One the most prominent sites on Tongatapu is the Ha'amonga 'a Maui (Maui’s Burden).
The name of the site, Ha'amonga 'a Maui, comes from a Tongan legend. Prior to the arrival of missionaries, Tongans worshipped Polynesian Gods and spirits. Maui was a famous Polynesian God that was believed to have fished the Pacific Islands out of the sea. Maui was under great pressure in this task, with the weight of heaven and the sky, including the stars, Milky Way, moon and other planets on his shoulders. The weight and positioning of the stones at the site resembles a person with a heavy burden. As a result of this, the site was named after Maui’s burden in creating the Pacific Islands.
Inside view of joint - Ha'amonga Trilithon
The Ha'amonga 'a Maui consists of three coral slabs (believed to have come from ‘Uvea Island in French Territory – current day Wallis Island) weighing approximately 20 tonnes each. There are two slabs holding up the third cross piece and these two slabs evenly grooved on top as if the carpenters tools nine hundred years ago could easily cut and polish the slabs that are at least eight feet in width.
The Ha'amonga 'a Maui is located on the eastern tip of Tongatapu Island near the villages of Niutoua and Afa. This is the area where the eleventh Tongan King (Tu’i Tonga Tu’itatui) had his seat of power. It is believed that Tu'i Tu’itatui built the structure in 1200 A.D. Legend relates to the physical strength of Tu’itatui who was reputed to have sat against a large stone slab, the 'Maka Faakinanga', which still stands near the Ha’amonga, and by striking out with a staff he kept his people at a safe distance for fear of assassination. Tu'i Tu'itatui translated is King Strike Knee.
There have been many theories as to the meaning of the structure – from a gateway to the King’s Palace (Heketa) through to it being a symbol of brotherhood.
For many years, where it came from and use of the Ha'amonga 'a Maui remained unknown and open to many theories. It was not until 1967 during the reign of the late King of Tonga; His Majesty King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, that significant research was undertaken. The results of this research revealed that the creation and importance of the Ha'amonga 'a Maui is based on its relation to the sun (la’a).
The sun is extremely significant in Tongan culture, in terms of seasonal periods, measured over years, months and days. The suns duration is measured from sunrise to sunset and seasonal months were divided between sowing, planting and reaping seeds, each dependent on the earth’s rotation. Everyday activities in Tonga are also dependent on the sun, including: fishing, canoe sailing, marriages and construction.
The shortest day in Tonga occurs when the sun is exactly 23 ½ degrees (Tropic of Cancer). When the sun is on the equator, it is moving toward the southern hemisphere and conversely, the northern hemisphere is moving towards the winter. When the sun is on the Tropic of Capricorn, more light is shed in Tonga than darkness. All the three sun markers are indicative of the seasonal changes that occur in Tonga in accordance with the rising of the sun, which is exactly in line with the W etching found on the top slab of the Ha'amonga 'a Maui.
The importance of the Latitude and Longitude of the Ha'amonga 'a Maui is that the coral slabs when constructed on land and are in a position that is high enough to observe the sea horizon when during sunrise. Investigations revealed that not only are the height of the coral slabs scientifically calculated towards the sea, but they are also true magnetic north.
The Ha'amonga 'a Maui has been scientifically interpreted as an early style sundial clock that recorded different seasonal changes. The Ha'amonga 'a Maui fully acknowledges the sea position of Tongatapu and the exact observation of the morning sunrise on the shortest, midway and longest day. How our ancestors knew the science of the sun's positional sunrise along the Tropic of Cancer, Equator and Capricorn remains a mystery.
As a result of the research, the success of the Tongan Maritime Empire has been directly related to the Ha'amonga 'a Maui. The trilithon enabled Tongan leaders to understand the astronomy of the sky, sun routes and was used as a seasonal calendar.
In 1972, the late King, His Majesty King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, declared the site 'Ha'amonga 'a Maui Historical Park'. Through this decision, the site will remain protected, researched and interpreted for future generations.