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Tuʻi Tonga Empire

Tuʻi Tonga Empire
Islands within the sphere of influence of the Tongan Empire
Islands within the sphere of influence of the Tongan Empire
Tuʻi Tonga 
• 950 CE
• 1827–1865
• ʻAhoʻeitu brought his faction to Samoa
• the title Tuʻi Tonga was abolished

The Tuʻi Tonga Empire, or Tongan Empire, are descriptions sometimes given to Tongan expansionism and projected hegemony in Oceania which began around 950 CE, reaching its peak during the period 1200–1500.

It was centred in Tonga on the island of Tongatapu, with its capital at Muʻa. Modern researchers and cultural experts attest to widespread Tongan influence, evidence of transoceanic trade and exchange of material and non-material cultural artefacts.


Beginning of Tongan expansionism

As Samoa's Tui Manuʻa maritime empire began to decline, a new empire rose from the South.[1] In about 950 AD, the first Tuʻi Tonga 'Aho'eitu started to expand his rule outside of Tonga. According to leading Tongan scholar Dr. 'Okusitino Mahina, the Tongan and Samoan oral traditions indicate that the first Tuʻi Tonga was the son of their god Tangaloa.[1] As the ancestral homeland of the Tuʻi Tonga dynasty and the abode of deities such as Tagaloa ʻEitumatupuʻa, Tonga Fusifonua, and Tavatavaimanuka, the Manuʻa islands of Samoa were considered sacred by the early Tongan kings.[2] By the time of the 10th Tuʻi Tonga Momo, and his successor, Tuʻitātui, the Tuʻi Tonga Empire had grown to include much of the former domains of the Tui Fiti and Tui Manuʻa, with the Manuʻa group being the only exception, remaining under Tui Manuʻa rule. To better govern the large territory, the Tuʻi Tonga had their throne moved by the lagoon at Lapaha, Tongatapu. The influence of the Tuʻi Tonga was renowned throughout the Pacific, and many of the neighbouring islands participated in the widespread trade of resources and new ideas.

Expansion (1200–1500)

Under the 10th Tuʻi Tonga, Momo and his son Tuʻitātui (11th Tuʻi Tonga) the empire was at its height of expansion, tributes for the Tuʻi Tonga were said to be exacted from all tributary chiefdoms of the empire. This tribute was known as the ʻInasi and was conducted annually at Mu'a following the harvest season when all countries that were subject to the Tuʻi Tonga must bring a gift for the gods, who was recognized as the Tuʻi Tonga.[3] Captain Cook witnessed an Inasi ceremony in 1777, in which he noticed a lot of foreigners in Tonga, especially darker people from Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.[citation needed] The finest mats of Samoa (ʻie tōga) are incorrectly translated as "Tongan mats;" the correct meaning is "treasured cloth" ("ie" = cloth, "tōga" = female goods, in opposition to "oloa" = male goods).[4] Many fine mats came into the possession of the Tongan royal families through chiefly marriages with Samoan noblewomen, such as Tohuʻia, the mother of the first Tuʻi Kanokupolu, Ngata, who came from Safata, ʻUpolu, Samoa. These mats, including the Maneafaingaa and Tasiaeafe, are considered the crown jewels of the current Tupou line[5] (which is derived matrilineally from Samoa).[6] The success of the Empire was largely based upon the Imperial Navy. The most common vessels were long-distance double-canoes fitted with triangular sails. The largest canoes of the Tongan kalia type could carry up to 100 men. The most notable of these were the Tongafuesia, ʻĀkiheuho, the Lomipeau, and the Takaʻipōmana. It should be mentioned that the Takaʻipōmana was actually a Samoan kalia; according to Queen Sālote and the Palace Records this was the Samoan double-hulled canoe that brought Tohuʻia Limapō from Sāmoa to wed the Tuʻi Haʻatakalaua.[6] The large navy allowed for Tonga to become wealthy with large amounts of trade and tribute flowing into the royal treasury.[citation needed]

Decline of Tuʻi Tonga and two new dynasties

The Tuʻi Tonga decline began due to numerous wars and internal pressure. In the 13th or 14th centuries, the Samoans had expelled the Tongans from their lands after Tuʻi Tonga Talakaifaiki was defeated in battle by the brothers Tuna, Fata, and Savea, progenitors of the Malietoa family. In response, the falefā was created as political advisors to the Empire. The falefā officials were initially successful in maintaining some hegemony over other subjected islands but increased dissatisfaction led to the assassination of several rulers in succession. The most notable were, Havea I (19th TT), Havea II (22nd TT), and Takalaua (23rd TT), who were all known for their tyrannical rule. In AD 1535, Takalaua was assassinated by two foreigners while swimming in the lagoon of Muʻa. His successor, Kauʻulufonua I pursued the killers all the way to ʻUvea, where he killed them.[7]

Because of so many assassination attempts on the Tuʻi Tonga, Kauʻulufonua established a new dynasty called the Ha'a Takalaua in honour of his father and gave his brother, Moʻungamotuʻa, the title of Tuʻi Haʻatakalaua. This new dynasty was to deal with the everyday decisions of the empire, while the position of Tuʻi Tonga was to be the nation's spiritual leader, though he still controlled the final say in the life or death of his people. The Tuʻi Tonga Empire at this period becomes Samoan in orientation as the Tuʻi Tonga kings themselves became ethnic Samoans who married Samoan women and resided in Samoa.[8] Kauʻulufonua's mother was a Samoan from Manu'a,[9] Tuʻi Tonga Kauʻulufonua II and Tuʻi Tonga Puipuifatu had Samoan mothers and as they married Samoan women the succeeding Tuʻi Tonga – Vakafuhu, Tapu'osi, and 'Uluakimata – were allegedly more "Samoan" than "Tongan".[10]

Samoan influence and the rise of the Tuʻi Kanokupolu

In Samoa, the high chief of Safata, Ama Lele married Soliʻai, a daughter of the Tui Manuʻa. They produced a son Peseta, who was to become the next Ama, and a daughter, Tohuʻia Limapo. Herewith contains the connection to the Tongan royal lineage through Tohuʻia Limapo. Limapo travelled to Tonga with her father Ama Lele, at the express request of the 6th Tuʻi Haʻatakalaua of Tonga, to marry Ama Lele's daughter Limapo. Limapo travelled with a large wedding party, which consisted of the Ama family and the Safata warriors under the charge of Ama Lele.

The product of this marriage was Ngata. In 1610, the 6th Tuʻi Haʻa Takalaua, Moʻungatonga, created the position of Tuʻi Kanokupolu for the half-Samoan Ngata which divided regional rule between them, though as time went on the Tu’i Kanokupolu's power became more and more dominant over Tonga. This title granted Ngata considerable power and provided a strong foundation for his new title of Tuʻi Kanokupolu, (translated as the "Heart of Upolu", a direct homage to his mother's heritage. The Tuʻi Kanokupolu dynasty oversaw the importation and institution of many Samoan policies and titles and according to Tongan scholars, this "Samoanized" form of government and custom continues today in the modern Kingdom of Tonga.[11] Things continued in this manner afterward. The first Europeans arrived in 1616, when the Dutch explorers Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire spotted Tongans in a canoe off the coast of Niuatoputapu, followed by Abel Tasman. These visits were brief, however, and did not significantly change the island.[citation needed]

The dividing line between the two moieties was the old coastal road named Hala Fonua moa (dry land road). Modern chiefs who derive their authority from the Tuʻi Tonga are still named the Kau Hala ʻUta (inland road people), while those from the Tuʻi Kanokupolu are known as the Kau Hala Lalo (low road people). Concerning the Tuʻi Haʻatakalaua supporters: when this division arose, in the 15th century, they were of course the Kauhalalalo. But when the Tuʻi Kanokupolu had overtaken them they shifted their allegiance to the Kauhalaʻuta.[citation needed]

Modern scholarship

Modern archeology, anthropology, and linguistic studies confirm widespread Tongan cultural influence ranging widely[12][13] through East ʻUvea, Rotuma, Futuna, Samoa, and Niue, parts of Micronesia (Kiribati and Pohnpei), Vanuatu, and New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands,[14] and while some academics prefer the term "maritime chiefdom",[15] others argue that, while very different from examples elsewhere, "empire" is probably the most convenient term."[16]

See also


  1. ^ a b see writings of Ata of Kolovai in "O Tama a Aiga" by Morgan Tuimalealiʻifano; writings by Mahina, also coronation edition of Spasifik Magazine, "The Pacific Islands: An Encyclopedia," edited by Lal and Fortune, p. 133etc.
  2. ^ "The Pacific Islands: An Encyclopedia," edited by Lal and Fortune, p. 133
  3. ^ St. Cartmail, Keith (1997). The art of Tonga. Honolulu, Hawai'i: University of Hawai'i Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-8248-1972-9.
  4. ^ the Tongan linguistic analogue is "toʻonga", see
  5. ^ Kie Hingoa, 'Named Mats,' 'le Tôga 'Fine. Mats' and Other Treasured Textiles of Samoa and Tonga. Journal of the Polynesian Society, Special Issue 108(2), June 1999
  6. ^ a b see Songs and Poems of Queen Salote edited by Elizabeth Wood-Ellem
  7. ^ Thomson, Basil (January 1901). "Note Upon the Natives of Savage Island, or Niue". The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 31: 137–145. doi:10.2307/2842790. JSTOR 2842790.
  8. ^ "The Pacific Islands: An Encyclopedia," edited by Lal and Fortune, p. 133; Gunson, Niel (1997). "Great Families of Polynesia: Inter-island Links and Marriage Patterns". Journal of Pacific History. 32 (2): 139–179. doi:10.1080/00223349708572835.; "Tongan Society," Edward Gifford; "Tongan Society at the Time of Captain Cook's Visits," Queen Salote, Bott and Tavi
  9. ^ Gunson, Niel (1997). "Great Families of Polynesia: Inter-island Links and Marriage Patterns". Journal of Pacific History. 32 (2): 139–179. doi:10.1080/00223349708572835.; also "Deconstructing the Island Group," Australian National University
  10. ^ Gunson, Niel (1997). "Great Families of Polynesia: Inter-island Links and Marriage Patterns". Journal of Pacific History. 32 (2): 139–179. doi:10.1080/00223349708572835.; "Tongan Society," Edward Gifford; "Tongan Society at the Time of Captain Cook's Visits," Queen Salote, Bott and Tavi
  11. ^ see "Planet Tonga". Archived from the original on 2006-03-05. Retrieved 2006-03-05. History of Tonga; 'Okusitino Mahina 2004; and journal articles
  12. ^ Recent Advances in the Archaeology of the Fiji/West-Polynesia Region" Archived 2009-09-18 at the Wayback Machine 2008: Vol 21. University of Otago Studies in Prehistoric Anthropology.]
  13. ^ "Hawaiki, Ancestral Polynesia: An Essay in Historical Anthropology", Patrick Vinton Kirch; Roger C. Green (2001)
  14. ^ "Geraghty, P., 1994. Linguistic evidence for the Tongan empire", Geraghty, P., 1994 in "Language Contact and Change in the Austronesian World: pp.236-39.
  15. ^ "Monumentality in the development of the Tongan maritime chiefdom", Clark, G., Burley, D. and Murray, T. 2008. Antiquity 82(318): 994-1004"
  16. ^ ["Pacific voyaging after the exploration period"], NEICH, R. 2006 in K.R. Howe (ed.) Vaka Moana, voyages of the ancestors: the discovery and settlement of the Pacific: 198-245. Auckland: David Bateman. p230
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Tuʻi Tonga Empire
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