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By Siosifa Pole in All Sorts

the voices of the weak, powerless and poor must shout out and interrupt our comfort until justice is served

The word “’utu” refers to the rocks on the beach or shore. The word ‘longoa’a’ is Tongan for the English word, ‘noisy or interrupting’. When we combine these two words it becomes, ‘utu-longoa’a’, which means, “rocks that are noisy or interrupting”. These two words (‘utu-longoa’a) are derived from a real life experience when the winds and waves strike rocks on the shore and produce strong commotion and loud noise. This noisy voice interrupts the silence of a peaceful evening. Although, this voice comes from the edge, everyone in the community, even those who live inland can hear and notice it. Everyone notices its sound because it is so persistent and vigorous. It is a loud voice that interrupts silence and the comfort of people. This is the experience that our family had in the last seven and a half years since we lived at St Clair, close to St Clair beach. The noise that is caused by the winds and waves when hitting the rocks sometimes interrupts our sleeping. This is the nature of the rocks that are noisy, ‘utu-longoa’a’. However, sometimes the “voice from the edge” comes unnoticed, because it is an unfamiliar voice. It is sometimes confusing when it comes together with other voices.
The voice is a channel or an instrument that demonstrates someone’s need. It is a familiar experience for babies to raise their voice when they are hungry, sick, or feel sleepy. If someone dies in a family, the living members demonstrate their sorrow by weeping. Whenever any controversial issue occurs, people express their opinions by debating. They either use their voices to prove a point or to humiliate someone. When we are in a competition, the audience will either express their joy or disappointment by their voices. Those who watched the Rugby League World Cup last year might still remember the “sea of red” colour all over stadiums and rugby fields wherever the Tongan boys played their games. Tongan fans annoyed a lot of people through their support of their team, Mate Ma’a Tonga. The most annoying of all was their loud voices. They were so noisy in their singing, chanting, and cheering. Although, they are the weak and inferior community, their voices were heard not only in New Zealand but around the continents of the world. Their voices were heard because they were determined and persistent in support of their team.
‘Utu-longoa’a denotes the notion of voice from the edge or the margin. It is a persistence voice for it is determined to be heard and recognised. It doesn’t satisfy or accept the way it is treated by those who are at the centre. Usually, the voice from the edge is ignored and side-lined, but it refuses to surrender or retreat. It strives to interrupt the silence and to overcome all obstacles in order to be acknowledged. The edge is where the weak, the powerless, and the poor are settled and find their home. They settle in that space either by their own choice or by force. Although, they are at the edge, they choose never to remain silent but rather they are determined to make their voices known and heard. In making their voices known, they break the silence of the dominant and powerful voices. Furthermore, they also refuse to surrender to those dominant voices. Walter Bruggemann, an Old Testament scholar in his book entitled, Interrupting Silence, writes, “We now live in a barbaric world where the stones cry out against the violence that spirals from the top down. Our work is to join their refusal of silence and their brave insistence on voice.” Bruggeman’s statement is right and continues to be right if those who have voices to speak will continue to silent. We have a lot of examples in the world of those who are on the edge of the society but have the right to speak out for justice for all.
When the new Government presented their Budget to our nation last month, I had looked at it seriously and asked some critical questions; Does this budget address the needs of the powerless voices in our nation? Does it consider the welfare of those on the edge of our society? When leaders of the powerful nations in the world had their meetings about their trade and businesses, I asked these questions; Are they aware of the pollution caused by their industries? Do they understand global warming and its impact on the rising of the sea level in the Pacific? Do they listen to the voices of smaller nations in the Pacific who are already submerged under the sea? I doubt whether these voices will be heard from the centre or from the top, to use Bruggemann’s concept of power from the top. But these voices won’t surrender or retreat until justice is served – and that is the nature of ‘utu-longoa’a.
The story of the Canaanite woman and her meeting with Jesus is a classic example of a voice which resists being silenced until her hope and aspiration are acknowledged (Matthew 15:21-28). The woman was a foreigner (a Canaanite), a widow, a mother of a sick girl, and she met Jesus at the border. She had heard about Jesus and his power to heal. She pleaded with Jesus to heal her daughter, but the text tells us that Jesus was silent. His disciples urged Jesus to chase her away. When Jesus spoke, he said to the woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” When he spoke for the second time, Jesus said to the woman, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Although, the woman was offended, she was not silenced. Neither did she retreat. She persisted until her voice was heard. At the end, Jesus heard the voice of a woman on the edge and said to her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Siosifa Pole