The ancient regal system of Tonga (or the Friendly Islands) evolved into a tri-partite system of three rulers, styled the Tu'i Tonga, the Tu'i Ha-a Takala'ua and the Tu'i Kanokupolu. All three shared the same descent from the creation through the Tu'i Tonga line, they branched out later.

The Tu'i Tonga was the lord of the soil, and enjoyed divine honours. He took no part in the civil government of the country and could not arbitrate in any civil quarrel, but could absolve sinners who had broken the taboo. The Tu'i Kanokupolu held temporal power, wielding absolute power over the life and death of the people. Only a son, or grandson of a Tu'i Tonga, by a daughter of the Tu'i Kanokupolu, could succeed as Tu'i Tonga. The Tu'i Tonga could only have two children by one wife, she being taken away from him after the birth of their second child. The eldest daughter of the Tu'i Tonga, held a higher spiritual rank than her father and was styled the Tu'i Tonga Fefine. She was forbidden from marrying any mortal, but may if she chose, have children by irregular unions. Her eldest daughter was styled the Tamaha, the highest dignity on earth, to whom both her mother and grandfather, had to pay homage.

Tonga was once a powerful Empire ruling faraway lands, including Samoa, parts of Fiji and the Cook islands, Niue and Fotuna. The people of Fotuna breached convention by killing the sacred Tu'i Tonga Takala'ua ca. 1535. This act of sacrilege was a watershed in Tongan history. His son and successor, Tu'i Tonga Kau'-ulu'-fonua, decided to separate the religious and secular functions of his office by dividing power between himself and his half-brother. Mo'ungamotu'a, accordingly became the first Tu'i Ha-a Takala'ua, responsible for military and civil affairs, and government of the people. The Tu'i Tonga thereafter retreated from civil government by becoming the divine head of state, a position not unlike that of a constitutional monarch who was also head of a state church.

The Tu'i Kanokupolu dynasty springs from Ngata, son of the 6th Tu'i Ha-a Takala'ua Moungatonga. Ngata was appointed as the first Tu'i Kanokupolu by his father and delegated with temporal rule over the people ca. 1610. The office was not strictly hereditary, but was usually assumed by the nominee of the previous holder, and then confirmed by the nobles. Appointments seem to have alternated between members of the Tu'i Kanokupolu and Tu'i Ha-a Takala'ua lines.

At first, authority was divided on a regional basis between the Tu'i Kanokupolu and Tu'i Ha-a Takala'ua. However, by the later eighteenth century, the Tu'i Kanokupolu completely eclipsed the latter.

During the late eighteenth century, a regional nobleman entitled Finau-'Ulukalala made himself supreme on Vav'au, establishing his own independent kingdom on that island. He deposed or expelled several successive Tu'i Tonga and Tu'i Kanokupolu. Eventually, his position became so strong that he refused to pay even nominal obeisance to the Tu'i Tonga. He then refused to a any successor to be installed after the death of the incumbent in 1810. The sacred Tu'i Tonga title was left vacant for seventeen years.

This state of affairs continued until the ruler of Ha'apai Taufa'ahau' Tupou', began to extend his authority over the other islands. On the death of his father-in-law, Finau-'Ulukalala in 1833, Taufa'ahau' became ruler of Vava'u. He was converted by Wesleyan missionaries and was baptised as Sia'osi (George), in honour of King George III of Great Britain. He repudiated all but his favourite wife, who took the name of Salote (Charlotte) in honour of George III's Queen. Succeeding his uncle as Tu'i Kanokupolu in 1845, he then began to consolidate his position over Tongatapu and the other outlying islands. This was a long and painful process, which pitted Christians against tradistionalists and Protestants versus Roman Catholics.

George persuaded the hereditary ruler of Niu'atuputapu to cede his sovereignty in 1862. Three years later he had himself installed as Tu'i Tonga on the death of his longtime adversary. George then set about melding the islands into a single kingdom, formally merging the ancient titles of Tu'i Tonga and Tu'i Kanokupolu with the Crown, along with his other titles of Tu'i Ha'apai and Tu'i Vava'u. He converted all his people to Christianity, outlawed serfdom and slavery, promulgated a constitution, established parliament, implemented land reforms, expanded education and negotiated treaties with the major European powers. Towards the end of the century the wars and revolutions that had plagued Tonga were a distant memory. The King reigned over a realm at complete peace, crime was rare and murder unknown. The only public forces were a ceremonial guard without ammunition and an unarmed police force. His long and glorious reign ended in 1893 with the old King mourned throughout the Pacific, as its very own 'Grand Old Man'.

King George Tupou II, succeeded on the death of his great grandfather. Although a gifted composer and lyricist, with wide ranging artistic and aesthetic interests, he was no statesman. He left the cares of state in the hands of a Wesleyan missionary called The Rev Shirley Baker. Baker soon made himself a virtual dictator, energetic and inventive, but prone to drive sane bureaucrats to distraction. Ever short of funds, his native inventive genius devised a special brand of accountancy to manage the kingdom's financial affairs. Administrative chaos, financial mismanagement, dissaffection and baying creditors resulted with an inevitable British intervention. Baker was forcibly removed from the islands in 1899, government expenditure curtailed, the size of the cabinet and parliament trimmed. When these reforms still failed to restore financial calm, the King was persuaded into accepting a British Protectorate in 1900. These were grim days for Tonga, a series of natural disasters compounding made-made ones and devastating the population.

George II expired in 1918, leaving his throne to his eldest surviving daughter, Queen Salote. She was to reign for forty-seven glorious years. Her long reign would witness two World Wars and saw the islands steadily making progress in all fields. The population slowly recovered and expanded to the point where it became a burdon. Economic growth, good government and financial regularity became the envy of far larger realms. For half her reign, her constant helpmate and partner being the unflappable Prince Tungi, Prime Minister and Prince Consort. The Queen's government was personal and she was widely interested in all things. She took a close personal interest in the welfare of all her subjects as individuals, noble or commoner, rich or poor, young and old. During this time, through her wonderful charm, kindness and serene dignity, Tonga became famed the world over. The tiny realm, becoming the "Friendly Islands" in name, as well as, in fact. The old Queen died universally lamented at home, throughout the islands of the Pacific, indeed throughout the world.

King Taufa'ahau' Tupou' IV, Queen Salote's eldest son, inherited her enviable mantle in 1965. Highly educated in Tonga, New Zealand and Australia, he served his mother as a Minister of the Crown and as Prime Minister for over two decades. Five years later he steered his country to full independence, free of British protection and into a hostile world.

Tonga's years since 1970 have not been easy ones. A burgioning population has placed immense pressure on resources and forced many to emigrate. Falling commodity prices have affected revenues and forced the country to look to other means of generating income. Relations with Taiwan were abandoned in favour of the PRC and with Cuba, both in the hope of attracting more foreign aid. Foreign investors from Hong Kong and the US have been invited to the country with generous incentives. Yet many of these ventures have proved illusory, sharp-witted foreign business types taking advantage of the more easygoing Tongans. The traditional system of government has come under fire, though mostly from abroad. These troubles have not been helped by an almost continuous barrage of vicious criticism and mocking superiority spewed out from certain sections of society in Australasia. Often, these have been delivered with a veiled undercurrent of that ugly haughtiness now mercifully unfashionable in other Western democracies. A Commonwealth friend, even a small erring one, deserves to be treated with sympathy and undertanstanding. Her problems should be discussed friend to friend, not by harranging from the rooftops or by bullying by powerful neigbours. Tonga's contribution during the great struggle of the Second World War was greater, per head of population, than any other. Those loudly claiming that honour for themselves should be reminded of that. Blessed in abundance with very lucrative natural resources of all kinds, they ought to also sympathise with the problems of one who has been given none.

The 1875 Constitution specifies that the succession is confined to the descendants of King Sia'osi Taufa'ahau' Tupou' [George Tupou' I], through his son Crown Prince Tevita 'Unga, his son Prince 'Uelingatoni Ngu and through their legitimate issue. It established primogeniture, males succeeding before females. In the event of failure of lawful descendants, the succession passes to the lawful heirs of Ratu Enele Ma'afu'o-Tu'itonga, cousin and brother-in-law of King George Tupou' I. A Prince Regent may be appointed in the event that the sovereign has not reached the age of eighteen.

The Sovereign: By the grace of God, King of Tonga, with the style of His Majesty.
The consort of the Sovereign: Queen of Tonga, with the style of Her Majesty.
The Heir Apparent: Crown Prince, together with the style of His Royal Highness.
The younger sons of the Sovereign: Prince, with the style of His Royal Highness.
The grandons of the Sovereign in the male line: Prince, with the style of His Royal Highness.
The daughters and grand daughters of the Sovereign in the male line: Princess, with the style of Her Royal Highness.
(Note: it is usual for the sons and grandsons of the sovereign to be granted traditional noble titles, after they come of age).

After the promulgation of the 1875 Constitution, King George Tupou I created 20 ancient chiefly titleholders into hereditary nobles, adding a further 10 in 1880. 6 matapule titleholders were similarly honoured. King George Tupou II granted two noble titles during his reign, and Queen Salote created one. During the current reign, King Sia'osi Taufa'ahau Tupou IV has advanced two existing hereditary nobles to the rank and title of Baron, primarily as a means of ensuring proper recognition by foreigners. The styles enjoyed by these individuals are as follows:
Barons: The Right Honourable Baron (hereditary title) of (territorial seat).
Wives of Barons: The Right Honourable Baroness (husband's hereditary title) of (husband's territorial seat).
Sons and daughters of Barons: The Honourable (given names) (father's hereditary title).
Other nobles: The Honourable (hereditary title) in English, or Nopele (hereditary title) in Tongan.
Wives of nobles: The Honourable (given names) (husband's hereditary title).
Sons and daughters of nobles: The Honourable (given names) (father's hereditary title) in English, or Ko 'Eiki (given names) (father's hereditary title) in Tongan.
(Note: members of the Privy Council, Cabinet Ministers, Judges and island Governors also enjoy the style of The Honourable, while holding office).

See link below.

'eiki: aristocrat.
'eiki fakanofo: aristocrat who also holds an appointed title.
'eiki motu'a
: 'old aristocrat', one whose ancestors held high rank before the Constitution of 1875.
'eiki nopele: aristocrat whose title was defined as noble under the Constitution of 1875.
'eiki si'i
: chiefs of lower rank.
'Ene 'Afio: Her Majesty.
Fakatofi'a: personal estate
fanau: children, usually applied to the descendants of title holders.
fefine: woman, female.
fokonofo: junior wife.
hau: secular ruler.
hingoa fakanofo: 'appointed name', i.e. a title.
hingoa nopele: noble title.
hingoa 'eiki: chiefly title.
hou'eiki: aristocracy.
kainga: kinsman.
kau matapule: ceremonial attendants on the senior chiefs.
kau nopele: 'noble titleholders'.
Kauhala 'Uta: chiefly titleholders appointed by the Tu'i Tonga.
Kauhala Lalo: chiefly titleholders appointed by the Tu'i Kanokupolu.
Kingi: King.
Ko 'Eiki: 'The Honourable", the usual style for children of nobles.
Kuini: Queen.
Langi: Royal tombs.
matapule: an official appointed by a senior chief to carry out certain functions, including important ceremonial duties.
matapule ma'u tofi'a: ceremonial attendants holding hereditary estates.
matu'a tauhi fonua: chiefs of lower rank.
Moheofo: the principal consort of the Tu'i Tonga, usually the eldest daughter of Tu'i Ha'a Takala'ua, and the mother of the Heire Apparent.
nopele: nobles created by the King and whose titles descend by order of primogeniture.
Papalangi: foreigners.
Pilinisi: prince.
Pilinisi Kalauni: Crown Prince.
: princess.
sinifu: concubine.
sino 'i 'eiki: "chiefly in body", i.e. aristocrat by blood or noble descent.
Tamaha: eldest and sacred daughter of the Tu'i Tonga Fefine.
Tapu: sacred, forbidden.
taumafa kava: Royal kava ceremony.
tofi'a: hereditary estate.
tu'a: low or common.
Tu'i: Paramount Chief or ruler.
Tu'i Ha'ateiho: originally the title of the ruler of Ha'ateiho, later a high noble title.
Tu'i Ha'a Takala'ua: originally the title of the ruler of the descendants of Takala'ua, later the title of the temporal ruler, junior the Tu'i Tonga.
Tu'i Kanokupolu: originally the title of the ruler of Hihifo, the western district of Tongatapu. Later the title of the temporal ruler, junior to the Tu'i Ha'a Takala'ua.
Tu'i Pelehake: originally the title of the ruler of Pelehake, later a very high noble title.
Tu'i Tonga: originally the title of the supreme ruler of Tonga, later the title of the spiritual head of the islands.
Tu'i Tonga Fefine: 'female Tu'i Tonga'. The title of the eldest sister of the Tu'i Tonga.

Elizabeth Bott, with the assistance of Tavi, Tongan Society at the time of Captain Cook's Visits: Discussions with Her Majesty Queen Salote Tupou. The Polynesian Society, Wellington, NZ, 1982.
The Cyclopedia of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti and the Cook Islands. The Cyclopedia Company of Fiji, Sydney, NSW, 1907.
Pacific Islands Monthly 1941-1999.
Pacific Islands Year Book and Who's Who 1944-1973.
Noel Rutherford, Shirley Baker and the King of Tonga. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1971.
Edward Winslow Gifford, Tongan Society. Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Bulletin 61, Bayard Dominick Expedition, Publication Number 16. Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu, 1929.
Basil Thomson, The Diversions of a Prime Minister. William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh, 1894.
Tupou Posesi Fanua with Lois Wimberg Webster, Malo Tupou, An Oral History. Pasifika Press, Auckland, New Zealand, 1996.
A.H. Wood, History and Geography of Tonga. The Government of Tonga, Auckland, 1945.
Elizabeth Wood-Ellem, Queen Salote of Tonga, the story of an era, 1900-1965. Auckland University Press, Auckland, 1999.

Dr. Morris Bierbrier, FSA.
Sera Brown.
Adi Mitimiti Babokola Dreunimisimisi.
Philip Eagleton.
Tiofilusi Tiueti.
Uheina Tupou.
Suliana Vi.
Copyright© Christopher Buyers
Copyright© Christopher Buyers
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Copyright© Christopher Buyers, May 2001 - April 2009

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