This work examines some issues relating to specific social, political and ideological developments that have
shaped the pre-contact history of Tonga especially the puzzling ideas that revolve around the co-existence of
the three kingly lines that survived into the era of written record. There are competing versions of how each
dynasty came about and what kinds of contribution they accomplished. I endeavour to go further than what
current research has brought to light so far. In fact, current research on Tongan history is stagnant due to
some great lack in research methodology whereby easy problems cannot be logically deciphered. I believe
this is because present disciplinary guidelines limit the scope for attaining a deep understanding of things
not to mention the failure of comparative method (comparing chronologies in neighbouring islands) to
underpin the historical realities on offer. One of my main concerns in this study rests on how well the
contact period reflects the reality of what we may refer to as Tongan tradition or what is really traditional
about Tongan ways of life prior to the seventeenth century.
This thesis is designed to use Tongan genealogy as a guide in attempting to make sense of what the
European records can offer to our understanding of post-contact Tonga. Historical documentation in this
context refers simply to post-contact recording of events, whereas traditional history, ordered by genealogy,
gives us access to a more distant past. This work argues further that genealogy unravels an ever-presence of
conflicting tendencies that existed even in times where Tongan society was perceived to enjoy long-term
This thesis is aimed at a complete rethinking of political transformations in ancient Tongan polity and how
such transformations introduced new patterns of social, political and ideological realities that current
scholars have not yet recognised. I also show how genealogy is useful in determining the course of Tongan
political history, especially the major changes that took place a few centuries before contact with Europe
came about in the early 17th century AD.
In Chapter one, I introduce an alternative theory about the political history of Tonga since the inception of
the TK dynasty1. I also delineate how genealogy reflects major changes in all aspects of life in both pre-
contact and post-contact Tonga. In the light of this better understanding of Tongan political history I employ
Antonio Gramci’s dialectic to harness and clarify matters relating to social processes in the past that have
remained unexplained up to now. I discuss here the hegemony of the Tu’i Tonga dynasty i.e. how it was
achieved and maintained for over a thousand years from 450 AD until around 1500 AD when there was an
unsuccessful counter-hegemony by the Tu’i Ha’atakalaua line. In 1550 shortly after the Tu’i Ha’atakalaua
failure every commentator of Tongan society has overlooked another counter hegemony by the third
dynasty. The Tu’i Kanokupolu hegemony will be critically discussed with reference to a further counterhegemony
by the Tu’i Tonga by which strategy the old dynasty managed to survive a bit longer.
Chapter 2 then, offers a critique of old notions about Tongan society in works written mostly by the socalled
Polynesianist revisionists who have constantly revisited Tongan history for the past two decades. I
also show why Tongan traditionalists and scholars alike could not understand what had been happening in
This work focuses on the creation of the third dynasty in Tonga around 1550 AD. There are a number of
issues relating to this event that have not been discussed by any commentator of Tongan society so far.
These include the indirect but significant importation of a quasi-Samoan matai system that eventually
formed the basis of Tongan polity encountered by European explorers starting from Souten and Le Maire in
1616 during the reign of the third Tu’i Kanokupolu (Mataeletu’apiko), when the matai system was locally
practised in the narrow confines of Hihifo2. It had gained momentum at the time of Captain Cook’s last visit
in 1777. The system grew stronger and spread to all corners of the Tongan archipelago within the duration
of only two centuries.
It is the growth of this system that this study determines to underpin, as it will provide a more lucid
explanation for a number of important puzzles that still confuse contemporary historians. First, the reason
why and how the Tu’i Kanokupolu came into existence, the odd nature of Tu’i Kanokupolu political
practices, and the secrets behind the mass production of titles as family and extended family gifts plus how
these gifts determined the outcome of social, political, and religious activities that all three dynasties
engaged in, in their tensely unavoidable coexistence especially in the eighteenth century.
Chapter 3 - offers a general discussion of Ama’s possible schemes and plots. I argue in this part that Ama
was determined to recapture and rule Safata. In Samoa I identify a connection between a political struggle
(civil war) that took place in Upolu around 1500 – 1520 AD with the creation of the Tu’i Kanokupolu in
Tonga about 1550 AD. This war is discussed here for two reasons. First, it was an attempt by Samoan high
chiefs to create a centralised in Upolu state to be headed by a Samoan monarch for the first time in their
history. Second, the end result of this war affected Tonga more than Samoa since the vanquished Ama fled
from his district Safata to Tonga. This chapter concentrates on discussing the major players in the said war.
Chapter 4 – This part discusses Samoan politics at the time of Ama’s exile. I also unfold here the structure
of Samoan polity by discussing the matai system and how it generates political, social and religious
responsibilities among Samoan lives in general. This chapter discusses significant principles of Samoan
social and political organisation such as matai (title system), tafa’i (royal protector), faleupolu (political
advisors), ‘aiga (extended family), sa (family – royal lines), ali’i-pa’ia (sacred chief/district monarch), ali’i
(high chief), tulafale-ali’i (minor chief), and tulafale (chief’s attendant). These organisations will be
compared with the Tu’i Kanokupolu political system so that the resemblance is not confused with the Tu’i
Tonga and Tu’i Ha’atakalaua systems.
Chapter 5 - discusses with critical analyses the real characters of the Tu’i Kanokupolu political
establishment. Such discussion includes TK status, the conception of ‘ulutolu (chief’s protector), hingoa –
fakanofo (title system), falekanokupolu (political advisors), kainga (extended family), ha’a (titled chiefs
related to an original royal line), ‘eiki lahi (paramount chief), eiki (high chief), ‘eiki si’i (minor chief),
matapule (chief’s attendant). I argue in this part, that the TK political organisation is essentially structured in
Samoan fashion both in theory and in practice and I will show the basic difference between this system and
the quintessential Tu’i Tonga organisational principles described in the next chapter.
Chapter 6 – This chapter depicts the basic structure of the Tu’i Tonga political organisation and how it
countered the powerful hegemony of the TK expansion in the 17th and 18th centuries when there was an
internal struggle for political supremacy among the three ruling dynasties. I discuss here counter hegemony
by the Tu’i Tonga, which resulted in the creation of several new statuses such as the Tu’i Tonga fefine
(female Tu’i Tonga), tamaha (sacred being – female), falefisi (sacred house of Fiji). This chapter also
highlights the collision between the old political system and the new and also shows how the new system
paved its way to an undisputed status in the mid 19th century after the last conflict of 1852. I discuss the new
Tu’i Kanokupolu ha’a system and the kind of impact it propagated in the dominions of Tu’i Tonga and Tu’i
Chapter 7 – My main concern in this chapter rests on a case where a highborn female Tupou moheofo
successfully usurped the Tu’i Kanokupolu title and became the first female titleholder in this dynasty. She
was very ambitious and pried into politics on a number of occasions when she made attempts to
revolutionise the norm of Tongan tradition such as her well known move to dethrone her husband Tu’i
Tonga Pau in favour of their son Fuanunuiava and also her desperate instigation to abolish the office of the
TK in the 1770s.
Chapter 8 – Discusses how TT Fuanunuiava aspired to obtain political authority and his strange ambition to
be named Tu’i Kanokupolu after the death of TK Mumui in 1798. Why should a Tu’i Tonga vie to be
named TK will be discussed here in great detail.
Chapter 9 - Conclusion – general summing up of debates and arguments.