Moleni’s White Shirt

Moleni hurried to finish weaving his palm-leaf basket. He tucked the last end in and raced toward the water. When the tide was low, he and other boys collected fingota (shellfish) for supper. Their moms would steam them with vegetables from their gardens.

Hurrying home with his fingota, Moleni ran into the yard and picked breadfruit to eat with the shellfish. On the way to his house he had found several coconuts to add to his bounty.

His mother was preparing supper in the kitchen, a small room separate from the house.

“Here, Mother,” he said, giving her the food that he’d brought. “May I go now?”

“Yes, dear, but don’t be gone long. Supper’s almost ready.”

Moleni knew that his mother thought that he was going swimming, but today he had something more important to do!

Moleni needed money to buy a new white shirt. He was to be ordained a deacon on Sunday, and he wanted to honor his priesthood by dressing properly. His father, Tevita Finau, had been a missionary and had been known in the Tongan islands as a very faithful member of the Church. Moleni wanted to be just like him; he wanted to look like the missionary picture his mother had of his father.

Since his father’s death, his mother supported the family by selling crops from their garden. She also sold copra (dried coconut meat). For all her hard work, she earned only fourteen dollars for every ton of copra that she dried. There was never enough money.

Moleni had to earn the money for the shirt himself. He didn’t want his mother to even guess how important it was to him—she had enough to worry about. Only his Primary teacher and his best friend, Sione, knew about his plans.

Weeks ago he had planted talo (taro, a starchy root) in a place in their garden where his mother wouldn’t find it. Now it was ready to take to the market. Sister Fonua, his Primary teacher, had said that she would sell it there for him, and tomorrow was market day.

Swiftly Moleni dug up the roots. He washed off the dirt, wrapped the roots in wet leaves, and placed them in a basket. Gathering up the basketful of talo together with mats and baskets that he had woven to sell, he walked as fast as he could to Sister Fonua’s home.

She pulled back the leaves and looked at the roots. “That’s the best talo I’ve seen,” she said. “I’m sure that it will sell well.” She looked at the empty baskets. “These baskets are tight and well woven too. But, Moleni,” she added unhappily, “this still won’t bring enough money.”

The boy’s heart sank. He had worked so hard. “If I catch some fish to sell, too, will it be enough?” he asked anxiously.

“It wouldn’t be enough for a ready-made shirt,” she said after thinking for a minute, “but I could buy enough material to make you one myself.”

“Thank you, Sister Fonua,” Moleni told her gratefully as he hurried away. “I’ll bring the fish early in the morning.”

On his way home he stopped at Sione’s and asked if he wanted to go fishing too.

“What are you up to?” his mother asked as he gulped his supper. “You’ve been acting funny lately.”

“Sione is going fishing with me,” he answered. “I don’t want to be late.”

“We could use some fish for breakfast,” his mother said, smiling at him as he finished his supper. She was proud of Moleni. She knew that he worked hard to help feed the family.

“There will be fish for breakfast,” he promised her.

Sione was already at the beach when Moleni got there. Neither of the boys owned a fishing pole or a boat, so they speared fish in the shallow water of the tide pools.

Sione was sending fish to market too. He and his brothers helped provide for their family also. They laughed together as they worked, and they worked hard. But by sundown, they had just three kiokio (a kind of fish) each.

“You can have my fish,” Sione offered. “I can catch some more tomorrow.”

“No,” Moleni answered. “Your family needs money too.”

They sat on the sand to think. Suddenly Moleni jumped up. “There is enough fish,” he said.

“Huh? How do you figure that?” Sione asked.

“There’s enough kiokio to send to market if we have something else, too,” Moleni told his friend. “There’s one thing that my family would rather have than kiokio: ‘uo (lobster).”

“Why didn’t I think of that?” Sione exclaimed. “Let’s go get my maama kasa (lantern). We’ll need it to find the ‘uo in the dark.”

The boys ran back to Sione’s home. They put their kiokio in water to stay fresh, then returned to the beach. It was very dark. The light from the maama kasa showed many scurrying ‘uo. Careful to not get pinched by the big claws, they grabbed the lobsters and put them into woven baskets.

“We’ll have a feast tomorrow!” Sione whooped. “These are the biggest ‘uo that I’ve ever seen.”

“There’s enough to give Sister Fonua a basketful, too,” Moleni said happily. “It can be a thank-you gift from me.”

“Sunday is just three days away,” Sione said with concern. “Will she have time to make your shirt?”

“I don’t know. But I know that she’ll do it if she can. And won’t mother be surprised if I show up for church in a white shirt?”

Early the next morning Sione and Moleni took their fish and lobsters to Sister Fonua. She was pleased with the fish and the ‘uo.

“This is enough,” she told Moleni. “And the shirt will be ready for Sunday.”

The next two days seemed to last forever. Moleni could hardly eat or sleep. His mother watched him anxiously, afraid that he was sick.

Finally Sunday came. Moleni slipped out early with his clean clothes and hurried to the meeting-house. There was a trough there where children could bathe—he wanted to be clean for the Sabbath!

Moleni bathed slowly and carefully. When he put on his new shirt, he felt truly special. He knew that his father would be proud of him.

He walked back home and went to the kitchen. His mother turned as he came in the door.

“Moleni! Where did you get that shirt?” Tears rolled down her cheeks as she looked at him. “You look just like your father.”

Moleni grinned. “I earned the money for the material, and Sister Fonua made it for me.”

It was a proud family that walked to church that day. Sister Fonua and Moleni’s mother both beamed when Moleni passed the sacrament. The Finau family had the priesthood in their home again!

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dick Brown