Some early European commentators have propagated the notion of a pre-historic "Tui Tonga Empire"
or "Tongan Empire" in Oceania
Oceania is a region centered on the islands of the tropical Pacific Ocean. Conceptions of what constitutes Oceania range from the coral atolls and volcanic islands of the South Pacific to the entire insular region between Asia and the Americas, including Australasia and the Malay Archipelago...
This idea has long been a source of cultural pride among some Tongans even though it has been seriously challenged and generally discounted by modern archaeologists, historians, and Tongan scholars; the physical evidence for any long-term, successive "empire" is scanty at best and supported only by a handful of oral traditions which have been widely propagated as fact. Most modern researchers and cultural experts will eagerly attest to widespread Tongan influence and evidences of transoceanic trade and exchange of material and non-material cultural artifacts although the empirical evidence behind a true political empire ruled for any length of time by successive rulers is still lacking. However the notion of Tongan expansionism and projected hegemony is still a central cultural facet for many ethnic Tongans. Those who promote the existence of this "empire" assert that It was centered in Tonga
Tonga, officially the Kingdom of Tonga , is a state and an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, comprising 176 islands scattered over of ocean in the South Pacific...
on the island of Tongatapu
Tongatapu is the main island of the Kingdom of Tonga and the location of its capital Nukualofa. It is located in Tonga's southern island group, to which it gives its name, and is the country's most populous island, with approximately 71,260 residents , 70.5% of the national population...
at the capital of Mua
Mua is a small city in the Hahake district on the island of Tongatapu, and it was for centuries the ancient capital of Tonga. It is divided in the villages Lapaha and Tatakamotonga, is close to Talasiu and famous for the ancient langi .-Geography:Mua is situated along the eastern side of the...
. At its height, the empire stretched from Niuē
Niue , is an island country in the South Pacific Ocean. It is commonly known as the "Rock of Polynesia", and inhabitants of the island call it "the Rock" for short. Niue is northeast of New Zealand in a triangle between Tonga to the southwest, the Samoas to the northwest, and the Cook Islands to...
Tikopia is a small and high island in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. Covering an area of 5 km² , the island is the remnant of an extinct volcano. Its highest point, Mt. Reani, reaches an elevation of 380 m above sea level. Lake Te Roto covers an old volcanic crater which is 80 m...
and had an even greater sphere of influence
In the field of international relations, a sphere of influence is a spatial region or conceptual division over which a state or organization has significant cultural, economic, military or political influence....
Beginning of Tongan expansionism
In 950 AD Tu'i Tonga 'Aho'eitu started to expand his rule outside of Tonga. According to leading Tongan scholars, including Okusitino Mahina, the Tongan and Samoan oral traditions indicate that the first Tu'i Tonga was the son of their god Tangaloa
Tangaloa was an important family of gods in Tongan mythology. The first Tangaloa was the cousin of Havea Hikuleo and Maui, or in some sources the brother or son or father of them. He was Tangaloa Eiki Tangaloa was an important family of gods in Tongan mythology. The first Tangaloa was the cousin of...
. As the ancestral homeland of the Tu'i Tonga dynasty and the abode of deities such as Tagaloa 'Eitumatupu'a, Tonga Fusifonua, and Tavatavaimanuka, the Manu'a islands of Samoa were considered sacred by the early Tongan kings. By the time it comes to the 10th Tu’i Tonga Momo, and his successor, ‘Tu’itatui, the empire had already stretched from Tikopia in the west to Niue in the east. Their realm contained Wallis and Futuna, Tokelau, Tuvalu, Rotuma, Nauru, parts of Fiji, Marquesas, parts of the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Niue, Cook Islands, and parts of Samoa. To better govern the large territory, the Tu’i Tongas had their throne moved by the lagoon at Lapaha, Tongatapu. The influence of the Tu’i Tonga was renowned throughout the Pacific, and many of the neighboring islands participated in the widespread trade of resources and new ideas.
This era of ancient prosperity was not to last, however. In AD 1535,Takalaua, was assassinated by two foreigners while swimming in the lagoon of Mu'a. His successor, Kau’ulufonuafekai I sought the killers all the way to Futuna, where he killed them. Because of so many assassination attempts on the Tu'i Tonga, Kau'ulufonuafekai established a new dynasty called Tu'i Ha'atakalaua in honor of his father and he gave his brother Mo’ungamotu’a, the title of Tu’i Ha’a Takalaua. This new dynasty was to deal with the everyday decisions of the empire, while the position of Tu’i 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 Tu'i Tonga "empire" at this period becomes Samoan in orientation as the Tu'i Tonga kings themselves became ethnic Samoans who married Samoan women and resided in Samoa. Kau'ulufonua's mother was a Samoan from Manu'a , Tu'i Tonga Kau'ulufonua II and Tu'i Tonga Puipuifatu were genetically half-Samoan and as they married Samoan women the succeeding Tu'i Tongas - Vakafuhu, Tapu'osi, and 'Uluakimata - were allegedly more "Samoan" than "Tongan."
In 1610, the 6th Tu’i Ha’a Takalaua, Mo'ungatonga, created the position of Tu’i Kanokupolu for his half-Samoan son, 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. The Tu'i 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 Things continued this way for a long time 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, and the famous Abel Tasman followed soon after. These visits were brief, however, and did not change the island much at all.
Under the 10th Tui Tonga, Momo
Momo was the 10th Tui Tonga, a dynasty of mighty kings in Tonga, and lived somewhere in the 11th, maybe 12th century AD. He was named after one of the original gods of Tonga, a trio known as Kohai, Koau, mo Momo...
and his son Tuitātui (11th Tui Tonga) the empire was at its height of expansion, tributes for the Tu'i Tonga were said to be exacted from all tributary chiefdoms of the empire. This tribute was known as the " 'Inasi " and was conducted annually at Mu'a following the harvest season when all countries that were subject to the Tu'i Tonga must bring a gift for the gods, who was recognized as the Tu'i Tonga . Captain Cook witness an Inasi ceremony in 1777, in which he noticed a lot of foreigners in Tonga, especially the darker people that resembles African descend from Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu . The finest mats of Samoa ('i.e. toga) are incorrectly translated as "Tongan mats;" the correct meaning is "treasured cloth" ("ie" = cloth, "toga" = female goods, in opposition to "oloa" = male goods). Many fine mats came into the possession of the Tongan royal families through chiefly marriages with Samoan noblewomen, such as Tohu'ia the mother of Tu'i Kanokupolu Ngata who came from Safata, 'Upolu, Samoa. These mats, including the Maneafaingaa and Tasiaeafe, are considered the crown jewels of the current Tupou line (which is derived matrilineally from Samoa). 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
, the Lomipeau
, and the Takaipōmana
. It should be mentioned that the Takaipōmana was actually a Samoan kalia; according to Queen Salote and the Palace Records this was the Samoan double-canoe that brought Tohu'ia Limapō from Samoa to wed the Tu'i Ha'atakalaua. The large navy allowed for Tonga to become wealthy with large amounts of trade and tribute flowing into the Royal Treasury.
Decline of Tui Tonga and Two New Dynasties
The Tui Tonga decline began due to numerous wars and internal pressure. In the 13th or 14th century Sāmoa defeated Tu'i Tonga Talakaifaiki under the lead of the Malietoa
Malietoa is a state dynasty and chiefly title in Samoa. Literally translated as "great warrior," the title's origin comes from the final words of the Tongan warriors as they were fleeing on the beach to their boats, "Malie To`a, Malie tau"....
family. In response the falefā
Falefa is a village on the north east coast of Upolu island in Samoa. The village is part of the electoral constituency Anoamaa East which is within the larger political district of Atua.FAALUPEGA O FALEFA...
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. Takalaua's son and successor Kauulufonua I pursued his father's murderers for some time until they were finally apprehended on Uvea and consequently tortured.
The dividing line between the two moieties was the old coastal road named Hala Fonua moa
(dry land road). Still today the chiefs who derive their authority from the Tui Tonga are named the Kau hala uta
(inland road people) while those from the Tui Kanokupolu are known as the Kau hala lalo
(low road people). Concerning the Tui Haatakalaua supporters: when this division arose, in the 15th century, they were of course the Kauhalalalo. But when the Tui Kanokupolu had overtaken them they shifted their allegiance to the Kauhalauta.