10 May 2013

Some Justice for Jack

Copyright © 2013 by Thomas Gangale

The killer of one-year-old dog Siaki "Jumping Jack" Fainga'a faced judgment on 7 May in Fasi, Nuku'alofa, Kingdom of Tonga.

Dylan Gangale and Jack Fainga'a

Jack was killed between 2am and 2:30am on 8 April on the edge of a vacant field adjacent to the Tonga International Academy campus in Fanga. According to an eyewitness, the killer used food to lure Jack to the back of a flatbed truck, then delivered two blows to his head with a club. The eyewitness heard the killer say to the driver of the vehicle, "This is a good looking dog," as he picked up Jack's lifeless body and threw it onto the bed of the truck. The truck left the scene immediately; however, the eyewitness wrote down the license plate number, which led police to identify the killer. He turned out to be distantly related to one of the Academy's instructors. Apparently, he had recently attended a fai kava (a traditional Tongan social event) at the Academy, where Jack resided with Marilyn Dudley-Flores and Thomas Gangale.

"Scorn of the Death of Jack" 
by Tevita Latu

There is rumored to be a black market in dog meat in Tonga. Dog is a traditional food of Tongans and of the immigrant Chinese community. However, as Tonga urbanizes, more Tongans are keeping dogs as house pets. Also there is a growing palangi ("white people") community, predominately from New Zealand, Australia, and the United States. Accordingly, dogs are acquiring a higher status in Tongan society. A high government official who keeps several dogs advised that the matter of Jack's killing not be handled privately within the family in the traditional Tongan way, rather that it proceed through the courts to exact the maximum penalty. "This sort of thing has to stop."

The court's proceedings on 7 May were conducted in Tongan, but this is a sense of what occurred. The defendant, a Tongan male in his 20s, admitted his guilt and asked for leniency. He claimed that he had apologized to Dudley-Flores and Gangale, and he had tried to make restitution. In fact, Dudley-Flores and Gangale never met the defendant until his court appearance, and his effort at restitution amounted to giving his distant cousin an unweaned puppy to give to them. While Marilyn openly wept, the judge appeared to admonish the defendant that a tiny puppy was inadequate compensation for killing a full-grown dog who was a beloved companion. In a brief conference outside the courtroom, the defendant asked the aggrieved party for mercy. Marilyn shook her finger in his face, "You came to fai kava at my house, maybe even ate food that I prepared, and you killed my dog! I served in Afghanistan and I am a Vietnam Era vet. You will get no mercy from me!" She demanded TOP$2,000 from him immediately or he could face the judge. Back in the courtroom a few minutes later, the judge ordered the defendant to pay restitution of TOP$2,000 in two weeks or serve six months in jail.

Students and instructors at the Academy are pleased with the outcome of the case. The police are to be commended for bringing Jack's killer to justice. Moreover, the judge is to be praised for throwing the book at the defendant rather than treating his crime lightly; his tough stance is evidence of changing Tongan attitudes and values.

However, not to rain on the police's parade, cracking this case was scarcely the work of a Sherlock Holmes; the defendant was the lowest hanging fruit, easily identified through his truck's license plate number. Meanwhile, troubling questions remain unanswered. Did the defendant identify the driver of the truck? If so, have the police questioned him? What other individuals do the defendant and his accomplice know who kill and sell in the dog meat black market? Who are some of the regular buyers in this market? "This sort of thing" in unlikely to stop as long as there is such a market, and this market will continue as long as the harder questions go unanswered. Pursuing these questions and suppressing this market will require the political will to make this goal a police priority. Is there a constituency to motivate such political will? After all, dogs don't vote; therefore people must be their political voice. Jack was lucky--if one may call it so--in that his killing was witnessed, and as a result some justice was served. Unlucky are the many dogs of Tonga who are killed in the dead of night and who go unmourned, and unlucky are those people who do care for their dogs and can only grieve privately, never knowing why their beloved family member didn't come home one night, never knowing how many Tongan families just like theirs have suffered an unexplained disappearance.

Thomas Gangale's Tales of Tonga