Scattered over 700,000 square kilometres in the southern Pacific Ocean are the Tonga islands. On one of the 176 islands that make up Tonga, there stands one of the strangest megalithic monuments in the Pacific, a trilithon called Ha’amonga ‘a Maui (A carrying stick/burden of Maui).
The kingdom of Tonga is a Polynesian sovereign state and archipelago comprising nearly two hundred islands with around a quarter of them inhabited. The date that the first occupation of the islands took place is ambiguous - as is the dating of most of the archaeological sites in the region. However, the mainstream opinion suggests the first settlers of the islands arrived in around 1500 BC with the oldest occupied site found on the island of Tongatapu, where the unusual megalithic monument exists.
For a start, arriving at and inhabiting these isolated islands over three millennia ago was a big achievement for the Lapita people , the first ones that are believed to have inhabited the island. The Lapita people were a pre-historic culture predating the Polynesians who later populated the islands from Hawaii to Easter Island - clearly showing navigational skills. The ancient capital of Tonga was the city of Mu’a, the name of which may remind us of the lost continent of Mu (identified with Atlantis), which today is considered by conventional archaeology to be a mythological place.
The Ha’amonga ‘a Maui is located about 30 km from Nuku-alofa, the capital city of Tongatapu. The structure is a megalithic trilithon that was said to have been built in about 1200 AD by the king of the time, probably as the entrance to his royal compound Heketa. According to a Tonga nobleman, the trilithon was built to symbolize the brotherhood of the sons of king Tuʻitātui.
A trilithon is a structure that consists of two vertical stones with a third stone supporting the top. Many would be familiar with the most famous trilithons that can be seen at Stonehenge in the United Kingdom. This specific one consists of three coral limestone slabs creating a structure of about 5.2 m high, 5.8 m long and 1.4 m wide with each stone weighing approximately 30 to 40 tonnes.
There are many legends about the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui. The most prominent story says that the trilithon was made by the Maui demigod(s) because no other mortals would be able to handle such giant stones. It was said that the Maui obtained the stones and carried them on a giant canoe. Maui were legendary demi-gods and they are present in most of the folklore of the Pacific islands. There were four brothers all with the name Maui, powerful with supernatural powers. Hawaii, Tonga, Tahiti and New Zealand all have legends related to the Maui, the first inhabitants of all those islands. But one of the most interesting aspects of the descriptions of Maui demigods is their interest in humans and their efforts to seek immortality for the human race – a topic that we will discuss another time.
The king of Tonga, Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, suggested in 1967 that the trilithon also had astronomical significance related to solstices and equinoxes. However, there is no evidence to support this perspective.
There still remains doubt as to whether the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui was really built for a mortal king of the kingdom of the Tongas in 1200 AD, or whether it came much earlier. It certainly bears a strong resemblance to prehistoric trilithons around the world, suggesting it is much older than 800 years. If the latter is true, the questions remain - why was it built and by whom?
Ha'amonga 'A Maui
Ha'amonga 'A Maui (tonganska Ko e Haʻamonga ʻa Maui är ett arkeologiskt monument [ 1 ] och historiskt område som ligger på Tongatapuön [ 2 ] i Tonga [ 3 ] i sydvästra Stilla havet. Triliten är den största i sitt slag i västra Polynesien.
Tonga was visited by Dutch in the early 17th century, and in 1773 James Cook named the archipelago the name Friendly Islands (‘Friendship Islands’). In 1826, the Methodists established a mission in Tonga and converted, among other things, the traditional leader Taufa’ahau, who then became king under the name of George Tupou I. In separate agreements, Germany (1876), Britain (1879) and the United States (1888) guaranteed independence for Tonga., who nevertheless became the British protectorate in 1900. Tonga gained independence in the Commonwealth in 1970. For a long time the king and a number of noble families held power, but in 2010 democratic reforms were implemented and the country’s first democratic elections. See also State Condition and Politics. To see more information other than history, please visit Abbreviationfinder to learn more about climate, population, government, and economy for the country of Tonga.
Food imports have increased as a result of growing tourism industry. Environmental problems have arisen The coral reefs are beginning to be over-exploited, and forests are being harvested to make room for agriculture and new housing. See also State Condition and Politics above.
As on other Pacific islands, the Atlanteans’ ancient megalithic structures no longer stand here either, or still remain undiscovered below sea level.
However, in this Pacific region, some prehistoric structures, such as the pyramid of Samoa, the megalith gate and the langi tombs on Tonga and the tumuli on New Caledonia, are located above sea level and can be accessed.
Most of these structures are ascribed to the Lapita culture (see page 462), which I think may be true for the tumuli, but not for the other structures. That is because the Lapita only arrived later, starting around 1500 BC and discovered these sites and remaining buildings, which they revered and maintained.
Temple of Peace – Ovalau
Today, the intersection of this power place’s streams of energy is located underwater between Ovalau and Moturiki, which are two summits of the same mountain that remain above sea level. Some believe the intersection to be at Lovoni, a small village in the volcanic caldera of Ovalau.
The Temple of Peace was situated in front of Nasaga, which is underwater today. However, as previously mentioned, sea level used to be 50 to 60 meters lower and the temple was located in a valley between the two peaks.
Esoteric sources state that this temple is one of the few light havens of the spiritual hierarchy on the physical level – or material creation. Its symbol is thought to have been the ankh we know from the Egyptians.
“The temple is not located in the Realms of Aether, but in a vast cave inside a large mountain. No one knows where the entrance is, but serious-minded disciples of light will be guided there after undergoing a thorough examination by the spiritual guardians. These visitors will see a crystal palace […] Above the portal, which will automatically open itself to the visitor, he will see a large circle above a cross. It is the symbol of this ascended master retreat and means ‘Here, spiritual law rules over matter.’ […] The circular stairs are of transparent crystal cascades of multicolored currents of water flow beneath. The stairs have 49 steps. The palace has seven atriums meant for teaching. […]”
Ha‘among‘a Maui trilithon – Tonga
Megalithic structures can still be found above sea level on Tonga, such as the enormous trilithon gate, the large individual monolith and what various sources report to be between 22 and 28 “langi” (royal tombs), almost all of them located around Lapaha/Mu‘a, and four in Vava‘u and Ha‘apai.
The megalithic gate of Ha’amonga’a Maui is situated next to the village of Niutoua (near the former capital of Heketa) and is the island‘s most famous monument.
The mysterious trilithon, consisting of fossilized coral limestone, is made up of two impressive monoliths that weigh about 40 tons. They are 6 meters high and are anchored to a depth of about 80 cm in the ground the western monolith therefore stands 5.2 meters tall. Today, at 4.8 meters, the eastern monolith is slightly smaller but both are 1.4 meters wide, 4.2 meters long and taper by about 50 cm towards the top. They stand 3.80 meters apart and mortises were hewn 2 meters deep in the tops of each upright stone to fit in the cross beam. This third block is almost 5.8 meters long, 1.4 meters wide and 0.6 meters thick. But for this structure, too, the builders, construction, transport and significance still remain unclear. The most common theory states that the monoliths were mined in the old quarries along the neighboring coast, as the rock there is soft and easy to shape at first but becomes hard as stone over the course of decades.
Its name, “Ha’amonga’a Maui”, can be interpreted in two different ways: “Burden of Maui” and “a stick with loads on both ends, carried over the shoulder”.
The old legends say that Maui (demigod of prehistoric times or god of the sun) elevated the Tongan islands from the bottom of the sea. He then obtained the three monoliths from Uvea (Wallis Island), carried them to Tonga in a giant canoe and used them to build a “portal for the gods”.
A more recent legend states that King Tu‘itatui built the monument to depict his two sons Lafa and Talaiha united through him (represented by the crossbeam). This was supposed to symbolize their equality as brothers and to remind them to rule united and peacefully after his death. This is why the trilithon’s time of origin has been determined to be 1200 AD, during his reign.
Today, Tongan history states that Ha’amonga’a Maui was a sundial marking solstices with the V-shaped mark and the two lines on top of the cross beam, indicating the seasons. The directions more or less match but critics say that the two 10-cm arms of the V are too short to be reliable indicators. They also argue that the island has settled over the past centuries, rotating the lintel by 5° and thus further increasing the divergence.
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6. New Island off Tonga
We are in the so called Ring of Fire, with a lot of volcanoes (mainly underwater). Their activity can create new islands. Basically, all the Islands in the South Pacific formed out of a volcanic explosion. This is how the island in the picture formed recently, 40 miles off the coast of Tonga. When some explorers went there, the green lake they found was smelling like sulphur and the ground was still hot. Unfortunately, according to an article appeared on The Telegraph, the surface of the new Pacific island has begun to erode and may gradually disappear.
Megalithic Timeline & The People of the First Time
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Great piece of Tongan history
I was taken here by my tour guide and marveled at the structure for some time. My tour guide had excellent knowledge of the history of the stones. Great piece of history. Its almost like Tonga's version of the stone henge.
Amazing structure in a pleasant setting - there were a few people selling local crafts, very pleasant
An amazing structure built sometime around 12ooAD. Not too much to look at but still worth a short visit for Tonga's version of Stonehenge. I enjoyed the history side but the kids were quickly bored. Unlike Stonehenge you can get up close and touch the rocks. Until recently, you could even climb the structure (stopped after a European tourist fell off). There are toilets available for use but there is a donation box - not enforced as we found out.
Take your time and have a good look at the site. The way the stones are attached is amazing and the backrest further towards the sea is a part of it all. You can walk to the coast about 5 minutes away down manicured grass tracks. Beware of the trinket seller at the site as there are turtle shells for sale and other endangered animal parts. I think most customs guards in western countries will confiscate them at the airport or if you try and post them home.
Otherwise it is well presented and preserved with not much of the usual Tongan litter around the place. Makes you wonder how and why it is there especially if you have a Eurocentric view of human development.
What to know before you go
The Tongans are a very proud nation with traditions that have been anchored in their culture for a long time. This makes them very authentic but you should know a thing or two in order to not inadvertently offend someone (read below).
They haven't lost their traditions even when the Europeans came to impose their Christian stuff. The latter did leave its mark though. I was surprised to see how devoted the Tongans are to God and the church.
Another particularity is that mass-tourism and cruise-ships come in no way near to the islands and you're going to get sucked in by the laid-back attitude of the islanders: nothing is urgent. If it can't be done today, it might be tomorrow. Or not. Whatever. We'll see later.
The food culture of Tonga has been greatly influenced by foreign visitors. Read on to find out why this was probably a bad development..
But before I get into this, here's a short overview of some practical stuff to know:
The Kingdom of Tonga in a nutshell
How to get there
There's only a limited number of possibilities to get to Tonga by plane.
We had a direct flight from Auckland to Tongatapu which is just under three hours.
Auckland and Sydney are the only ones outside of Polynesia to fly to Tonga. But other than those two cities you've got the possibility to fly from American Samoa, Fiji and Samoa.
There are six airports on six different islands in the Kingdom of Tonga, the two main ones being Fua'amotu on Tongatapu and Lupepau'u on Vava'u. The two other ones are domestic airports and only connect the islands.
When you leave the island, don't be surprised but people stay outside of the airport until the very last minute. You don't have to be there early. They'll call you when it's time to get on the plane.
Best time to visit
We went in July, for practical reasons.
But July does fall in the perfect season: from May to October. Those months are the driest and coolest months.
When I'm talking about 'cool', I mean you still get an average 25 °C every day.
From November to April, there are chances of really bad weather.
The Tongan islands have been victims of heavy storms or cyclones in the past that left their marks.
Lot of destruction still visible
As we were traveling in an educational context (my ex-husband having been invited to teach music), we sort of had a private driver to get us around the island.
In general, though, I'd recommend to rent a car. There are taxis, too. But they don't have fixed prizes.
Then there are the busses: you just wave them down when you need one - which is handy. But that also means that they have no scheduled timetable and you won't know for sure if you'll have one passing by you location soon.
You'll have to get to the Ministry of Infrastructure to get a Tonga-valid driver's licence. Which apparently is easy to get.
Oh, and driving is on the LEFT!
Where to stay
We stayed at the charming Malau Lodge:
A beautiful little house with several rooms (we were traveling as two couples) with a host preparing breakfast with fresh delicious fruit every morning.
Bathroom is shared but I think if you travel as a group of friends or a family and have the house to yourself, this is more than fine.
Everything was clean and the Wifi surprisingly good (that's not always the case in Tonga).
Location-wise it was perfect as you're at walking distance of the main attractions of the capital Nuku'alofa.
Fresh coconut for breakfast at the Malau Lodge
Tongan is the main one, a beautiful Polynesian language! I picked up a few words and sentences from our hosts but I must admit that I forgot most of it.
It is closely related to Hawaiian and Samoan amongst other Polynesian languages.
Apparently Americans LOVE the language as there are a lot of 'fak's and 'fakas' in it - haha.
The second spoken language is English so getting understood won't be a problem.
This was actually rather suprising, I must admit.
I expected lots of fish and fresh fruit and vegetables from a Polynesian island but actually, it was not like on Easter Island for example.
Yes, when we went to the Oholei Beach Resort for a traditional Tongan show, there was indeed a giant buffet of Tongan/Polynesian food with lots of stuff marinated in coconut. And the typical suckling pig on a spit that they serve on all the big occasions.
But other than here, I found it hard to find freshly cooked meals (except at people's home). There was a lot of ready-made stuff with sauces from the freezer, etc. Wasn't the best food for my guts as I'm sensible for that kind of sugar-filled food.
It's not that it tasted bad or anything, it just wasn't all freshly made. Which made me wonder as they do have their own agriculture and grow things like bananas, coconuts (the sweetest ones I've ever tasted), coffee beans, sweet potato, etc. themselves.
And like I said: at people's homes, the food was fresh and all the things mentioned above were used. Just not in the restaurants we went to.
From what I understood, they eat quite a bit of ready-made meals when they have no guests. And they drink lots and lots of Coke.
And this is probably why people on the Tongan islands have one of the highest obesity rates in the world.
Seaweed and stuff marinated in coconut-milk
Feast at the Malau Lodge with suckling pig
With warm soothing temperatures all year round and stunning paradise islands to admire, you can be forgiven for wanting to simply relax in Tonga. Island massages and yoga classes are available at some of the resorts, as well as in spas in Nuku’alofa, should you want to add another level to your relaxation and rejuvenation. Check out the 10 Glorious Ways to Relax in Tonga for ideas.