I knew I wanted to spotlight Salote Tupou III of Tonga as soon as I read that she was a 6'3", big-hearted Queen of the "friendly Islands" (I have a soft spot for fellow tall women and beautiful places). This tall and spirited lady was made Queen of Tonga at the young age of 18. After the death of her mother, her father King George remarried in hopes to produced a male heir but instead added 2 more girls to the line of royalty. Sadly both of her sisters died at young ages and it wasn't until around the age of 10 that the country began to recognize her as the thrones predecessor.
After receiving special education in Tongan history and traditions to prepare her to reign, she was married to Viliami Tungī Mailefihi, another Polynesian royalty that was meant to bridge relations between the governed islands. After her fathers death in 1918 she was pronounced Queen and served for 48 years, the longest running rule in Tongan history.
She was a kind and giving queen who promoted agricultural development and health reform, improving her country's living conditions and educational opportunities -- especially for girls. She was known for sending gifts to the needy and made her palace open and available to everyone.
In 1953 she was invited to attend Queen Elizabeth II's coronation and captured the attention of all England. During the outdoor procession of carriages through the crowd filled streets of London the weather was cold and rainy. All of the noble carriages and their passengers were of course covered by their hoods, barely making them visible to the onlooking crowd, but Queen Tupou III refused to put her hood up and went through the parade smiling and waving at all. The crowd loved her and one passenger was reported as saying, "I had a splendid view of all the procession. The loudest cheer was not for Queen Elizabeth but for the Queen of Tonga. This very large lady was in an open carriage despite the torrential rain and waving furiously at the crowds, who admired her fortitude."*
The next day her pictures and story of her willingness to brave the cold for the crowd was all over the newspapers and she became a hit. There was even a song written about her:
"The Queen of Tonga"
In the pacific Islands of Tonga,
They make their people stronger,
Oh it can rain or storm or squall,
But they don’t feel nothin’ at all.
Chorus: Oh! The Queen of Tonga Cross’d the ocean from far away.
Oh! The Queen of Tonga Came to Britain for Co-ro-nat-ion Day.
And when the people saw her on that torrential morn,
She captured all before her, took ev’ryone by storm.
In every heart will always live longer,
That reign-in’ Queen of Tonga.
(By Jack Fishman, 1953)
She was a friendly force that drew the attention of all within her reach. Her large presence was more than just her height, it was her strength, fortitude and amicable personality. She was a noble role model that made history from a small part of our big world.
The Salote dress