there it was, Heaven, just as it was supposed to be: halos, harps, the lot; pleasant but dull.

Hell, however, looked terrific: drinking, music, dancing girls.

“I’ll take Hell,” the man said.

After he had died, though, Hell turned out to be exactly what you would have imagined it to be in the first place: flames, screams, demons, pitchforks.

“Wait a minute,” the man complained, “this isn’t what it looked like before.”

“No,” the Devil said, “but then you were a visitor; now you're a resident.”

I am reminded of this little story every time someone asks me, "So what is life really like on a South Pacific island?"

I was fortunate enough to have lived on several tropical islands - New Britain and Bougainville and the mainland of New Guinea, Guadalcanal in the Solomons, and Upolu in Western Samoa - when the white man's expertise was still a highly-paid community and expats lived pampered lives. Not so today when expats - or palangis in Tongans - must bring their own money and pitch their expertise against that of the locals.

When I travelled in Tonga, pretty much every foreign-owned business was up for sale which should tell you something. Such as that even if you legally bought or leased something, you can still be chased away because of a disagreement with the authorities or a local village chief. In the eyes of the locals, you are rich and expected to make large "donations" and provide easy employment for the locals - or else!

The relationships between the locals and those palangis who have made Tonga their new home is tenuous at best, and there is obvious tension between them and the royals, nobles, and everyday Tongans. But there's even more tension among the palangis themselves who, if they're business owners, must chase the tourist dollar during the short tourist season. Competition is fierce and the gloves are off as soon as the first yacht of the season rounds the corner into the harbour.

And yet, you're really in the South Pacific you have read about. It's exotic and intoxicating, and the ocean around it is the most beautiful you will ever see, so do yourself a favour and visit but don't try to live there. By definition, if you're twenty-something you haven't got much money and would at best eke out a miserable living; if you're in your fifties or beyond and have the means to retire, you wouldn't want to do it there because at that stage in your life healthcare has become important and healthcare in those remote islands simply doesn't exist.




Erik the Red versus Robert the Realtor


Sometime around the year 980, Erik the Red, being a wanted man in his native Norway, brought hundreds of people to an uninhabitable land and, in what may well have been the first real-estate scam, named it 'Greenland' to attract settlers because, said he, 'men will desire much the more to go there if the land has a good name.' When he died around 1002, his followers lacked the wood to build new ships to return to Norway and slowly starved to death.


Hunga Island's forbidding cliff face


Sometime in 2009, Robert the Realtor began attracting foreigners to a Potemkin village on the remote and volcanic island of Hunga which he imaginatively named 'Cocomo Village' by publishing paradisical tales like 'What Life is Like In Cocomo Village'. Unlike Erik the Red, Robert the Realtor is still very much alive because, also unlike Erik, Robert never leads by example but instead lives the life of Riley in Savusavu.

Thanks to modern airtravel, Robert's close to a hundred followers no longer have to build their own ships to return to their native lands. The less-than-a-handful who tried to settle at 'Cocomo Village' beat a hasty retreat and now try to sell their "investment" in competition with Robert the Realtor who still tries to attract more to his 'green land', this time with 'two-for-the-price-of-one' offers. Business must be slow!




Saturday, April 15, 2017

Survivors from the reality show


Two "survivors" from Hunga Island who had bought not just one but FOUR leases in non-existent "Cocomo Village", the Canadians Barry and Charlett Millen, never even got started there before deciding to stay in Neiafu and open Falaleu Deli.



Buy some of their 'comfort food' - or one of their leases which they now want to sell - before you face the discomforts of Hunga Island.