In front of the Church-owed Liahona High School in Nuku'alofa, Tonga, stands a statue celebrating education and the people who first brought it to this island nation.
Viliami Toluta'u, a member of the Liahona High class of 1971, created the statue for the school's golden jubilee celebration, held Aug. 14-16.Brother Toluta'u and thousands of other Liahona High alumni and students say the art work – depicting the 1807 moment when Tongan Chief Finau Ulukalala Feletoa II first saw the written language and believed it to be magic – represents the power that their education at Liahona High has given them.
Brother Toluta'u, a professor of sculpture at BYU-Hawaii in Laie, met his wife, strengthened his testimony and received the foundation for his education at the school. Indeed, he explained, Liahona High was the magic of his life.
"My faith, my life and everything I am I owe to that school," said Brother Toluta'u. "Liahona is more than a school."
Brother Toluta'u said, in the historical account that the statue depicts, Chief Feletoa captures a ship of foreign navigators, wanting to gain the power their cannons and other weapons could give him. What the chief found from the navigators instead was a power far greater than a cannon. "Back in 1807 he realized he had a material stronger than metal – literacy and education," said Brother Toluta'u.
He explained that the account had a great impact on him. "What hit me is how we take
the ability to readT for granted. For those who don't know what the symbols of the written language stand for, it is a totally different world."
Brother Toluta'u said his sculpture, called "Mana," was created for the 50th anniversary of the school with the hope that every student would acknowledge the relevance of reading and writing as basic steps in education.
He said the sculpture is a tribute to the pioneers who brought the mana to Tonga, including early foreign navigators, explorers, LDS missionaries and teachers whose sacrifices will always be a part of the island nation's legacy.
More than 5,000 Church members and guests participated in some part of the school 50th anniversary celebration – many traveling from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Tahiti, Niue and Fiji.
During the three-day celebration, alumni, students, their families and special guests celebrated with dance, song and food. They listened to speakers, played games, attended a grand ball and participated in activities such as basketball, volleyball and tennis.
But alumni traveled long distances to do more than participate in events, said Sitalaiti (Star) Lotulelei, Church Educational System country director. They went back to Liahona High to celebrate the mana of their lives – the foundation of their education.
"These people, no matter where they are living, remember the school and its contribution to their current life," he explained. "They have a special feeling of affinity and gratitude to the school. It was the school that brought most of them to the Church. It was the training from the school that became a vehicle to help them succeed in the various international countries."
Leaders in Tonga also embrace the school and the impact it has in the country. Her Majesty Queen Halaevalu Mata'aho participated in the jubilee activities. During a program which was part of the jubilee activities, the queen, who attended the events all three days, gave the keynote address. She lauded the Church for its emphasis on family and called Liahona High one of Tonga's unique assets.
Queen Mata'aho said, "This historic event is a day reminiscing, with much fondness and deep appreciation, the achievements of heroes and pioneers of the past. It is a day of jubilation and exultation because of the wondrous blessings we are presently reveling in. It is also a day of envisioning and hoping for a prosperous future."
She asked the alumni how they plan to demonstrate appreciation for their rich heritage. "My answer," she declared, "is taken directly from one of the well-known basic doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which its members have utilized successfully for the development of the country; they have emblazoned the family as the basic unit of the Church, the school and the country."
The queen continued, "To the Tongan people, I plead with you to follow the school and the Church example and establish our roots in the family."
Brother Lotulelei said the queen's attendance meant more than just a love for her people and for education. It reflects, he said, support for the school and acceptance of the Church by the Monarchy and the Royal Family.
LDS missionaries first arrived in Tonga in 1891 and erected a mission home and a school. The mission made progress, but was closed in 1897. In 1907 missionaries returned to Tonga. Since then, with the help of Church schools, the Church has made much progress on the islands, explained Brother Toluta'u.
The establishing of Church schools in Tonga in 1892 and 1908 proved significant and led to creation of other Church schools. The Makeke School was opened in Tonga in 1926 and was the principal method of advancing the Church for many years – as its students would study the gospel as part of the school's curriculum.
In 1947 property was selected for Liahona High, and a few classes were taught until the school officially opened in 1952 with a complete contingent of classes and staff.
Today, Liahona High continues to influence its students for good, said Brother Lotulelei. A very high percentage of its students serve missions and are married in the temple. For example, he said, between 80 to 90 percent of its male graduates serve missions each year.
About 1,070 students from various island groups in Tonga, as well as from all over the main island of Tongatapu, attend Liahona High. Near the school are located dormitories, where the students from the outer islands stay. The campus, filled with green palm trees, is adjacent to the Nuku'alofa Tonga Temple grounds.
Brother Lotulelei said the majority of people in Tonga realize the Church and the school have contributed a lot to the development of the country.
Brother Toluta'u brought his six children with him to the celebration. He wanted them to see the school that gave him such a good start in life – spiritually and academically.
More important, he wanted them to witness a celebration of education and the magic of Liahona High – the same magic that a Tongan chief first discovered nearly 200 years ago.