Sione Falemanu, ex-prison commissioner for Tonga Prisons.
Reverend Fili Lilo, head of a collective of Tongan church ministers that assists members of the deportee community in Tonga.
Fofonga 'oe kau fakafoki
There are over 700 deportees in the small Pacific Island nation of Tonga. These individuals were born in Tonga and raised primarily in the United States, New Zealand or Australia before being deported back to Tonga for various offenses. For many of them coming back to Tonga, the land of their birth feels less like home and more like a foreign country because their primary cultural identity may be that of their host country.
The isolated islands of Tonga have a very strong Polynesian culture, and the returnees often have a difficult time finding a place in society. They must deal with negative stigma, as well as the task of (re)learning the intricate protocols that govern Tongan society. There is currently no comprehensive reintegration programme in place in Tonga to help these men and women reintegrate back into Tongan society.
I shot these portraits during the filming of the Vice NZ film Deportees of Tonga - Gangsters in Paradise, which I co-produced in October of 2018. Through these portraits I hope to capture the essence of who these men and women are in a humanistic way, while at the same time drawing awareness to their unique situation as essential foreigners in their own land.
I have intentionally left the names/descriptions off of those who are returnees, and I have only included the country that they were deported from. It is important to note that while these returnees did commit crimes that resulted in their deportation from their host country, they arrive back in Tonga as free individuals who have already paid their debts to the societies that they were expelled from.