‘avanga. (1) n., sickness caused (or believed to be caused) by a fa’ahikehe or tevolo. (2) (=prec.), v.i., to be fascinated or strongly attracted to, a girl (or a boy), as if enchanted or bewitched by her (or him). (3) v.i to develop a terrible craze for , as if bewitched ; to beinfatuated. (Churchward 1959)

The term ‘avanga has often been mistranslated or misintepreted as describing spirits when it actually describes behaviour caused by spirits or the symptoms of spirit involvement. There is a diversity of use of ‘avanga and for Emeline Lolohea ‘avanga is a term to describe one particular kind of fakamahaki (spirit caused sickness). For Dr Puloka ‘avanga is a base term to which he has added many other terms to define psychiatric disorders.

The two videos of Dr Puloka in 1998 and 2005 give some insight into his thinking and the translations he formulated. The other videos are from the xmas period in 2005 and from the documentary, Fun(d)raising: The Secret of Tongan Comedy. They offer a visual taste of the freedom that the xmas period affords to young people and to some of the ambiguities and complexity surrounding tevolo.

‘Avanga is also a key term in the documentary ‘The Healer and the Psychiatrist’ and is a meeting point between Emeline Lolohea and Dr Mapa Puloka’s practices. It opens discussion on the possible social causes of sickness that are either recognised or ignored by different practitioners, when they explain sickness in different ways for healing benefit.

It seems to me, though Emeline Lolohea may not directly assert the connection,  that social health is fundamental to the intention of Emeline Lolohea’s practice. How far from the ways that Emeline Lolohea and Dr Mapa Puloka explain the success of their treatment can we stray in order to make contributions to talanoa that will benefit the intention of encouraging and the creating the opportunities for healers and doctors to collaborate more?

Churchward’s dictionary translation of ‘avanga expresses an ambiguity in the reference to ‘or believed to be caused’ that reveals both a lack of neutrality but also the challenge of finding translations that do not end up being value judgements. The translation creates doubt in the existence of fa’ahikehe or tevolo, without acknowledging its own position in relation to knowledge of spirits. There is a similar kind of doubt in the language of many doctors towards traditional healing, without acknowledging the blind spots of the biomedical paradigm they are invested in.

One step toward more collaboration between healers and doctors, is for both to reveal and acknowledge what their own respective healing system hides, occludes or cannot really treat?


  1. This article gives more history and context to Dr Mapa Ha’ano Puloka’s interventions.
  2. Dr Puloka published an article in Pacific Health Dialogue in 1999 specifically on ‘avanga. ‘Avanga: Tongan concepts of mental illness. Mapa Ha’ano Puloka. Pacific Health Dialogue. vol 6, no 2 (1999), pp 268-74.
  3. This WHO publication give excellent historical context for Dr Puloka’s interventions. Puloka M, Funk M, Mulliez Z, Akau’ola S, Shields L, and Drew N. WHO Profile on mental health in development (WHO proMIND): Kingdom of Tonga. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2016. You can access it here.

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