Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1777 Tongan toa
Subjecttoa warrior
Culture: Tongan
Setting: civil war, Tonga 1777-1852

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Alex 2021 July/August p37
"As Europeans' presence in Polynesia increased through the 1700s and 1800s, virtually all Polynesian peoples were colonized by foreign empires.  Although Tonga remained independent, Europeans introduced guns, measles, and clashing forms of Christianity to the archipelago.  These destabilizing forces stoked preexisting tensions among ruling families that erupted in a brutal civil war in 1799.  During this era, violence, famine, and disease reduced Tonga's population by an estimated 30 to 50 percent."

* Mills 2009 p11
"[T] 'akau-armed warrior (toa) operated as an important performative sign of successfully competitive masculine behaviour in pre-Christian Tonga.  The activity of historical Tongan warfare was genderised and sexually charged, as has also been thoroughly discussed for Fiji, the Southern Cooks, the Marquesas Islands and Aotearoa." [references omitted]

* Derrick 1950 p122-123
"Their own land being at peace, the young bloods of Tonga who thirsted for excitement and renown went to Fiji, where there were alarums and excursions in plenty, war and rapine, easy living at the expense of their Fijian hosts, and freedom from the restraint of their elders.  The islands of Eastern Fiji were to the Tongan warriors what the fields of France were to the knights and squires of Plantagenet England.  The Tongan youth had only to join a party going to Fiji for canoes, to place himself in the way of gaining honour and fame enough to satisfy the most ambitious.
    "This intercourse, which did much to shape the course of events in Fiji, had important influence on Tongan affairs also.  Young Tongans went home to show off new habits they had learned in Fiji; customs such as the strangling of widows were introduced; cannibalism became more common; warrior who had bloodied their clubs in Fiji fretted at the inglorious routine of piece.  Intrigue, treachery, murder, and rebellion resulted; and in 1797, Tonga was plunged in civil war, in the course of which the people were disgraced by barbarism as vile as any known among the Fijians.  The unsettling effect upon Tongan chiefs and warriors of adventures in Fiji was the chief cause of Tonga's 'Dark Age', which lasted for upwards of forty years during the early half of the nineteenth century."

* St Cartmail 1997 p125
"In 1777, Cook actually witnessed some fighting with clubs and after his departure -- between 1777 and 1820 -- Tonga became embroiled in a long civil war caused mainly by a struggle for power and succession among opposing contenders for the royal title."

* Meyer 1995 v2 p478
"Tonga was named the Friendly Islands by Cook.  It was a peaceful place when he arrived, but shortly thereafter Tonga exploded into intense internecine warfare which was to last until the 1850s."

* LeBlanc/Register 2003 p188
"In Tonga, located deep into the South Pacific not far from New Zealand, the high chiefs of one island were able to conquer their entire island group. and a unified kingdom or chiefdom emerged.  The leaders then built fleets of great war canoes, actually catamarans, that could carry up to 150 men each and were propelled by sails and paddles.  These large catamarans were so fast that they could sail circles around European ships under full sail.  Individual Tongan canoes were named and some became famous, very much like the battleships of state-level societies.  With these fleets, the Tongans took command of the seas and had the ability to move large numbers of men to key locations.  For example, they conquered Samoa, which had a much larger landmass and population, and also held sway over the outlying islands of Fiji.
​    "No one knows exactly why the Tongans were better at creating a navy than their competition.  The canoe builders were part of the high chief's group of experts.  Since Tonga was long controlled by one ruling family, this may have aided their ability to amass resources for the development and construction of these great vessels.  The consequences of these Tongan naval campaigns represent a great change from tribal warfare.  When the Tongans conquered Samoa, they did not slaughter the population or drive them out as tribes would have.  Instead, they made the Samoans pay tribute, in the form of food and rare and valuable items, to the Tongan high chief."

* St Cartmail 1997 p44
Apart from Christianity gaining a foothold in Tonga in the early nineteenth century, the other main historical event was the struggle for political power between the Tu'i Tonga and his followers and the young chief of Ha'apai, Taufa'ahau, who, in 1831, espoused the Christian faith and was baptised Siaosi (George) Tupou.  By dint of strong leadership, ambition and political astuteness, George was able to unite the Tongan islands and consolidate his power by securing the support of the most powerful chiefs by giving them hereditary titles ('eiki nopele) and land of their own.  In 1845, George inherited the title of Tu'i Kanokupola and after defeating the incumbent Tu'i Tonga in 1852, he proclaimed himself King George Tupou I, thus founding the present royal dynasty."

* Bott/Tavi 1982 p54-55
"[I]n 1797, the London Missionary Society had left a group of missionaries on the main island of Tongatapu for two years, but they got caught up in ferocious local wars and had to leave without making any converts and after having three of their number murdered and one lost by her conversion to heathenism (Vason).  Their account and that of Mariner make it clear that the three-king system broke down at the end of the 18th century.  The ritual functions of the Tu'i Tonga became virtually defunct.  Bitter warfare broke out between various branches of the Kanokupolu line.  ...
​    "After an abortive attempt in 1822, a Wesleyan mission was established in 1826.  The Tu'i Kanokupolu and Taufa'ahau were soon converted.  The Tu'i Tonga and his people became Catholics in the 1840s.  Ancient enmities were thus perpetuated.  Taufa'ahau was extremely skilful in being generous to beaten enemies and in playing various European powers off against each other so as to avoid being colonised, an endeavour in which he was assisted by a renegade missionary, Shirley Baker, in the 1870s and 1880s."


* St Cartmail 1997 p122
"In 1777, Heinrich Zimmermann, one of the sailors on Cook's third voyage, observed that Tongan warriors stood out from the rest of the population by 'having the hair on their left side of the head dyed yellow, while that on the right side was left the natural colour.'"

* Mills 2009 p11
"[M]en took great pains immediately before battle to ensure that their dress, face paint and hairstyles were striking and immaculate.  Within the ritual drama of the fakate 'military review', which usually took place after the various kongatau 'regiments' had assembled and before the first battle of a campaign, similar elaborate self-adornment took place."

* St Cartmail 1997 p122 caption 
Coloured plate showing warrior with club, his face and upper body painted on the right hand side ...."

* St Cartmail 1997 p78-80
"Clothing in Tonga was simple, although, as Captain Cook came to realise on his third voyage, dress was also a visual symbol of social status: 'large pieces of Cloth and fine Matting are only wore by the superior people, the inferior sort put up with small pieces....'  The traditional dress of both sexes in Tonga was a long kilt or vala made of bark cloth or matting, wrapped around the waist and falling below the knee.  The vala, a covering, was always worn in front of others, especially chiefs."

* Derrick 1950 p122
"The Tongans believed that the Fijians fought with more ferocity than their own warriors, and they adopted the Fijian customs of dressing for war, and painting the face and body."


* St Cartmail 1997 p122
"Warfare ... produced its own symbols of rank in Tonga.  Chiefs were often the proud possessors of finely finished and decorated war clubs that constitute some of the finest examples of Tongan art.  Whale ivory inlay, as well as a high natural patina, were further decorative features that distinguished clubs symbolic of social status.  In short, the quality of a man's weapon became the symbol of his rank."

* Mills 2009 p7
"'Akau were historically to be found in a broad range of cultural contexts: from (obviously) warfare to sport, dance, religion and the complex of everyday material accoutrements of the chiefly class.  These were emically significant artefacts in historical Tonga and therefore a contextual understanding of them also reflects significant aspects of Tongan social history.  Their high level of formal variation and decorative complexity reflect this indigenous historical significance, as well as their labour-intensive manufacture in the workshop of the tufunga fo 'u vaka 'shipwright, master carpenter'."

* Kaeppler 2008 p131-132
"Warriors travelled back and forth between Fiji and Tonga, bringing their weapons -- clubs, spears, bows and arrows -- and ideas.  Tongan warriors used their own Tongan clubs during battles with Fijians, but when taken in battle or traded, Tongan clubs became treasures of the Fijians and vice versa.  The usual function of a club is to be used in warfare; however, Tongan clubs should also be considered metaphors and allusions to the great chiefs as warriors and sacred individuals.  Many Tongan clubs are works of art; they were also very dangerous weapons and given personal names, especially after they had killed an enemy.  They were embedded with the mana of their owners, their carvers, and perhaps the gods."

* St Cartmail 1997 p128-133
"[T]he main Tongan types include: 
(i) The short throwing club (kolo).
(ii) The pole club (povai), or the so-called 'lobe' or billet type, which can be compared to a baseball bat in shape with the same flared rounded head.
(iii) A variation of the pole club with a flattened top to the clubhead.
(iv) The club with a diamond-sectioned flat-topped head sometimes referred to as a 'coconut-stalk' club (apa'apai), although it is the actual coconut leaf midrib which is meant.
(v) A club similar to (iv) but with a head that is more spatulate and rounded at the upper end like a paddle club.  
(vi) The paddle club (moungalaulau) with its rounded upper end was often distinguished by finely carved decoration over its entire surface and was sometimes found with and without a transverse ridged collar or cross rib. ...
(vii) A much rarer type of club took the form of a quatrefoil-section head made up of four longitudinal serrated ridges.  On the basis of extant samples, the handle tended to be totally engraved incorporating traditional motifs, e.g. bird(s) and men.  A butt lug was a further feature as well as whale ivory inlay.
(viii) Another type ... with a hemispherical head, flat circular projections and a shark-tooth grip carving, is similar to the Fijian bulibuli with its modified semicircular head.
(ix) ... [A]nother 'skull-crusher' with a heavier albeit carefully-wrought almost turret-shaped head with six bosses each with raised 'diamond' centres is a type ... clearly a more sophisticated version of the Fijian dromuwaka or saulaki types. ...
(x) ... [T]he 'paddle' or 'spade' club, while 'widely used in the islands and coastal parts of Fiji' is nonetheless Tongan, or in some cases Samoan in origin.  Different in form to the paddle club already described (Type vi), this particularly elegant club ... is known in Fiji as the culacula." [citations omitted]

* Mills 2009 p9
"A head strike was the principal aim of the warrior, in order to stun or incapacitate the opponent as quickly as possible.  Obviously, killing with an 'akau was not a simple or clean business and it often required several blows.  In this regard, it is not an uncommon understanding among modern Tongans that larger 'akau were used to fell an opponent, while a kolo 'throwing club' was used in the hand to deliver the coup de grâce."

​* Pitt Rivers Museum online > 
"The shape of an apa'apai is said to represent the flexible and fibrous coconut stalk. Indeed, whilst war clubs such as this one were made from a local casuarina, one of the hardest timbers in the world, coconut-leaf clubs were used to practice and perform feta'aki, the historical martial art and spectator sport of fencing.
    ".... The head and shaft of apa'apai were usually covered in elaborate carved bands of decoration featuring geometric shapes such as bars, chevrons, and triangles, but can also depict men, dogs, fish, turtles and birds. This surface decoration, known as tata, was unique to each club, granting it an individual identity and certain supernatural powers. In recognition of these qualities, a Tongan warrior would typically give his club a name.
    "Tongan clubs were carved by a number of different men, and it would have been unusual for any one weapon to be the sole product of a single craftsman. These craftsmen were known as tufunga tata and they were also responsible for the beautiful examples of woodcarving seen on Tongan houses and boats. Clubs were among the most complex and demanding of woodcarvings, despite the fact that the work required no lashing or jointing. The difficulty lay in the club's refined shape, which the carver was expected to match to pre-existing examples. There were more than sixty different types of club and each type conformed to a refined system of rules, defining the proportions of its dimensions, the curvature of its lines, the form and number of its collars, the kind of decoration appropriate to its type, and so on. Many of these formal conventions were encoded by using a unique West Polynesian technique of dividing strings to create spatial relationships between the weapon's dimensions, using complex fractions, mathematical squares, and so on. The designs would then be created in large, clearly demarcated zones using small tools made of marko [SIC] shark teeth hafted onto a short handle, suitable for gouging out the shallow and complex patterns."