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Thursday, July 12, 2012


Near the northeastern end of Tongatapu, the main island of Tonga, is a curious prehistoric structure that still has people guessing as to its origin and purpose.  The Trilithon, or Ha’amonga, is Tonga’s miniature Stonehenge.
Welcome to the Ha'amonga, an as-yet unsolved mystery here in Tonga.

Made of coral that matches that of Wallis Island, some 670 nautical miles north, the three huge pieces that make up the Trilithon predate any written history of the islands, but oral tradition and careful sifting of the stories has led most Tongan authorities to conclude that it was built about 1200 A.D.  Each piece had to be cut and shipped on the small Polynesian sailboats that have navigated these waters for who knows how long.  How do you float a piece of limestone that weighs 12 tons?  

Oral histories attribute this particular part of the island to the eleventh Tongan King, who may have had the structure carved and created.  The bottoms of the upright slabs are eight feet thick, and each upright is precisely notched to balance the crosspiece.  Oral tradition tells of this ancient Tongan King setting himself up against the structure with a long staff, which he wielded against any comers, fearing assassination.  His name even translates to “King Strike Knee”.  

After 800 years in the salt air, the limestone coral is pitted and scarred, but still stable.
Theories have linked the Ha’amonga to the rotation of the sun, for a “W” shaped etching on the top stone lines up precisely with the sunrise at both equinox and solstice points every year.  So similar to England’s Stonehenge, this may have been something of a solar calendar.  Whatever the history, the Ha’amonga is a fascinating structure.  Though trees now obscure the view, it is obvious that 800 years ago standing on the structure gave a clear view of the sea.  Interestingly, if you could stand on the top of the stone and look straight out to see, you would be facing exactly magnetic north. (But no one’s allowed to climb up on top any more – 800 years of wear and tear and all that…)

The popular name for this structure is Maui’s Burden.  Maui, a popular figure in Polynesian legends, is supposed to have fished up Tongatapu from the sea floor.  To most Tongans, this immense structure represents the burden of work placed upon Maui.  When you see the huge upright pieces placed in the ground, with the incredible crosspiece secured between them, you do get a sense of the scale of the work needed to create just this island – then multiply it by a couple million and you have the South Pacific.  Kind of puts our days in perspective.

 Brother Van Johnson standing up against the Ha'amonga, to get a sense of its size.
This little jewel of an island, glittering in the diamond seas of the Southern Hemisphere, is a source of joy and delight for me.  Although her history is reshaped by generations of retelling, it is still rich and wondrous, and I love my life here.  With a grateful heart, I echo the words of the psalmist: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; [and the wonders thou hast allowed man to build and last through centuries], What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?  For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.”  (Psalms 8:3-5)


  1. Bea you are the ultimate teacher!!! Love your interesting posts!

  2. I read your post and thought, who could be there and see all that great beauty, and be witness to the faith of those people, and not know and see that there surely is God and He still lives? Then I thought He might be preaching to the choir--so they could sing more joyfully, as you do, all the way from Tonga!

  3. Thanks, Angi. Preaching to the choir is sometimes an absolute necessity - we need it as much as anyone. It's a remarkable opportunity to be here, and I hope I acquit myself well, when it's all said and done. Can't believe it's going so fast - the end of this month will be ten months out of the 23! Aaaaagh! Get busy!