Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Tu'i Tonga & Tu'i Kanokupolu

Tonga has undergone several major social changes over the last millennium, which created a complex system of social and family ranking. Prior to the adoption of Western law and government, Tongan society was stratified into 3 classes: Eiki, Tu'a, and Hopoate (High chiefs/Gods, Commoners, and Slaves).

The Tu'i Tonga
The highest ranking and oldest chiefly title in Tonga belongs to the Tu'i Tonga. The Tu'i Tonga line began around 950AD with the last Tu'i Tonga title being bestowed on Laufilitonga in the 1800's. The Tu'i Tonga line was eventually folded in with the current ruling dynasty by Taufa'ahau Tupou I and later consolidated by the late Queen Salote through her marriage to Tungi Mailefihi.

The first Tu'i Tonga was 'Aho'eitu, who was the son of Tangaloa'eitumatupu'a and Va'epopua. He created and instituted this sacred line which eventually led to the creation of two subsequent dynasties--the Tu'i Ha'atakalaua and the Tu'i Kanokupolu. These dynasties would control the direct authority over Tonga, rendering the Tu'i Tonga as toputapu - sacred and deified. This meant that no Tongan was allowed to touch or look upon the Tu'i Tonga unless he/she had divine responsibilities to this chiefly line. This sacred divinity meant that those belonging to the Tu'i Tonga line were tattooed on rare, significant occasions. For the most part, they were never tattooed. Several accounts detail Tu'i Tonga that were tattooed:
  • During the 1800s, Tonga was undergoing radical changes, both in power and culture. This was largely due to the growing Kanokupolu dynasty and Christianity. The Tu'i Tonga, Fatafehi Fuanunuiava, vowed to break custom in rebellion against chiefs who were dismantling the Tu'i Tonga's power. In his rebellion, he broke the tapu on his body and got a Malofie. The process was completed in Samoa in two sessions, which gave him the nickname "Fakauakimanuka" commemorating the completion of his tatatau within the two journeys. The first trip was to Manono to begin the process. The second and final journey was to Manu'a where the tattoo was finally completed. On both occasions, the tattooers' bodies were said to have swollen up. Eventually, both died as a result of 'wounding' the Tu'i Tonga's sacred body. Upon completion of the tatatau, two 'ie toga (Samoan fine mats) were given to Fatafehi to commemorate the event and as a gesture of respect to the Tu'i Tonga high sacred rank.
  • Fakana'ana'a was the 34th Tu'i Tonga. It is said that he was tattooed on the island of Mo'ungaone in Ha'apai using unconventional tattooing methods of the time.

The Tu'i Ha'atakalaua

For a short period, the Tu'i Ha'atakalaua was created, and the position of Hau - a chief who directed the affairs of governing his people - was created. The Tu'i Tonga title at this point became less involved with the direct affairs of governing, and the 'inasi, or honoring/offerings of first harvest, became a ritual part of honoring the Tu'i Tonga legacy. The Tu'i Ha'atakalaua followed much of the traditions of the Tu'i Tonga and were not tattooed as well.

The Tu'i Kanokupolu
The Tu'i Kanokupolu title became the more dominant and powerful title during the 1500s and eventually overshadowed the direct authority of the Tu'i Ha'atakalaua. The first Tu'i Kanokupolu was Ngata who was born from the ruling Tu'i Ha'atakalaua and Samoan mother named Limapo (known also by her Tongan name, Tohu'ia). In keeping with the Samoan traditions of its maternal heritage, the Tu'i Kanokupolu instituted the malofie as a mark of chiefly status, and perpetuated the traditions of being tattooed only by a Samoan Tufuga. This was also a gesture to connect with his mother's Upolu heritage.
  • Mata'eleha'amea was the 4th Tu'i Kanokupolu. It is said that when he received his malofie, his backside was untattooed which earned him the nickname Mata'ele'usitea.
  • Taufa'ahau Tupou I went to Samoa and completed a full malofie in one day. He also had the tip of his penis tattooed completely black to show his ability to withstand pain.
  • Chief Vaha'i also wore a Malofie that was completed by a Samoan tufuga tatatau.

Throughout this change in power amongst the chiefly families in Tonga, commoners were continuing the tattoo traditions which had been practiced from long before. It was not till traditional tattooing was completely outlawed in 1839 that Tongans finally began abandoning this longstanding practice. Tongans chiefs and commoners who wanted a tattoo would soon have to travel to Samoa to have one completed. Ultimately, Savai'i tattooing families gained much from this new law as many were paid with fine mats, ngatu, and other forms of cultural payment for the tattoo received.

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