Volume 20 1911 > Volume 20, No. 4 > Origin of the name of Tonga Island, by Josiah Martin, p 165-166
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[In Major J. T. Large's paper on Ruatapu, published in Vol. XV. of this Journal at p. 214, it is said that Ruatapu, on one of his voyages from Rarotonga, visited Tonga Island, some thousand miles to the west. We asked Mr. Josiah Martin, who was then at Tonga, to make enquiries as to whether Ruatapu was known there, and the answer is given below. It is not very satisfactory; but the enquiries brought forth the Tongan account of the origin of the name of their island (Tonga-tapu), and this may probably be considered authentic seeing the source from whence it was obtained. The story is very ancient as its nature proclaims, and is akin to most of the Maui myths.

In one of the MSS. in Dr. Wyatt Gill's collection, written by an Aitutaki man named Kaiapa, we find the following: “Ruatapu was a man of Tonga-tapu Island who came on a voyage to Rarotonga, but he was not allowed to stay there—he was driven off, and then went to Mauke Island (Cook Group), where he settled where his son Moenau had been living, but was then dead.” This seems to confirm the Tongan story, and shows the extensive voyages undertaken by these people at that period. It is somewhat uncertain, however, if Ruatapu above is the son of Uenuku, for there was one of his name who flourished long before Uenuku.—Editor.]

IN reference to enquiry at Tonga as to the celebrated ancestor Ruatapu, I had several interviews with Fata-fehi, the king's father, who is the representative of the Tui-Tonga (or the sacred high priest of former days).

He says the name of Ruatapu is familiar in Tongan tradition, but he could not remember any particulars except that he is said to have carried the name of Tonga to Rarotonga—or Lalotonga, as he called it. He thinks that Lalo-tonga meant under-Tonga—that is to say, that the people gave the name Tonga to some elevation, hill, or mountain, under which they lived, on the sea-beach or on flats surrounding the hills. 1

I incidentally obtained the following information:—The origination of the name Tonga is given in the following legendary reminiscence with which he favoured me. I give it in his own words as translated by the Rev. J. B. Watkin:—

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The name Tonga is a personal name; it was that of a great chief, Tui-Manuka; that is, the chief named Tonga was tui, or king, of Manuka, a place in Samoa. (Hamoa he called it. 2) This chief named Tonga was a great fisherman, and he had one celebrated hook in his collection by means of which he could fish up land.

Now Maui-kisikisi (Maui-tikitiki in Maori) was a chief among the spirits, and he said to his followers, “Let us go to Manuka and get a hook and fish for land.” So they went to Manuka, which is Hamoa, and Maui-kisikisi went on shore; here he met with a woman—she was the wife of Tui-Manuka, and her name was Tavatavai-Manuka. They embraced and “went wrong.” The woman asked Maui where he was going. He told her that his party were going to see Tui-Manuka to get one of his hooks. The woman then directed him where to go; there were lots of bright hooks in the house, but there was an inferior one hanging at the end of the house. This was the very particular one by which Tui-Manuka pulled up land. Then the party went in a canoe. They were really gods or spirits: and they went to Tui-Manuka and told him the object of their expedition, because they had heard such wonders worked by this celebrated hook of his.

Tui-Manuka said, “Here are plenty of hooks; please yourselves.” But they chose the inferior one as advised by the woman. Tui saw at once that they knew the virtues of this particular hook, and he immediately suspected his wife and named her as the one who must have told the secret to Maui; therefore that passed into a proverb, because now Tavatavai Manuka means one who betrays a secret. They brought the hook to Maui, and with it he fished up the island of Tonga.

Tui-Manuka made a condition. His real personal name was Tonga Fusi Fonua; and his condition was that the land raised by his hook was to be called after him by his name Tonga. Maui went to the western part of the new island and walked to and fro on it to make it a fixture. The middle part was trodden out by the spirits who formed his party. The long narrow part of the raised island was trodden out flat by Maui, and part of it was washed away (separated from the rest) and Maui upon it. This portion became Uvea (Wallis Island).

That is why it is called Tonga. It was Ruatapu who carried the name with him to Lalo-tonga. Tradition is that it was a Tongan canoe manned by Tonga men who took the name Tonga with them, and, landing at the base of a hill, they called the spot Lalo-tonga.

1   This account, however, does not at all agree with that of the Rarotongan.—Editor.
2   Of course this is Manu'a, the most eastern island of the Samoa Group.—Editor.