Thursday, March 28, 2013

Collapsed Empires: Tuʻi Tonga Empire

We continue on with our Pacific Ocean themed collapsed empires.  Lest you thing these were rare one-offs, today's empire was in existence at the same time as the Nan Madol empire we covered yesterday.  They were neighbors.  Neighbors in the Pacific Ocean distance sense of being only 4,250 km (2,640 miles) apart.

This empire, also has a new contemporary edge, as it was adopted into Civilization V the computer game of conquest, as one of the possible contenders to world domination.  One presumes their special skill in the game is long distance voyaging.
Per Wikipedia, the "Tuʻi Tonga Empire" or "Tongan Empire" in Oceania are descriptions sometimes given to Tongan expansionism and projected hegemony dating back to 950AD, but at its peak during the period 1200–1500.
The Wikipedia editors also rather shrillishly notes that we don't have a lot of evidence of one continuous dynasty ruling through this period.  As with a lot of these collapsed empires, outside of the ruins, and a few ancestral tales, we often know very little at all. 

The largest architectural remains are the relatively numerous Langi (from the official site):
The construction of the massive tombs, or langi, was a way to demonstrate the spiritual and political power of the Tu’i Tonga. 
Langi's are platforms of earth with a stepped pyramid effect supported by carefully placed retaining walls. One of several stone vaults was built under the flat top of the structure which covered with smooth black volcanic stones of equal size called kilikili. A dwelling structure was then built over the grave to protect it.
Some of the stones used to make the Langi are believed to have come from 'Uvea (current day Wallis Island) and Futuna. Songs and stories recall when double-hulled canoes (lomi peau) bridged with spacious decks travelled across the seas and brought back the large stone slabs. Some of the other materials used were limestone taken from the reefs and transported across land using large wooden skids and manually towed by rope. 
Large numbers of workers were needed to construct the Langi, as some stones measure up to 18 feet in length. Evidence still remains of the ancient quarries across Tonga where large basalt axes were used to hew the stones.
As with a number of other cultures, what we mostly know about them is  their few solid stone made structures.  It is important to remember that much of the detailed information we have of the Romans was preserved by groups of monks copying their documents.  No copying monks: not much history:  Just ask the Phoenicians.

The Langi Paepae 'o Tele'a (possibly the foundation of some sort of burriel mound?)


Francis Lee said...

Are they related to the Kingdom of Tonga people who exist today.

russell1200 said...

Francis: Yes, in the same way that Egyptians live in Egypt. Same general people, but a lot has happened in between.

The modern Tonga are one of the few island groups that (as far as I know) never became somebody's colony.