Discourse on Nation Building (Part 4)
By Sione Tu’itahi
(Educator, writer and Executive Director of the Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand)
The Tongan concept fakapotopoto is a Tongan leadership and management model which is still relevant today.
The word fakapotopoto is the combination of the reduplication of poto (wise, clever) and the causative prefix faka, which means to cause something to be. The use of faka is extensive in Tongan, and reduplication is used also in other Polynesian languages, usually to convey the sense of continuous action, intensity or diminution.
Rabone (1845) translates fakapotopoto as “to act wisely or prudently”. Churchward (1959) defines poto as “to be clever, skillful; to understand what to do and be able to do it”. Schneider (1977) defines fakapotopoto as “prudence; wisdom; economy”. The concept of poto manifests itself in diverse forms although the essential meaning remains the same. For instance, the Tongan term for the circle is fuopotopoto (the shape of poto). This use of poto means that the shape of the circle represents napangapangamalie (balance), whole and complete. In other words, fuopotopoto is the shape of wisdom because it represents being inclusive, equal and fair to all parties.
As a second example, the usual seating arrangement of the cultural practice of drinking kava (a Tongan social drink) is usually circular. This format suggests universal participation and being inclusive.
Also, in the Tongan horticultural system of ‘ufi (yam) cultivation, a tuber ready for harvest is referred to as “kuo potopoto e fo‘i ‘ufi” (“the yam tuber has become wise”). This means the tuber is mature, with all its essential qualities fully developed: that particular yam is the best and most suitable for consumption or to use as a seedling for the next planting season.
Drawn from different Tongan activities and contexts, these examples of the use of poto suggest the concept is not only central in Tongan thinking but is widely applied.
The word fakapotopoto is often used when discussing Tongan leadership and management. For instance, when a Tongan uses his wisdom, knowledge and skills to manage his life successfully and help others, he is referred to as a tokotaha fakapotopoto, a wise and prudent person.
An intelligent but inexperienced person who embarks on a project and makes mistakes along the way is referred to as ko e potopoto- ‘a- niu- mui (clever but inexperienced person).
A person who is not fakapotopoto is called tokotaha fakavalevale (an unwise, not prudent, and extravagant person). Like many Tongan concepts, fakapotopoto encapsulates a body of accumulated knowledge, principles and skills based on time- tested practice and experiential research.
In the largely oral Tongan culture, pithy sayings and other literary devices, such as ta‘anga (poetical and/or musical compositions), fananga (folk tales) and talatupu‘a (creation myths and legends), are used to capture the essence of the wealth of knowledge, skills and qualities learnt, and therefore to help ease the transfer of this intellectual property to succeeding generations.
Scholarly research and analysis, combined with an in-depth understanding of Tongan culture, can unravel this accumulated knowledge, skills and experience that are clothed with brevity and symbolism in concepts such as fakapotopoto.
When looked at even more closely, fakapotopoto seems to have four major dimensions; taki fakapotopoto (strategic or wise and prudent leadership), pule fakapotopoto (effective/wise and prudent management), ngaue fakapotopoto (right/wise and prudent application of knowledge, skills and experience), and anga fakapotopoto (wise application of ethical or spiritual principles).
These dimensions are analysed separately for the purpose of learning and understanding, although they are all aspects of one tool. Consequently, the effectiveness of the term is best realized when its four dimensions are integrated, with latitude for overlapping.
The first dimension, taki fakapotopoto, refers to the ability of a person to see beyond the current, collective boundary and limits of the group, and to navigate unknown waters to reach new horizons that bring more opportunities for all.
The second dimension, pule fakapotopoto, is the ability of a leader to move beyond vision and strategy, to empower other members to own the vision and participate in implementing the strategy. It also refers to the capability of the leader to manage the implementation phase successfully, to make sure the desired goals are achieved to the standard and within the time- frame expected.
The third dimension of fakapotopoto is ngaue fakapotopoto, the use of knowledge and skills with wisdom and tact. Such actions ensure the steady progress of the group and offer learning opportunities.
The final dimension of anga fakapotopoto refers to the decision- making, planning and implementation processes, in which the leader adheres to spiritual and ethical principles to guide his or her anga (behaviour and action). Furthermore, the holistic wellbeing of the group is enhanced by the exemplary action and words of the leader, embodied in such principles as love and unity, reciprocity, respect, work for the collective good, justice, honesty and equity.
Fakapotopoto is one of many tools in the Tongan knowledge system of tala- e- fonua (wisdom and knowledge of the land or indigenous knowledge system). Tongan indigenous tools such as the fakapotopoto leadership model are not only valuable for understanding the past but, more importantly, can be useful in navigating the present and future.
Comments / Tālanga
Powered by Facebook Comments