28 Jun 2016

Tonga's oldest school celebrates 150 years

From , 5:00 am on 28 June 2016

Money rained from the sky in Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa last week as part of the lavish celebrations for the 150th anniversary of Tupou College.

A plane which flew above the country's oldest school scattering money is just one of the gifts given in the continuing week-long celebrations.

Established in 1866, Tupou College claims to be the oldest secondary school in the region.

Indira Stewart has more.

A group of old boys from the United States used a plane to scatter thousands of dollars worth of two and twenty dollar notes over Tupou College.

The school's principal Alifeleti Atiola says they are among many of the school's alumni association who have traveled from around the world to celebrate the anniversary.

He was just a 12-year-old student at the school when it celebrated its 100th anniversary and says this year's celebration is the biggest one yet.

ALIFELETI ATIOLA: An old boy of the school who is a pilot in the States - and the USA group had their presentation. They said "A member of our group is going to fly and he's going to throw out money. Some of the notes got into my yard and some of the notes got into my little pig sty.

Videos and photos went viral showing hundreds of students running to pick up the money scramble.

ALIFELETI ATIOLA: Someone from my house said "Oh kids came flying here looking in the trees and around the house. You know, look for the 2 dollar notes. Yeah, it was fun."

Viliami Tangi who is the general secretary of the alumni association says it was an unexpected gift.

VILIAME TANGI: (laughs) Well we were surprised. They said to me before they were taking some aerial photographs and I'm awaiting that part of it. Because an aerial picture of the occasion would be really great. Throwing down the money was a little fun (laughs).

Prior to the celebration, the school's brass band toured overseas to help raise money for the school's much needed renovations.

They returned with over 2 million US dollars from Tongan communities around the world.

Mr Atiola says this week's celebrations have raised another 1 million so far.

ALIFELETI ATIOLA: But not only the money that they brought with them but also they brought brass band instruments, and string instruments. They also brought tables and seats for our dining hall. Because our students were sitting on the floor and eating their food. But now they will sit on chairs to have their meals.

Viliami Tangi says it's been a great achievement.

VILIAMI TANGI: There's a general atmosphere of happiness and joy and thankfulness all over. Not only in the school and the old boys, but also in the church.

The celebrations were attended by descendants of the school's founder James Eagen Moulton and one of its first principals Alfred Wood, both Australian Methodist ministers.

Viliami Tangi says both families have kept close connections with Tonga and Mr Wood's son crowned Tonga's current King Tupou VI at last year's coronation.

Mr Tangi says Tupou College has played a huge part in shaping Tonga's history.

VILIAMI TANGI: You know the president of the church, the general secretary of the church and all the leaders of the Methodist church in Tonga and also other churches in Tonga - when they were in school they were trained in Tupou college. The Prime Minister of Tonga at the moment, him and seven other previous prime ministers - trained in this school. There's a great history to continue.

A new memorial building at the school has been launched by King Tupou VI alongside the first book on the school and its history as part of this week's celebrations.