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Tonga: Lapaha Langi

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Lapaha Langi | Tonga | Oceania

[Visited: September 2012]

While getting things organized for my trip in Tonga on the very first day of my visit, I also wanted to see something of the island I had been looking forward to so much to see. It was already getting late when I spontaneously took a minibus to Lapaha, where I wanted to visit the ancient tombs - somehow, I assumed it would be easy to return. The busride was easy enough, and a friendly woman told the driver where to drop me after I told her where I was heading; when the bus stopped a little past the church of Lapaha, or Mu'a as it is now often called, I doubted I was at the right place. A dirt track was leading off the main road - could this really lead to one of the major ancient sights of Tongatapu?

Picture of Lapaha Langi (Tonga): View of the Langi Namoala from a corner

In fact, it did: I soon reached an open space on the right, where I found two square platforms, built with large slabs of limestone. They were partly overgrown with grass and flowers, and they almost left the impression of being abandoned. On each base platform, there was another, smaller one; each platform has three levels and therefore gives the impression of being a pyramid. I was standing in front of the most important royal tombs, or langi as they are called by the Tongans, built by king Tu'itatui, Tongan king around 1200 CE, who moved the capital from the northeast of the island to Mu'a. The Papae 'o Tele'a is considered the finest example of royal burial mound, the other one, Langi Namoala, was probably made for a female royal, and has a pile of sand on top, just like you can find on graves at cemeteries all over the country.

Picture of Lapaha Langi (Tonga): Paepae 'o Tele'a seen from a corner

According to legend, the slabs of stone that make up the langi were carried here by canoes, even though research has shown that they were probably quarried just off the coast of Tongatapu itself. Some 28 tombs have been discovered in 15 different sites, and after climbing on the pyramids, walking around them, and wondering how these ancient proofs of Tongan culture could apparently be so neglected, I walked along the main road to try and discover more. Then again, it certainly added to their charm, the grasses and plants laying a green veil over the ancient burial mounds. Indeed, it wasn't long before I came across yet another large langi, which had a new cemetery just attached to it. I climbed the stairs with limestone slabs, and from the top, I could see yet another burial mound, with a large tree on top. This one, too, had modern graves around it, blending in the ancient graves with the resting places of our time, linking old to new. Walking the road towards Nuku'alofa, I saw the landing place of James Cook on his visit to Tonga, and only then I realized that even though it was 5pm, there were many buses heading to Lapaha, but none in the other direction. A policeman gave me a ride to his station, and organized a hitchhike from there. My first glimpse into the past of Tonga had also given me an idea of the friendliness of the Tongans.

Picture of Lapaha Langi (Tonga): The Langi Namoala seen from a distance
Picture of Lapaha Langi (Tonga): Paepae 'o Tele'a and Langi Namoala seen together
Picture of Lapaha Langi (Tonga): One of the sides of the Paepae 'o Tele'a
Picture of Lapaha Langi (Tonga): View of the Langi Namoala
Picture of Lapaha Langi (Tonga): Plants growing in the niches between the monoliths that make up Paepae 'o Tele'a
Picture of Lapaha Langi (Tonga): The Langi Namoala with a frangipane tree
Picture of Lapaha Langi (Tonga): One of the other platforms in Lapaha
Picture of Lapaha Langi (Tonga): Trees growing on top of a langi in Lapaha
Picture of Lapaha Langi (Tonga): One of the many langi in Lapaha with frangipane tree on top

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