World at a Glance: The Stonehenge of Tonga

2014-07-25T09:19:40+00:0029 January 2014|Islands, Mini countries, Tonga|

Did you think stone henges was a phenomenon limited to Europe? Think again. The Ha’amonga ‘a Maui trilithon might be much smaller than the remarkable site at Salisbury Plain, but legends and mysteries surround this Tonga stonehenge as well.

Ha’amonga ‘a Maui trilithon, Tonga stonehenge

How were these heavy coral lime stones lifted and set into place? Surely no mere mortals could construct such a monument. How could they? The stones weigh about 40 tonnes each.

Ha’amonga ‘a Maui, such an intriguing name. It means Burden of Maui. According to legend, the demigod Maui went to ‘Uvea (present day Wallis Island), nearly 1 000 km away, and brought the stones back to Tonga in his canoe. A burden, indeed.

The truth, however, is more prosaic. The erection of this monument simply required lots of people, log rollers and various temporary falsework constructions. In the early 1400s, Tu’itatui, the 11th king of the long-lasting Tu’i Tonga dynasty built this giant archway to encourage his two sons to cooperate, we were told. The standing stones represent one son each: Lafa is east and Talaihaapepe is west; the horizontal beam on top binds them together. His way of ensuring (as far as such things can be ensured) the continued rule of the Tu’i Tonga family.

In the 1960s, when assigning astronomical meanings to mysterious structures around the world was all the rage, King Tāufaʻāhau Tupou IV – once famous for being the world’s heaviest monarch – became convinced the trilithon had been constructed according to sunrise at summer and winter solstices. Alas, there’s no evidence to support this. But he’s the king, after all, so that’s the story we tell, laughed our guide.

But he’s the king, after all, so that’s the story we tell.

King Tāufaʻāhau Tupou IV is gone now. I wonder if the guides still tell that story.

World at a Glance is a series of short articles here on Sophie’s World, with a single photo – portraying curious, evocative, happy, sad or wondrous, unexpected little encounters.

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  1. Jeanette Todd 30 January 2014 at 0530 - Reply

    I never knew such thing exists in Tonga as well. I always believed that stonehenge was very unique in itself but seeing this same structure erected in different ares makes me wonder if there are other stonehenge out there.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 2 February 2014 at 1747 - Reply

      The ones in Britain and Ireland seems to be the most famous, but…

  2. Marysia @ My Travel Affairs 31 January 2014 at 1322 - Reply

    Yet again confirmation of an old proverb : You learn sth new every day!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 2 February 2014 at 1747 - Reply

      So true.

  3. Muza-chan 31 January 2014 at 1557 - Reply


    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 2 February 2014 at 1748 - Reply


  4. Stephen 2 February 2014 at 0316 - Reply

    Wonderful! Never knew this existed! Thanks Sophie.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 2 February 2014 at 1748 - Reply

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  5. Mary @ Green Global Travel 2 February 2014 at 0524 - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this. I had no idea this existed elsewhere! What a great find!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 2 February 2014 at 1749 - Reply

      I was quite happy to stumble upon it.

  6. Leigh 2 February 2014 at 1656 - Reply

    I don’t associate Tonga with Stonehenge type rocks but then again I don’t know much about the country. Saw an interesting video in Spain on how they surmised that they moved some of these rocks. It always took a phenomenal amount of manpower was required.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 2 February 2014 at 1749 - Reply

      Yes, that seems to be the clue, whether it’s a stone henge or pyramids, no mystery, just lots and lots of manpower.

  7. budget jan 2 February 2014 at 2329 - Reply

    Was this the only one in Tonga Sophie? I liked your concise and informative story. 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 6 February 2014 at 0738 - Reply

      I think it was, Jan. Although I understand there are others in the Pacific region. And thanks 🙂

  8. Best Travel Blog Posts | Week 15 | TBU Book of Travel Bloggers 10 February 2014 at 1912 - Reply

    […] Miraculous rock formations aren’t specific to the UK. Sophie’s World found The Stonehenge of Tonga […]

  9. Hitch-Hikers Handbook 12 February 2014 at 2300 - Reply

    Fascinating blog, Sophie! Thanks for connecting with us on Twitter! Keep up the great work and travel safe!

  10. Tina 21 February 2014 at 0301 - Reply

    Not quite stone henge, but well worth a look, to see some history on the island. This is also the start point of the tonga half marathon.

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