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  • Under the Toa tree: The genealogy of the Tongan Chiefs

    Aletta Biersack

    Chapter from the book: Siikala, J. 2021. Culture and History in the Pacific.


    This paper examines the dualistic foundations of Tongan kingship by way of exploring the historicity of the Tongan polity. While paramounts allegedly descend "from the sky" and the god or gods living there, they are also kinsmen of the villagers living under them and are appraised as such. Whether by way of reproducing or transforming a political field, the mediation of duality requires human work, a practice and performance of kingship. The word genealogy in the title bears the burden of the entire argument. Referring directly to history, it enters into tension with the patrilineal and structural models of the past. The history to which it refers, in turn, is set in motion by the dual foundations of kingship: idioms and ideologies of divinity but existing in tension with the "leveling forces" of contractual modes of legitimation. My aim is to develop a framework adequate to the task of interpreting the revolution of the 19th century, when Tāufa'āhau, a secondary chief, executed sweeping reforms at once chiefly and populist: he suppressed the Tu'i Tonga title of his superior; created a superordinate one, the royal title of the constitutional monarchy he in part designed; and converted to Christianity. The third monarch of the Tupou dynasty Tāufa'āhau founded, Queen Sālote Tupou III, figures prominently in these pages as an ideologue. In her often veiled and diplomatic disparagement of the leaders of the past, Queen Sālote provides a window upon the genealogical politics this paper addresses.

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    Biersack, A. 2021. Under the Toa tree: The genealogy of the Tongan Chiefs. In: Siikala, J (ed.), Culture and History in the Pacific. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.33134/HUP-12-7

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    Published on Sept. 29, 2021


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