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Tonga Visitors Bureau

Tonga Royal Family and Culture

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Tonga’s Royal Family, The House of Tupou, is descended from three ancient Dynasties:

Tu’i Tonga; Tu’i Ha’atakalaua and Tu’i Kanokupolu. The House of Tupou is a continuation of the Tu’i Kanokupolu Dynasty. The present monarch, King George V was sworn in as King on 11 September 2006 and is the 23rd Tu’i Kanokupolu.

King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV of Tonga (first row on the left), the current King's father, died on 10th September 2006. He was 88 and had been on the throne since the death of his mother in 1965. His son became the new King (second row on the right), crowned King Siaosi Tupou V on 1st August 2008.

More about the Tonga Royal Family here...

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The Tu'i Malila was the pet tortoise of the Tongan Royal Family and lived from 1777 to 1965. Captain James Cook gave the tortoise as a gift to the Tu’i Tonga ruling in 1777. The tortoise was named Tu'i Malila, or King of Malila, after a royal residence at the ancient capital Mu'a on Tongatapu. For generations Tu'i Malila was kept as the Royal pet. The tortoise's mortal remains are preserved at the Museum of the Tonga National Centre.

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, the Tongan and Samoan oral traditions indicate that the first Tu’i Tonga was the son of a Samoan Tui Manu’a who came to be deified as Tagaloa.

The Manu’a islands of Samoa were considered sacred by the early Tongan Kings as the ancestral homeland of the Tu’i Tonga dynasty and the abode of deities such as Tagaloa ‘Eitumatupu’a, Tonga Fusifonua, and Tavatavaimanuka. By the reign of the tenth Tu’i Tonga Momo and his successor, ‘Tu’itatui, the empire stretched from Tikopia in the west to Niue in the east. The realm contained Wallis and Futuna, Tokelau, Tuvalu, Rotuma, Nauru, Marquesas, Kiribati, Niue, Cook Islands and parts of Samoa, Fiji and the Solomon Islands. To better govern this enormous territory, the Tu’i Tongas moved the seat of power to 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 at Mu’a. His successor, Kau’ulufonuafekai I, pursued the murderers all the way to Futuna where he killed them. Due to repeated assassination attempts on the Tu’i Tonga, Kau’ulufonuafekai established a new dynasty and named it “Tu’i Ha’atakalaua” in honor of his father. Upon his brother Mo’ungamotu’a, he bestowed the title of Tu’i Ha’a Takalaua. The new dynasty was to manage the everyday matters of the empire and although the position of Tu’i Tonga developed into that of national spiritual leader, authority over final life or death decisions of the people remained within this role.


It was during this period that the Tu’i Tonga empire became Samoan in orientation. More ethnic Samoans ascended to the Tu’i Tonga throne, 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.”


Expansion (1200 – 1500)


In 1610, the 6th Tu’i Ha’a Takalaua, Mo’ungatonga, created the position of Tu’i Kanokupolu for his half-Samoan son, Ngata, dividing regional rule between them. However as time passed, 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 Samoan approach to government and custom continues today in the modern Kingdom of Tonga.


Under the 10th Tu’i Tonga, Momo, and his son, Tu’itatui (11th Tu’i Tonga), the Empire was at its height of expansion. Tributes for the Tu’i Tonga were said to be exacted from all tributary chiefdoms in the empire. This tribute was known as the ” ‘Inasi ” and was conducted annually at Mu’a following the harvest season when all nations subject to the Tu’i Tonga brought gifts for the king.


Captain Cook witnessed an ‘Inasi ceremony in 1777, in which he noticed many foreigners to Tonga, especially people from Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Many fine mats came into the possession of the Tongan royal families through chiefly marriages with Samoan noblewomen. 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 Tongan “kalia” canoes could carry up to 100 men. The large navy allowed for Tonga to become wealthy with large amounts of trade and tribute flowing into the Royal Treasury.