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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology


The Tongan islands to the south of Samoa consist of three groups: Tongatabu and Eua to the south, the Haapai group of low lying atolls in the middle, and Vavau with a number of small islands to the north. North of Vavau are the smaller Tongan islands of Niuatobutabu and Tafahi, lying close together, with Niuafoou farther west.

The early settlers evidently came from the Samoan Islands, with which the mythical origin from worms and the myth about Maui fishing up islands are shared. The culture has strong affinity with Samoan, but the talking chiefs (matabule) never attained as much power as those (tulafale) of Samoa. All the Polynesian cultivated food plants and domestic animals were present in Tongatabu and Vavau. A good deal of fighting took place between the three groups, but the highest ranking chiefs were established in Tongatabu, which continues to be the seat of government of the independent Kingdom of Tonga.

The first white voyagers to encounter the group were Le Maire and Schouten, who discovered in 1616 two of the northern islands which they named Cocos (Tafahi) and Traitors Island (Niuatobutabu). They traded page 100with the inhabitants and were entertained by the king. The next discoverer was Tasman (1643), who, coming from New Zealand, discovered Pylstaart, away to the south, and then Amsterdam (Tongatabu) and Middleburg (Eua). He sailed on to Nomuka in the Haapai which he named Rotterdam. The Vavau group escaped discovery until 1780 when a Spaniard named Maurelle, who had been driven south by contrary winds, came upon Late Island and Vavau, which he named Majorca. A number of noted voyagers visited the islands, including Cook who, as usual, recorded much valuable information. Labillardière, the scientist with the D'Entrecasteaux Expedition, also recorded much valuable information.

Of other writers, the work best known is Mariner's Tonga, which was written by John Martin from the oral accounts of William Mariner, a shipwrecked sailor. The Wesleyan missionary, Shirley W. Baker, compiled a dictionary, and John Williams gives interesting information regarding his visit to Haapai. Basil Thomson's work is interesting and amusing.

The Bayard Dominick Expedition in 1920 resulted in important contributions by E. W. Gifford and W. C. McKern. Bishop Museum also published manuscripts by E. E. V. Collocott and J. D. Whitcombe. The Lau Islands in the Fiji Archipelago were peopled from Tonga and a manuscript concerning them by A. M. Hocart was published by the Museum. Later, Laura Thompson visited southern Lau on a Bishop Museum Fellowship, and her study was published.