At the age of eight, Mr. Haniteli Fa’anunu was given his ‘api ‘uta (tax allotment land) by the Government on the cultural property of the famous ‘Ene’io Beach, in the village of Tu’anekivale, eastern coast of lush Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga. As the founder of the one and only Botanical Garden in Tonga, Haniteli did not want to be a farmer like the ordinary. “I always dreamed of doing something different here, not to be a farmer like everyone else. I wanted to do something special that would reflect my education” says Haniteli. He developed the botanical garden since 1972, when he returned to Tonga after graduated with a Bachelor of Science in agronomy from the University of Hawaii. His relatives were very skeptical and mocking the start of planting this garden, because trees grow everywhere. But it did not deter Haniteli’s from his dream and commitment to having a plant collection for preservation of different plant species. “We have limited resources with an ever increasing population, and we must preserve for the future”, says Haniteli.
Haniteli has planted over 40,000 plants over his 22 acres. The garden is planted in a freeform style where they are all mixed. This is the largest, most varied collection of over 100 plant families 500 plant cultivars in Tonga. It is a living seed bank for biodiversity. The garden is a reflection of Haniteli’s life and education. All the time while working for the Government of Tonga for 38 ½ years and being the Director of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for 18 ½ years, he was creating this magnificent botanical garden with half of his government salary. With his father’s support, he returned to Vava’u and cared for the garden until he passed away at the age of 94.
With his passion and love for conservation of Tonga’s unique flora, the ‘Ene’io Garden is one man’s lifetime incredible commitment to preserving the rich and diverse plant life of Tonga. But with no government support, the garden is a labour of love. Plants are everything to Haniteli, and have been passing the skills to his three young sons. “I often find a tree with almost all the branches on the ground and got irritated but I want to teach them at a young age”. His sons appreciate the ongoing work in the garden, and especially when the fruits are ready to be picked. “My sons would often sneak with their friends into the garden to pick the azarolla fruits and to show off to their friends as this exotic fruit tree is not available in the village”.
‘Ene’io Botanical Garden is a peaceful sanctuary. Much of Haniteli’s interest is in the preservation of the native plants of Tonga, although almost every Tongan variety is found in the garden, a good number have been introduced from abroad. But this stunning collection of flora would have not been completed without the passion of his wife Lucy introducing the ornamental plants. The beautiful ginger and many flower plants are the fine touch of her passion into the garden. She uses the flower in her floral arrangement, and leaves like ginger (tevunga) as fragrances on her popular body massage oils.
The garden is a long-term investment. It has been hidden for decades until Haniteli and his family officially commissioned the opening to the public on August 22 of 2006. He chose his birthday when he turned 60. “It is the best gift on my 60th birthday”, Haniteli says.
The garden is now supported by income from guided tours, sponsors, donations, and the restaurant and bar as well as the gift shop that stocks organic products processed by Haniteli and Lucy.