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.|
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.|