Vasalua Helu

M.A. Linguistics






Hihifo is a speculative history adapting the true story of U.S. adventuress Elizabeth Morey (1780-1805). Morey was the adopted daughter of an upper middle class family in suburban Boston, who at age 22 eloped with a neighbouring sea captain, Lovett Mellon. On a commercial voyage to Tongatapu island, captain and crew are ambushed by natives, yet Morey is spared. The novella chronicles her sporadic marriage to a chief in the western district of the island and the child she bears. In the late 20th century, her descendents – six generations later – rise to be Tonga’s Minister of Education and first female commoner elected to Parliament.


bottle sizes

About the Author

Spanning New Zealand, the U.S., and Romania, prize-winning wordsmith V.O. Blum is the author of three published novellas and a collection of novelettes. Equator chronicles the exploits of an expatriate trio in West Africa; Split Creek, a wartime romance in the Rocky Mountains between an interned German officer from a Communist family and the daughter of a local fascist rancher; DownMind, the harrowing saga of a Chinese-American recluse in the Pacific who unwittingly demoralises the world through daunting telepathy. The anthology Sunbelt Stories, among other tales, features the social commentary of an articulate whale off the coast of Hawaiʻi.

Blum emigrated to the Kingdom of Tonga in the mid-‘90s, where he now serves as writer-in-residence at ʻAtenisi Institute.

First excerpt

{Whilst sharing a pitcher of beer with a retired seaman in a local shipyard, Captain Mellon is advised to trade sandalwood from Tonga.}

“Floating forests, Papa calls ‘em,” the young man chuckled, quaffing a pint of ale recently barged from Philadelphia. He was pointing to a budding schooner, whose hull was being wrapped in copper.

“Aye, for good reason,” grinned his companion, long retired from the China trade. “There’s 100 tons of oak on that girl, not to mention the pitch in the caulking.”

The young man lifted his stein. “Mighty good ale Pepper’s brewing.”

Johnson nodded. “Learned it from Potts, I reckon.”

The bloke at table was Lovett Mellen, a young captain from Hopkinton, some 50 miles west. The China hand was Sam Johnson, who lived up the road here in Scituate, home to the largest shipyard outside Boston. It was late autumn on the coast, eight months after Jefferson’s victory.

The two watched welders fasten the metal. A ferry to the city tacked towards sea. Johnson replaced his stein on the table. “So your old man tells me you’re keen to trade sandalwood.”

“They’re paying $1,000 a ton in Canton. In porcelain, of course.”

“Sun Shing?”

Mellen shook his head. “How Qua.”

“Is that a fact? Well, even better.”

“And Tom tells me the Fidjians are giving it away.” Back on dock, a team was shining the copper.

The veteran grew serious. “Don’t go to Fidji, Lovett. No joy there.”

“Says who?

“Buggs just got back. It’s been ten years now. The lads have bled it dry.”

“Goddam, Sam.” The youth sighed. “Samoa, you reckon?”

Johnson shook his head. “Tonga, mate.”

“Ton-ga? Where the devil’s that?”

“Sou’east some. Five hundred miles, I reckon. Give or take.”

“An island?”

“Slew of ‘em. But Tongatabu’s your ticket.”


“Aye, their big smoke. Such as it is.”

Lovett chuckled. “There’s sandal’ there?”

The old man shrugged. “Not a lot. But what they got …” The young man pointed at himself while Johnson nodded. “Aye, mate. All yours.”

Second excerpt

{The chief's daughter teaches Elizabeth – known to the tribe as Lolohea – the expressive ula dance.}

Lolohea learned the ula on the beach behind her fale. “There are four movements,” her instructor explained: “the Vete, the Haʻotā, the Tongiʻone, and the Tui.” Lolo's friend Patrick would later describe the phases as the unraveling, the enveloping, the dressing of the hair, and the threading. Not that the names particularly matched the movements.

Unlike most Hifan women, Matala was tall and lithe, which imbued her advice with further authority. “First, the Vete,” she began. “Right hand on top, left hand on bottom – both with palms out. The right drops diagonally down, whilst the left rises diagonally up. No, Lolo, they must cross midway – that''s right – and as they cross the palms … yes, flip in. There you go.

“Alright, now the Haʻotā. First clap your hands. Good. Then wrap them around one another. No, close to each other … but not touching though. That's it. Wrap four or five times … fine … then separate the hands with the palms facing towards you. Left hand to the left, right hand to the right. Perfect.”

Lolohea smiled. “This is easier than I thought.”

“Our dances aren't difficult,” her teacher replied. “Yet excelling takes years of practice.”

“Well, they can put me in the back row!” Lolohea quipped. The two women giggled.

“Okay, now the Tongiʻone. A wee more complicated. Right hand up, palm facing out. Left hand midway, palm facing down. Then raise the left in an attempt to slice the crease of the right. The crease of the palm, yes. But just as it meets the crease, ʻai owai! – both hands flee the conflict by wrapping around one another a couple of times. And it ends with both palms facing you. That's right. Good.

“Okay, the final movement: the Tui. Ready? Both palms down, slide the left over the right … and as you cross … twist the palms up. Easy, eh?”

love pair


Whirlwind recounts the gripping story of an island’s liberation from the clutches of an outmoded Dutch theocracy. Operating through the wedge of a cooperative market, British insurgent Philip Ladd teams with rebel princess Hiomarū to subvert the spiritual and economic hegemony of the Order and launch the Pacific’s most vibrant democracy.



About the Author

Like the heroic Galileo, astronomer Cornelis Fredericus Velt combines a passionate interest in cosmology with an uncompromising insistence on free enquiry. Within his field, he is the author of the definitive monograph on Tonga's night sky. Yet it is his perennial defence of critical thinking that since 2017 has impelled Tonga's ʻAtenisi Institute to annually elect him its President.

Sole excerpt

{The U.K. consul to the Kingdom of Tafirifiri offers covert support to Philip and Hiomarū.}

We next visited the mansion of the resident U.K. consul, located just above a spur that runs from Maungamatiti down to the sea. One side of the villa offers sumptuous quarters, the other a modern office. Picture as well the veranda, with a commanding seaview through the palms. And note that the altitude forever insures a bracing breeze, even in summer.

Hiomarū and I arrived on a bright January afternoon. His Excellency opened the door, revealing a polished diplomat in his sixties. «Ah, Philip and his lady friend. Welcome to you both.» Then grinned. «Barely four days on the island, my good man, and you’ve already female companionship.»

I thanked His Excellency for his invitation but implored him to address Hiomarū by name.

«Very well, I shall,» he agreed. «Hiomarū it ‘tis.»

After an elegant luncheon, I noticed a copy of Paul Duval’s book on the coffeetable, L’ethnographie de l’île de Tafirifiri. «Ah yes, the original French edition,» our host explained. «Back home it sells as The ethnography of Whirlwind Island. Some think it outdated, but I find it striking how much of what Duval describes remains valid – not the least the way the Dutch maintain their hegemony here.

«And that brings us to my invitation, Philip. I wish to alert you that upon this island you’re either a friend of the Order or an ally of the insurgents. Choosing one renders you the enemy of the other.» He smiled. «But I reckon you’ve already opted. Your strategic management of the Cooperative is a mortal threat to the monopoly.»

Then sighed. «I should tell you the first day you opened the centre, the Reverend Gent called upon me.»

«Complaining of competiton?» my companion wondered.

«Precisely, Hiomarū. And demanding we quash it in the cradle on the grounds Philip is British. ‹Overseas imperialism› ran the argument. Of course I had to explain the embassy must remain neutral regarding commercial matters. ‹But what of their license?› he pressed on. In the end I referred him to the Ministry.»

The aforementioned Order, dear Reader, is the Society for the Dissemination of the Faith, founded in Friesland nearly two centuries ago to bring Indonesia to Christ. It retains the Calvinist presumption that God has already decided which soul is destined for heaven or hell. Its mission on Tafirifiri is to annoint the few natives destined for bliss, whilst negotiating a merciful damnation for the remainder. The alibi the clerics deploy to moderate perdition is ‹tidak sadar› — Javanese for unaware.

«You are fortunate, Philip,» the ambassador continued, «that the Prime Minister is overseas. The acting PM will take no action against the Cooperative.»

«Custom, I suppose.»

«No, the law, man, of which I reckon he has been thoroughly briefed.» He sipped his wine. «Now about the requirement every resident attend church on Sunday.»

«The pastor on Vakarua — » Hiomarū interjected.

The ambassador waved his hand. «No, no, Hiomarū. No need to patronise a renegade; in the end the police will close him down and Philip will be marked.» I shrugged. «No, the better solution is Anglican mass here at the compound. Serves my attaché and his family –» he put down his glass – «well, along with the odd British visitor.»

«They will accept that?»

He raised his eyebrows. «Oh, they must. The Order never challenges the consulate.» Then winked. «£5 million per year.»

The Next PLR Excerpt can be from your Unpublished Novella


Prize-winning storyteller Dahlia Malaeulu [pictured right] has inspired young Samoans to tell their own tala. PLR wants to tell such stories to the world!

So we invite not only Samoans – but Polynesian authors from Aotearoa to Rapa Nui – to submit excerpts from their unpublished novellas in English … or in their native language with English translation. Novellas ought not exceed 40,000 words whilst excerpts ought not exceed 1000. Simply summarise your novella and biography in no more than 200 words each and attach no more than three excerpts. Then e-mail the packet to: editor@polylit.org.

PLR headquarters in the Kingdom of Tonga