Published: November 2007
Amy Toensing
Interview by Glynnis McPhee

In April and May of 2007 Amy Toensing photographed the story on the Kingdom of Tonga, the last remaining monarchy in the South Pacific. The story appears in the November 2007 issue of National Geographic.

Tonga is such a small country and few people know much about it. What was it like to work there?

Tongan culture is extremely complex, so it was a fascinating place to photograph. It’s a small country, and I tend to be very content and curious about everyday life situations in small cultures. About half of Tongans live outside the cash economy, so I was interested in investigating what life with less emphasis on money was about. They’d be considered poor by our standards because they don’t have a lot of money. But the lives I witnessed were far from poor, as I never saw anyone who was hungry or destitute. Families and neighbors take care of each other in Tonga. Everyone has food and a roof over their head.

There are several images of pigs in the story, why is that?

Tongans spend a lot of time making sure their pigs are healthy and that they have a good number of them. Pigs are very important in traditional ceremonies and feasts. They also could be used as payment or gifts. In Tongan society there are commoners, nobles, and the royal family, and there’s a system of giving that goes up through the classes.

Was there anything else you would have liked to photograph but weren’t able to?

I wish that I had been there for the pro-democracy protests. Last November there were people out marching for democracy, which ended up boiling over into rioting, and 80 percent of the capital city was destroyed. It would have been great to have been there to capture the energy that led to the riots.