The King of Tonga and the Swiss wrestling festival

This content was published on August 25, 2019 - 11:00
Luca Beti, Motueka, New Zealand, Adapted from Italian

Tupou VI was crowned King of Tonga in 2015. 2015 Getty Images

There is a new Swiss wrestling king, but his victories will have been watched by a real king: Tupou VI of the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific. The monarch is closely linked to Switzerland through a friendship. The history behind it goes back 130 years. 

Hundreds of thousands of people have this weekend been following the bouts at the Federal Swiss Wrestling and Alpine FestivalExternal link in Zug, central Switzerland. With rolled-up sleeves, 276 wrestlers will try to get their opponent on their back in the sawdust by grabbing their shorts and lifting them off the ground. At the end, a king is crowned. 

+ Read more about the festival and other foreign participants here 

The spectacle has been watched by a real king: Tupou VI from the Kingdom of TongaExternal link in Polynesia on the other side of the world, who attended the festival on Saturday. The reason for this lies in a friendship between two families: that of the King of Tonga and that of Family Müller in Zug. 

“In 1885 my great-grandfather Philipp Gotthard Müller travelled from Zug to the island of Tonga,” explains Luka Müller. “He went in search of his brother, who had gone on an adventure and never returned.” 

Philipp Müller’s journey was also dangerous, at a time when the ship journey took several months. When he arrived on the island, he found no trace of his missing brother.  

And he, too, would not return to Switzerland from Tonga. First, he couldn’t find the ship that was meant to take him home – the next one would arrive three months later – and then he fell in love with a local, Philomena Lauitiiti or Manono Luatutu, whom he married in 1889. The couple went on to have 12 children. 

Love story 

“At the beginning of the 20th century one of the sons – my grandfather Robert Müller – was sent by his father to Switzerland to study,” says Luka Müller. “At the University of Zurich he met a student from Belgrade, one of the first female medical students from abroad.”  

They got married and some time around 1920 they returned to Tonga.  

“My grandfather took care of coconut, banana and vanilla plantations, while my grandmother, a doctor, took care of the sick and the people who needed her help. My father, Andrew Philipp Müller, was born in 1928. Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, my grandfather returned to Switzerland with his entire family.” 

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The other sons and daughters of Philipp Gotthard Müller, who died in 1913, remain on the island and today, more than 130 years after his departure from Zug, between 80 and 100 people bear the surname Müller in Tonga; another 20 to 30 live on Fiji.  

Development projects 

Those who have returned to Switzerland have never forgotten their distant relatives.  

“Our family has been supporting development projects on the island for decades,” explains Luka Müller, who has been responsible for coordinating the initiatives for years. 

Once or twice a year he flies from Zurich to Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga. He visits relatives, checks the progress of the programmes and always meets the current king, George Tupou VI, whom he can almost call a friend. 

“We’re currently supporting four initiatives in the areas of sustainable tourism, renewable energy, agricultural production and financing the reconstruction of some buildings destroyed by Cyclone Gita in 2018,” he says. 

During one of his trips to the Polynesian archipelago in 2017, Müller was accompanied by the then Mayor of Baar, a municipality of Zug, Andreas Hotz, and the then Swiss Ambassador to New Zealand, David Vogelsanger.  

“On November 5, 2017, we were received by Tupou VI. We handed him the invitation from the Zug government and the Organising Committee to attend the Federal Wrestling Festival,” Hotz remembers. King Tupou accepted shortly after. 

Bilateral relations  

“It is not an official trip by the King of Tonga to Switzerland,” explained Noémie Charton, a Swiss foreign ministry spokeswoman. But the King will have informal meetings with Swiss President Ueli Maurer and Economics Minsiter Guy Parmelin.  

Official diplomatic relations External linkbetween Switzerland and Tonga have existed since 1985. 

These are maintained by the Swiss embassy in Wellington, New Zealand. 

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