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Tonga: Ha'amonga 'a Maui Trilithon

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Ha'amonga 'a Maui Trilithon > Tonga > Oceania

[Visited: September 2012]

Just when I walked towards the busstation, a light trickle started to come down from the sky. While we were driving towards the far northeast of the island of Tongatapu, I could see rain continue to fall on the windshield of the bus, and hoped that by the time we would reach Niutoua, it would have subsided. When the contrary was true, I tried to find an umbrella in the village, but they did not have the foldable one, so I just sat under the roof of Sista Beauty Saloon, knowing that sooner or later the rain would stop. While waiting, thunder rolled in, and the sky looked more grey than before. A kid was playing in the rain, having a lot of fun. I was calculating how long I could stay here before it was getting too late: I also wanted to visit the blowholes on the other side of the island. When the rain eased a little bit, I walked to my destination of the morning: the ancient trilithon just outside the village. Already on the way, the rain got worse, and I took shelter under a tin roof which did let water through. One of the souvenir sellers, who was in a nearby building waiting for customer, kindly offered her umbrella for my visit, but I still hoped things would get better.

Picture of Ha'amonga 'a Maui Trilithon (Tonga): Looking at the trilithon from one of the sides

When I thought they had, I walked to the thick coralline slabs of the square gate, and around and under it, and then to the backrest a little further below. To reach it, I had to wade through a muddy pond, and I was cursing the weather: the rain had only gotten worse. I walked back to the beauty saloon, to clean up my camera and lens, and when I did, the rain miraculously stopped, and it finally started to clear. So, after I was ready, I was off to the trilithon again, and this time, enjoyed my visit much more. The few tourists who had been there before and stayed less than a couple of minutes, were surely missing a great site. This is Tonga's Stonehenge; after a lot of speculation about the purpose of the trilithon (was it a symbol of two sons of the king, or the gateway to his palace?), it is all but sure that the gate was erected around 1200 CE by the 11th king of Tonga, Tuitatui, to tell the seasons. The sun has been found to rise and set in perfect alignment with the lines formed between the gate and the sea.

Picture of Ha'amonga 'a Maui Trilithon (Tonga): Trilithon with the backrest of the king under the big tree in the distance

Now that the rain had stopped, it was easier to get close to the monument; its coral past was clearly visible, the rough and sharp holes and surface were still there, after all these centuries above the ground. According to legend, the slabs were taken to Tongatapu from the island of Wallis, but one would wonder why the Tongans would have taken all that trouble if Tongatapu itself is surrounded by plenty of coral. In any case, the trilithon, or Ha'amonga a Maui, or burden of the Maui, is an impressive feat, if alone in the practical question: how was it ever erected at the end of the 12th century? I walked back to the backrest, or 'Esi Makafaakinanga, another slab of thick coral limestone, against which the powerful king would rest, probably also for kava ceremonies, and be sure he could not be stabbed from behind. Those were the times! The capital of Tonga was still close to here, at Heketa, and would only later be moved to Mu'a and then to the present location of Nuku'alofa. I was very happy I had waited, walked back to Niutoua, and watched a play of pool until a bus came by to take me back to town.

Picture of Ha'amonga 'a Maui Trilithon (Tonga): Trilithon seen from the south
Picture of Ha'amonga 'a Maui Trilithon (Tonga): Backrest of the king reflected in a muddy pool
Picture of Ha'amonga 'a Maui Trilithon (Tonga): Backrest of the king framed by the massive trilithon
Picture of Ha'amonga 'a Maui Trilithon (Tonga): Backrest of the king in close-up
Picture of Ha'amonga 'a Maui Trilithon (Tonga): The sturdy slabs of coralline rock used for the trilithon can be admired from closer up
Picture of Ha'amonga 'a Maui Trilithon (Tonga): The trilithon seen from the north
Picture of Ha'amonga 'a Maui Trilithon (Tonga): Detailed view of the top of the trilithon with massive lintel

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