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Ha’amonga ‘a Maui

The Megalithic Gate of Ha-amonga a Maui


Scattered over 700,000 square kilometres in the southern Pacific Ocean are the Tonga islands. On one of the 176 islands that make up Tonga, there stands one of the strangest megalithic monuments in the Pacific, a trilithon called Ha’amonga ‘a Maui (A carrying stick/burden of Maui).

The kingdom of Tonga is a Polynesian sovereign state and archipelago comprising nearly two hundred islands with around a quarter of them inhabited. The date that the first occupation of the islands took place is ambiguous - as is the dating of most of the archaeological sites in the region. However, the mainstream opinion suggests the first settlers of the islands arrived in around 1500 BC with the oldest occupied site found on the island of Tongatapu, where the unusual megalithic monument exists.

For a start, arriving at and inhabiting these isolated islands over three millennia ago was a big achievement for the Lapita people, the first ones that are believed to have inhabited the island. The Lapita people were a pre-historic culture predating the Polynesians who later populated the islands from Hawaii to Easter Island - clearly showing navigational skills.  The ancient capital of Tonga was the city of Mu’a, the name of which may remind us of the lost continent of Mu (identified with Atlantis), which today is considered by conventional archaeology to be a mythological place.

The Ha’amonga ‘a Maui is located about 30 km from Nuku-alofa, the capital city of Tongatapu.  The structure is a megalithic trilithon that was said to have been built in about 1200 AD by the king of the time, probably as the entrance to his royal compound Heketa. According to a Tonga nobleman, the trilithon was built to symbolize the brotherhood of the sons of king Tuʻitātui.

A trilithon is a structure that consists of two vertical stones with a third stone supporting the top. Many would be familiar with the most famous trilithons that can be seen at Stonehenge in the United Kingdom. This specific one consists of three coral limestone slabs creating a structure of about 5.2 m high, 5.8 m long and 1.4 m wide with each stone weighing approximately 30 to 40 tonnes.

There are many legends about the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui. The most prominent story says that the trilithon was made by the Maui demigod(s) because no other mortals would be able to handle such giant stones. It was said that the Maui obtained the stones and carried them on a giant canoe. Maui were legendary demi-gods and they are present in most of the folklore of the Pacific islands. There were four brothers all with the name Maui, powerful with supernatural powers. Hawaii, Tonga, Tahiti and New Zealand all have legends related to the Maui, the first inhabitants of all those islands. But one of the most interesting aspects of the descriptions of Maui demigods is their interest in humans and their efforts to seek immortality for the human race – a topic that we will discuss another time.

The king of Tonga, Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, suggested in 1967 that the trilithon also had astronomical significance related to solstices and equinoxes.  However, there is no evidence to support this perspective.

There still remains doubt as to whether the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui was really built for a mortal king of the kingdom of the Tongas in 1200 AD, or whether it came much earlier.  It certainly bears a strong resemblance to prehistoric trilithons around the world, suggesting it is much older than 800 years.  If the latter is true, the questions remain - why was it built and by whom? 

By John Black

Related Links

Ha’amonga ‘a Maui

Legends of Maui

Lost City of Mu’a and Tonga’s Great Trilithon




The root of the word "Ha'amonga" or burden comes from the old tongan word "Ha'amo" which is a verb meaning "to carry a burden on your shoulder(s)" .

I'm Tongan and was raised in Tonga,I have been to the Ha'amonga numerous times, the structure does have astronomical significance related to solstices and equinoxes.We call wet season which is usually hot "aho loloa" means long day and dry season usually cooler "aho nonou" meaning short day as in daylight hours.On top of the trilithon if you climb up to the top there is an old engraving of a circle in the centre of the top block with 3 lines with varying degrees running through the circle's centre. Each line corresponds to three different pathways that are centred towards the Ha'amonga and run out all the way to sea.Depending on what time of the year it is, the sun rises and sets between those three pathways.It is better seen when all the overgrown bush is cleared away along the paths.For Lunar activity it could be a possibility but im not sure because i have never been there at night.Having a calendar like device to depend on was important in regards to planting of seedlings,harvest,fishing and when water was scarce particularly around growing yams.Yams or "Ufi" are a significant commodity in Tongan society for it was food as well as being used in ritual and exchanging gifts.There are 13 Tongan months each with a different name mainly associated with what food source was available at that time and growing of crops.They correspond to the Lunar months.The Ha'amonga sits in the ancient estate of Heketa of the Tui Tonga /Ancient Kings nearby a local village called Niutoua at the north east end of Tongatapu Island near the mouth of the Lagoon facing the open sea.Heketa used to be the old capital before it was moved to Mu'a by later kings.The surrounding beaches along the coast near Heketa are sandy no sign of quarrying but along the Eastern and Southern Coasts of the island there are limestone caves and rock,I've been to several beaches along the Eastern and Southern coasts where you can see signs of quarrying where the stone bedrock at the beaches look hewn into perfect rectangles and cut out or almost.I am not sure how Ancient Tongans managed to transport such heavy blocks of stone especially across long distances and ones the size of the trilithon.There are several burial monuments though across the east of the island called "Langi" meaning Sky or heaven, stone stepped structures kind of similar to four sided stepped pyramids in the way it was layered on top of the other with a wide base at the bottom.These were burial mounds or graves for our Ancient Kings/Tui Tonga.Maui is an important figure in Polynesian Mythology and so with Tongans aptly passed down from generation to generation through Fananga meaning "Storytelling".Maui also have an important connection with our ancient kings who are believed to be descended from Tangaloa. Ha'amonga means "burden" probably pertaining to the great size of the trilithon and the scope of work that had to be done in order to construct it.It was thus named "Ha'amonga 'a Maui"or Burden of Maui. I'm very proud that we still have evidence, a piece of the past,of stone masonry in our small nation a testament to the knowledge and skill of the ancient ones,it could also be a link to other civilizations.

Its a very interesting subject. As a half-tongan, I have been to this site many of times however the stories of how they were built may not be far from the truth. The locals believe these structures were built in the past by giant Tongans whom lifted the coral blocks in place... well, of course over time (hundreds of years) stories from gen to gen get skewed however still have an element of truth. What I find interesting however is the type of rock used...'coral limestone slabs', is this not the same/similar rock used to build the 'coral castle (Edward Leedskalnin)'? weren't the pyramids built with limestone blocks as such? How tall were the Annunaki? Interpretations of clay tablets (pyramids) suggest they were giants compared to humans. There are many structures around the world that have been investigated (Pyramids, Easter Island heads, Machu Picchu, Stonehenge etc) however I don't think the Ha'amonga has had the same attention (including other structures in the area). Who knows... maybe everyone believes the local folk stories...

To understand the distances covered you need to look at the Pacific Northwest and the tatoo and canoe patterns used there. The entire Pacific basin was one huge trading area. The spread as far as Canoes could take them.

This odd thing was explained by a native of the Island as Navigation teachiing structure. Find the 'Globe Trekker' episode. "You have to grow up with it or you can't feel it," said the cheif navigator.

"Tonga was the city of Mu’a, the name of which may remind us of the lost continent of Mu (identified with Atlantis)" Mu is more closely identified to Lemuria.

The "Demi-Gods" are the giants of pre-flood history.


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John Black

Dr John (Ioannis) Syrigos initially began writing on Ancient Origins under the pen name John Black. He is both a co-owner and co-founder of Ancient Origins.

John is a computer & electrical engineer with a PhD in Artificial Intelligence, a... Read More

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