Tongan jugglers

Tongan juggler, topless

Women, perhaps portraited on Malaspina's visit to Vavaʻu in 1793, performing different dances and games, including hiko (juggling). Source: Jennifer Shennam, via Wikimedia Commons.

I found this image while looking for juggling art to feature on this blog. It intrigued me, but I didn’t know anything about it.

Then I read a passage in Kit Summers’s Juggling With Finesse that shed some light on the woman juggling:

“When I was in Hawaii juggling with the wonderful juggler Barrett Felker I talked with a woman from Tonga, who told me that juggling was a game on her island. Only the women participated. They would see how many balls they could shower … One would bet another; she juggled until she missed then the other would take her turn. As many as 7 green tui tui nuts were showered. The women to whom I talked did not even know how to cascade 3, only how to shower them. The Los Angeles Times reported in 1978 that Nuku alofa on the island of Tonga may have more jugglers per square mile than any other place on earth.”

Steve Cohen went to Tonga to check it out, and learned the game is called hiko.

“Many girls could juggle five without even warming up,” he says.

I spent the last month or so learning the three-ball shower, and actually found it quite difficult. It’s impressive watching these girls shower three or more balls like a casual game of hopscotch, not even thinking about it, or giving a thought to how difficult it might be. That perceived difficulty is a real wall in learning how to juggle. If you make juggling out to be something that’s nearly impossible to do, it’s probably going to be much harder to learn than if you approach it with a more open attitude.

Here’s a 30-year-old video clip about the Tongan jugglers uploaded to YouTube by an entertainer in Auckland, New Zealand, who goes by Walnut the Clown. He says he is interested in preserving the memory of New Zealand entertainers.

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