Thursday, May 21, 2015

Royalty in Tonga

Our hotel where we stayed in Nuku'alofa was just down the street from the Royal Palace where the king lives.  While the Tongan Parliment and Prime Minister have a significant role in the government of this island nation, the Royal Family are still very important.

According to an article by Guy Powels (1905-1994) "The Constitution of Tonga confers absolute powers on the Monarch who can choose whether to exercise them in person or to delegate them to others.  While the Monarch is not concerned with the details  of the day­-to-­day government of the country, the Monarch has the constitutional power to intervene at will" .(See "Testing Tradition in Tonga: Approaches to Constitutional Change").

After significant unrest and upheaval in 2006, however, reform began to come to the monarchy.  In 2010   "King George Tupou V relinquished most of his powers... ending 165 years of feudal rule...For the first time in the island's history, most MPs were chosen by the people and, while the Oxford-educated monarch remains head of state, he will lose his executive powers, including the ability to appoint the prime minister and ministers."  (Malkin, Bonnie. 2010. The Telegraph.  "King Relinquishes Power in Historic Vote.")

King George Tupou V Associated Press Photo

According to The Commonwealth:  "Under the 2010 constitution, Tonga is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy with a unicameral Legislative Assembly consisting of 26 elected members, nine of whom are elected by and from among the country’s 33 hereditary nobles, and 17 on the basis of universal adult suffrage (women received the vote in 1960) in a general election which must take place at intervals of no longer than four years. Up to two cabinet ministers who are not already elected Assembly members become ex officio members

Despite changes in the degree of power the King (or Queen) may have in government, the various royal residences and royal burial sites are still significant parts of Tonga, reminding people of their long history of rule by royalty.

The kings and queen of Tonga since the founding of the constitutional monarchy in 1875:
(also known as Taufa'ahau Tupou I)
Reigned 1875-1893

King George Tupou II
Reigned 1893-1918

Queen Salote Tupou III
Reigned 1918-1965

King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV
Reigned 1965-2006

King George Tupou V
Reigned 2006-2012

King Tupou VI
Reign 2012-Present

Between 1799 and 1852 Tonga went through a period of war and disorder. This was finally ended by Taufaʿahau, who was converted to Christianity in 1831 by the Methodist missionaries. He became Tuʿi Kanokupolu and subsequently took the title King George Tupou I in 1845. During the king’s long reign (1845–93), Tonga became a unified and independent country with a modern constitution...(from Encyclopedia Britannica)

This king formally dedicated the land of Tonga to the protection of God and through his influence Christianity became an important part of Tongan life.

In August 2014,Ensign magazine published an article about the role of the church in Tonga by  Harvalene K. Sekona, Principal of Liahona Middle School titled "Tonga-a Land Dedicated to God".  

BYU produced a short documentary about Tonga called "Tuka Fanua - the Land Given to God" which can be seen on YouTube HERE.  (just over 45 minutes long).

Royalty not only lives different from the common people, they are also given different status when they die.  

From Flikr: "The current day site of the Royal Tombs is in central Nuku'alofa, the capital of Tonga. Following the death of King Siaosi (George) Tupou I in 1893, rather than being buried at the dynasty's burial grounds, the Government decided that as King Tupou I united the country, he and his direct descendents should be buried in central Nuku'alofa. The grounds were called Mala'ekula (Red Ground). Today, the Mala'ekula is considered a sacred site."

I'm posting the photos I took - but there are some much better ones posted by Keith Clark HERE.

"Muʻa is a small town in the Hahake (eastern) 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 (royal burial tombs)."   (Wikipedia)

One of the royal residences we always took notice of when driving around the island was "the Princess's home", because there were the two big tiger statues marking the driveway.

I never was told which princess lived there and I have no info of why she chose these particular monuments to decorate her driveway.  But in a land with very few named streets or road markers, they were a great landmark on the main road for us.


  1. Princess Pilolevu, the sister to two Kings, HM King Tupou V and HM King Tupou VI lives at the above residence with the statues. They were created for her by a Tongan Sculptor for her 18th or 19th birthday.

  2. Wonderful to learn this! Thanks so much for the additional information.