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Indrek Lepson

 

I never visited that kingdom, but often wished that I had.


I have had a personal connection with Tonga. In 1960, I danced with princess Nani at the Bali Hai, a Polynesian themed restaurant in San Diego, I believe, at Corona del Mar. Time and tide waits for no memory.

Doesn't really matter, it was nearby to the San Diego yacht club, a place where yachties, afflicted with "Polynesian fever" hung out . It was a popular destination for Polynesian entertainment and food, as well as the ubiquitous Mai Tai, with the umbrella and fruit salad on top.


I don't remember where I met Nani, but we got on well, maybe because of our diverse cultures. I figured that she was about 19 or 20 years old, an exotic sculpture brought to life.


As part of the evening's entertainment, she, and a Tahitian, danced the "Tamure" on a large "drum", actually a six foot diameter round stage about three feet high, made to look like a drum. The tamure is a fast paced, frantic, Tahitian dance, danced by a couple, occasionally in close contact, lots of arm flailing and knee slapping, while doing deep knee bends, knees flailing like wings, sometimes flailing in the air with a leg, to a staccato of toeres, hollowed out logs really, beaten with a stick, drums, guitars, ukuleles, and at least two empty five gallon tin cans, beaten rhythmically with sticks. It's a workout.

 

I learned the dance when I was in Tahiti, and being a blonde white man among the natives provided a lot of laughs and entertainment.


On that particular evening, her dancing partner was too drunk, so she called me back stage, tossed a pa'eru – a Tahitian loin cloth – at me, told me to take my clothes off, put that on, and get on stage when she called, and not to worry, she'd tell me what to do at the right time, and as the band started, she was gone.


She did her solo routine, then called me and told me to hop onto the "drum", and we did a credible tamure. In a stage whisper, she told me: Now, get down', and down I went with her, knees flailing and slapping, 'Up', and I leaped up, 'Turn around, arms out', and I did, 'Off the drum, three deep knee bends and back up', and so went the routine, by the end of which I was slavered in sweat like a race horse.


The audience went nuts at this display of an unlikely couple, a deeply tanned, half naked, barefooted blond white man, and a Polynesian beauty, dancing on a war drum.


She was introduced to me as "Princess Nani, from Tonga", and reference was made of her father, the king.


Whether this really was true, I don't know. Why would the daughter of the king be dancing at a bar in San Diego? Maybe she wanted to enjoy herself before returning home to take on the duties required by a princess in a royal court. If I knew the details, I have forgotten.


Doesn't really matter. We had fun that evening, and I'm sure that she remembers that as fondly as I do.

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