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Lord Ma'afu (centre) will be accorded the ancient kava ceremony on the royal palace grounds this weekend.

Photo/ Pakilau Manase Lua

Language & Culture

First installation of Ma'afu title in over 200 years to be held next to Tonga's Palace grounds

Lord Ma’afu, formerly known as Honourable Tevita ‘Unga Tangitau, will be accorded the ancient kava ceremony next to royal palace grounds this weekend.

In 1799, the 15th Tuʻi Kanokupolu, Ma’afu-’o-Limuloa, was murdered hours after his installation as a noble. This sent Tonga into a civil war for 50 years.

He was a grandson of Mailelaumotomoto, the second Maʻafu-ʻo-Tukuʻiʻaulahi, the hereditary chief of the Vainī on Tongatapu, and a member of the Tongan reigning house of Tupou.

Two hundred and twenty-fives years later, another nobleman will be accorded his traditional kava ceremony next to Tonga’s royal palace grounds, Pangai Lahi.

The installation of Lord Ma’afu will take place tomorrow which Tongan community leader Pakilau Manase Lua says is a huge event for the Vaini and Tokomololo villages.

“The last installation involved a Ma'afu called Ma'afu Limuloa, and he was installed and assassinated on that very night. So there's a lot of history, a lot of bloodshed and civil war. So this is also a way of healing a very bloody past.

“And the Ha’a Havea chiefs of Tonga, which include nobles like Fielakepa, Lord Vaea, Lord Tu’ivakano and others, are probably the most powerful clan in Tonga.


“So Ma'afu is the head of this clan and this is very significant because Ma'afu's mother, the late princess Taone, was a member of the royal family. So all of this has come to a head, I think, through good fortune, but also strategic marriages between the royal family and the chiefs of the realm.”

Lord Ma’afu, formerly known as Honourable Tevita ‘Unga Tangitau, was appointed by King Tupou VI to the hereditary noble title, Ma'afu Tukui'aulahi, following his father’s death in 2021. He was installed on his estate of Vaini in April last year.

Although Lord Ma’afu received his title on his estate grounds of Vaini, Pakilau, who is also a matapule or spokesperson for Lord Ma’afu said traditionally, one wasn’t a bonafide chief until they had been accorded their kava ceremony.

Pakilau said the kava ceremony was usually held for events such as the installation of a King or a member of the royal family, but rarely for a noble.

“The grounds are huge so that the kava circle itself will be a massive circle that will include nobles and their matapule or talking chiefs sitting around the two sides of the cover circle.

“And in the middle will be all of the gifts, the pigs, the umu packs, and kava. So the big kava plants will be there and they will also be, the big ones will be put on almost like a sledge.

“So they call them kava toho or puaka toho. They're so big that they have to be pulled in by three or four men. So all of these presentations are traditional.

“The king will be there. He will be seated directly opposite the kava bowl in the area that they call the olovaha. That's where the highest ranking person usually presides. So they'll be directly opposite the kava bowl.

“He'll be in a little enclosure, like a little house, whereas everybody else will be seated on the grass around him. Those will include other nobles from around Tonga and their talking chiefs, their attendants.

“And then in the back where the kava is being served, you'll have people from the villages out in the west.

“They're the ones who look after the kava ceremony and also the Ha’a Havea. Some of our clan will be there to protect the kava and also to serve the kava. So yeah, it's a huge event for us.

“Traditionally, it's something that's very rarely done on the palace grounds and it's an absolute honour. And we're very grateful to the royal family to allow this to happen for Lord Ma'afu.”

With a growing Tongan diaspora, Pakilau said the practice of these traditions maintained the island kingdom’s cultural connections.

“We've come to New Zealand and Australia and settled there, but we've always had a place here, back home, for us. So we've maintained those connections. And one way to keep those connections is through service to our community and to our chief.”