What Would Have Happened, Had Maafu Toppled the Chiefs of Fiji.

I often wonder how Fiji would have fared if Enele Ma’afu was left alone to continue his ambitious adventures in Fiji. The inter-tribal conflicts were a perfect cover for Ma'afu’s ambitions. As there was an established relationship between Tonga, Fiji and Samoa, the total governing of each country had not been fully determined due to the inter-tribal differences. It was customary of Tongan chiefs to go to Fiji and engage in their inter-tribal conflicts. They bring back with them the warfare skills as well as the prestige of being war veterans. In addition to the inter-tribal conflicts, the superior qualities of the craftsmanship shown in the Fijian double canoes over those built by themselves or the Samoans.
By 1840, Tonga’s political future had been determined due to King George Tupou’s conversion to Christianity and his supremacy over all other chiefs of Tonga. In 1839, King George Tupou held a council for the chiefs and declared Tonga as “property of the Gods in Heaven.” Thus the “God and Tonga are my inheritance” in the Tonga’s Royal seals began. Meanwhile, the power struggle between the Mata’afa and the Malietoa clans in Samoa as well as the inter-tribal conflicts in Fiji brought in unwanted evils (foreign interventions) that had long lasting consequences as we are seeing evidence today.

The British were worse than the Tongans. They robbed the Fijians of their rights to their land and established a Land Commission and the Land Trust that robbed Fijians of their own land. The Tongans only wanted free food and anything else they can steal. Fortunately for Tonga, King George had already decreed that each man will own his own lot without any undue influence from the chiefs. King George Tupou outlawed the “VASU system” borrowed from Fiji, where sisters’ children have free reign over their uncles’ properties and their uncles’ children serve for their pleasures. The Tongan word “takai fala” came out of this relationship. To seal Tonga’s destiny in world politics, King George established a constitution and campaigned to be recognized by the World Powers of the time. Tonga signed peace and commercial treaties with Germany and France. Those treaties and global recognition of this new island kingdom forced Britain to back away from any annexation attempt of Tonga. Germany had already claimed Western Samoa and the United Sates claimed Tutuila (American Samoa). That left Fiji for the immediate claim by Britain.

Although Tonga had been a Constitutional Monarchy for the past 150 years, the monarchy is the stabilizing factor in the equation. When one look to Tonga with his/her Westernised perspective, he/she will perceive, there are many problems within this system. That is very true. But if you are in Tonga living your life without listening to the chatter box and those who want political change, you can’t tell the difference. The citizens are living their lives the same way their grandparents did a hundred years ago. In many ways, when I am in Tonga, I feel more freedom there than when I am here in my own home in the United Sates. The US laws are sometimes cumbersome in comparison to simple local laws in Tonga.

On September 25, 1874, the British invited Cakobau to the H. M. S. Dido and asked him about his request for annexation. This seemed like Cakobau was under undue stress to cede his kingdom. Unfortunately, on October 10, 1874, King Cakobau and twelve others, principal chiefs of Fiji, namely, Ma’afu, Tui Cakau, Ratu Epeli, Vakawaletabua (Tui Bua), Savenaka, Isikeli, Roko Tui Dreketi, Nacagilevu, Ratu Kini, Ritova, Katunivere, and Matanitobua signed the annexation by Britain.

The Tongan Constitution is not a perfect document but looking at it from an 1862 perspective, it was way ahead of its time. After a few years of massaging the draft of the constitution, by 1875, the average Tongan was guaranteed the freedom of religion, freedom of the press, private land ownership without undue influence of the local chiefs, the land of Tonga can only be owned by Tongans and cannot be sold to foreigners (Tonga for Tongans) and many more.

With that, if Ma’afu succeeded in his quest to topple the chiefs of Fiji, I wonder what would have become of Fiji. The current political problem in Fiji has many root causes. The chiefs’ or Council of the Chiefs are now ignored by the current government. What a shame. As bad as Tonga’s system of government may seem to outsiders, the Tongans consent to be governed as such. In addition, the Tongans also recognized the importance of their chiefs and they render proper respect to them. Fijian chiefs are no less deserving than their Tongan counterparts.

Unfortunately, democracy is not a one size fit all. Fiji’s brand of democracy should be unique to Fiji where local customs and culture are in the forefront while chiefs are respected and honoured.

When Tonga’s politics gets to the point where Fiji is now experiencing, I can see the Tongans of old coming out and show its ugly face. Civil war will break out for sure. For this old Tongan, I’d rather die standing for my freedom than crawling on my knees begging for mercy. It does not take much to pull the old Tongan fire out of the Tongan heart. Burning down of Nuku’alofa was an example. Tongans do not mind having more “so-called freedom” as long as dictators do not rule the kingdom. Of course it is a kingdom, the Kingdom of Tonga. What do you expect when a king reign supreme? There is a constitution and there is a king who rules his kingdom.

Ma’afu could have brought miracles and stability to Fiji where Fiji will always be for Fijians and never is for sale. But, that’s just me, a Tongan with ancestors from Lakeba, thinking and wondering out loud.


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Wow! David Langi, Bula vinaka. You have relations in Lakeba? Do you know them? I am from Lakeba but my late mother is from Houma. My mother's elder sister, Mrs Malia Tupou raised Mum as a young girl in Houma and Malia married into the Tupou family on Foa, in the beautiful Ha'apai islands. They live in Houma though. Their eldest son, the late Father Sione Tupou died while serving his Tongan ministry in California in the 90's I think the year was '94 or '95, don't remember exactly?

But going back to the point about Ma'afu. I think it was simple - Ratu Cakobau saw Ma'afu's growing influence in Fiji and the possible threat it could have imposed. It was well known fact in the higher echelons of Fijian families at that time that Fiji was graced with an ambitious prince and why he was exiled from Tonga. I heard from the Tongan connection in Neiafu where had had also recruited warriors there was also a possibility he could have overthrown the Tongan mornach with his ruthless army and could have to some degree of argument rightfully claimed the thrown and the King's position through his birth right.

Ma'afu had a grand opportunity to build a mini-empire for himself taking advantage of the tribal conflicts (not only in Fiji but also in samoa but Samoa was a easy target for him, Fiji was tough!) as you mentioned. Without his help the conversion of Fijian provinces to Christianity would have been a real challenge. He had his reasons to champion the 'holy war' and did it so successfully to achieve his goals and it was such a perfect decoy but it was too obvious to the chiefs who had their eye on him especially Ratu Cakobau.

In a very touching piece of Lakeba's history there was this story of how the chiefs used Ma'afu's warriors for their own ends if and when they require their service. The 3rd brother to the 'Sau' ni vanua 'o Lau title - Matawalu, also known as Jikoibau had some disagreements with his equally powerful nephew Roko Taliai. When things got worst Matawalu had to make his escape routes around Lakeba fleeing from one village to another as Roko Taliai wanted him dead. Finally the brave Matawalu was captured by Ma'afu's warriors up in the mountains called Tagiapusi located between the village of Levuka and Waciwaci.

Ma'afu's soldiers had to tie Matawalu down with both arms and then hid legs together with wild vines as he was strugggling vigourously with contempt and they carried him (like how pigs are carried to traditional functions) down the hills to the chiefly village of Tubou. Mind you, Matawalu was known for his bravery and was a 'Sau' himself was very popular with the people in Lakeba but when he was faced single handed with Ma'afu's warriors he had no power whatsover. Even when Roko Taliai saw how they brought his uncle to Tubou he himself was so upset BUT that is how cruel the Tongan soldiers fought their wars in Fiji and how they carried out their infamous commands, not to mention the 'raids'.

That brings me to the last point - There are such stories within families who suffered in the hands of the Tongan warriors that I believe have been kept and passed down to their children today.

I was at the Fijian hotel for the first time in 1973 and was taken to the cliff side of the hotel where the Tongans entered Cuvu and I remember the guide at that time telling the story of how a war was fought in that spot and how the Fijians were driven into the sea through the same way. Many had to swim for their life when they reached that cliffside. These very special stories are there but was never recorded officially - I do not think so? I hope someone could compile it before it goes into the graves with those village elders who have this information and whose days maybe numbered and unfortunately will be lost along the way. I am sure some have been lost already. Maybe someone or a team could be tasked to do this important mission (impromptu) during the planned family re-union.
Hello Jimaima,

First of all, I want to acknowledge my ignorance of who I am as far as my connection to my Fijian heritage from Lakeba. When I grew up, my mother talked about how her grandfather, Matanibuka came from Fiji to Tonga. She often tried to teach us to speak Fijian but to no avail. She has passed on but left me with lots of regrets, for I will never know the rest of our story. Fortunately, as I see there is a missing link in our family line, I am a history enthusiast, not an expert. I read a lot regarding Tongan and Fijian pre-1900 contacts with hope I will see something significant that will connect me to my Fijian heritage.

You are right Jimaima. There is a need for someone to compile old stories and publish them as such. The preservation of such stories will preserve histories and folklores. This will prevent history revisionist from repainting history to their likings. Whether we like whay happened in the past or not, but we need to have the privilege of know what really happens. Knowing the past helps us navigating our society to a better future.

Come to think of it, I have time. I will post another discussion and ask others in the forum to sent me their old storeis and I will compile them and e-publish them in this forum for all to see. That's a good idea.

Thanks Jimaima!

Ofa atu
Ma'afu would only topple the small islands of fiji.because if he had tried to come to navosa.He would have to regret that decision for the rest of his life in hell.Navosa highlanders would have roasted him and his followers in and never left a trace of them anywhere.

It may have ended up that way since the the Navosa highlanders are familiar with their territory. However, Maafu had made headways into many parts of Vanua Levu (almost half of the whole territory) as well as other parts of Viti Levu. From a military perspective, this was a very bad strategy. Maafu had stretched his forces too thin due to geography. The local militias would have easily destroyed them. But Maafu's strategy had been to made alliance with local chiefs and give them them control of the new gained terrritories and have them pledged loyalty to Maafu. But we are talking about loyalty or honor among thieves, which there is none.  Maafu's forces had a bad reputation of using extreme violence and night ambush to beat the  enemies. During this period, the mindset in Fiji's population was, the night belongs to the ghosts of the dead.  Therefore, they were unwilling to go out and fight at night. Not that they were cowards, but they respect the souls of their loved ones and not to offend them as they are wandering at night. This was extracted from the early misssionaries's writings, who brought Christianity to Fiji. Remember, many of these early missionaries were in Tonga before they came to Fiji. Many of them seek protection from Maafu and his forces.

I personally believe one of the reasons why Maafu was successful early on was his destruction of Moala Island during one of his raids on behalf of his allies. According to ancient Fijians folklores, Moala Island is where the spirits of chiefs rest before they go to Bulotu. The belief of the time was, no unworthy person will set foot in Moala because of its chiefly residents. So, Moala was extremely restricted, even to chiefs. When Maafu raided Moala and came out unharmed, he was almost seen as superhuman since the spirits in Moala couldn't harm him.  Today, we know better.

Putting emotions aside, there are claims that Maafu was very influential in the establishment of the Tovata Confederacy.

Tongan influence in Fiji is more through trade then through conquest. Taveuni was rich in the red parrot feathers, then you have the Vesi Tree for canoes. Stone axes found throughout teh Eastern Pacific were from Samoa. It is usuualy joked in VanuaLevu who are tauvus to Vanuabalavu, how Wainiqolo ran for his life in the veidogo. Maafu uses trickery, and also uses the fragmented Fijian society to gain ground, but even if he conquers it wud still be a small land mass, a fraction that.


If you dig deeper into the names of the islands of the Lau group, you can see Maafu was just trying to reclaim what was taken from Them. The Lau group were Polynesia originally but got taken over by The occupants from the West.


If you delve even deeper into Polynesia place names, words like Fenua-kura, Iti Nui, Pulotu, Atafu, Laepa, Patea, Tikopia, Anuta.. etc, they have their origions in Fiji. Why did they leave in teh first place.


Deeper still the Samoans say that the Tongans is the people cross bred from Fijians and Samoans. The Warriors of Burotu, intermarrying with the Women of Manu'a. As we all know interbreeding produces a sibling combining the best from both stocks. The Tongans went ot to be Pacific Conquers..


The sources we use in discussions like this are usually either from books or anecdotal evidences such as oral histories or folklores.   As we analyse them, we try to connect them with assumptions due to lack of accurate writings and histories. We are trying to discuss something that happened 150 years ago.  I try to look at it without involving my emotions so I can understand it.  Maafu would have never succeeded in his quest to rule Fiji. The parameters and the political circumstances of the time were too narrow for him. However, for sake of this discussion, these are factuals:   First, Maafu was a pain in the rear end for many chiefs in Fiji. He used terror as his primary tactic. Wainiqolo and others from his force were part of that terror network. The chiefs who joined Maafu for convenience and at the expense of their nemesis, were also participating in this terror network. This pushed Maafu's reputation before his forces even set foot on any village.  Second, Fiji's geography was too huge for command and control. Any attempt to control the chiefs throughout Fiji would have been impossible. Maafu may have seen it and decided on his path of building coalition with those who want to terminate their rivalries. Third, the expansion of other foreign influences (British colonial expansion and American merchants) left Maafu with little incentive to be a menace.  Before his last quest after 1860, Maafu signed an agreement with the British consul, he will not make any attempt to conquer Fiji.  The British man-of-wars (naval battle ships and their cannons) were no match to Maafu's sticks and rocks. Maafu saw first hand the destruction of cannons when he was in Tonga. Remember, Maafu went to the Lau Group as the governor for the Tongan population who are in that area.   The intermarriage between Tongans and Fijians were commonly practiced during that time.  I am a product of the intermarriage from that period. The early missionaries and British diplomats wrote about some of these in their journals.  One wrote about how the Tongans became opportunists among Fijians. The chiefs ask them for assistance in their fight against their rivalries. In return, the Tongans stayed around long after the battles just to be fed and taken care of by their hosts. The Tongans burned their welcome mats and their Fijian hosts at times wished they were never invited.

Enough of Maafu for now.

You mentioned other islands to include Tikopia and Anuta. According to Raymond Firth, the first anthropologists to write about Tikopia and Anuta, the natives claim their origins to be Tongan. As a Tongan, I could understand most of their written language, based on my association with my Tongan language. On the other hand, I have no clue what I am looking at when I read the Fijian language.   Just a thought.

Sure you will have no clue looking at the Fijian language. Linguistics studies on place names notes that Cikobia and Yanuca are Fijian origions. Trace your finger around the Pacific map and you will see the recurrence of this place names, in adopted form. Tikopia and Yanuta rings a bell, and they coincidentally are neighbouring islands in the Solomons..  The qestion is: Why did they leave Cikobia and Yanuca? in Viti?


Yes, some of those names may have been of Fijian origins. One of the disadvantages we are trying to navigate through is the non-existence of written records prior to Christian missionaries’ contacts.  Therefore, we use anecdotal evidences such as oral stories and name association to paint a picture of what may have happened.  One thing I know for sure, migration was constant despite the vast distance and ocean between island countries.


In the case of Anuta, its young history (about 300 plus years) point to its current settlers as Tongans led by a chief named Kaulave or Kaurave. The second group of settlers were from Uvea led by a chief named Taupale or Taupare. Their customs and cultures are clearly of Tonag origin. By reviewing the Anutans family structures and kinship, majority of their names are clearly Tongan. For example, this is a small comparison in words for family members both in Anuta and Tongan. These terms are in Anuta language.


Tamai (father) - both in Anuta and Tongan

Pae (mother) - in Tonga it is Fae

Makitanga - in Tongan it is mehikitanga

Tama (child) both in Anuta and Tongan

Tuatina (uncle) - in Tongan it is tuasina

Mokopuna (grandchild) both in Anuta and Tongan

Tamatapu (sisters’s child) both in Anuta and in Tongan

Iramutu (sister’s child) in Tongan it is ilamutu

The similarities in cultures and languages makes me feel at home in Anuta although I have not set foot there. 


That being said, I agree with you for there has to be a reason why and where they got their names from.  The previous settlers may have been from Fiji. But, I have not come across any of the Anuta’s oral histories that mention any Viti stories.


Tikopia on the other hand is a blended mix. Their language although have some similarities with Anuta, the presence of other Melanesian and Australain aborigines influence is more visible.  But, there are few Tonga influences in their cultures and  customs.  For example, their Mako kailau (war dance with paddles) is of Tongan origin.  Tikopians do not remember when it was started but they were told it had been passed down through generations. The most spectacular dance of the Tikopians is the Mori. One of the mori is the “mori fakatonga”. The Tikopians only know this dance was passed down from previous generations. In Tonga, moli is an old term for dancing. In the Tongan language, the letter “r” and “l” are pronounced the same way due to simplification of the Tongan alphabet. There only 16 letters in the Tongan alphabet. Certain letters are combined when spoken. For example, the letters “b” and “p” are the same. Such as “d” and “t”; “r” and “l”; “s”, “j” and “z” are spoken the same. This change was implemented in the 1940s by the Tonga Government’s Ministry of Education.  


Finally, this is an old Tikopia song to remind them of those Tongans invaders that came in their war canoes:


Iri pu e ta a nga Tonga

Tefea tefea te fenua tauvia

Kua ta te nafa i te moana

Kua sopo ko Pipi ki nga uta


You may be right, but based on language and cultural reflections, there may be more to a place than a name.  I’m just saying………..


The Fijian word for war ships is "manua" most likely a carry ova from the name of war canoes. Manu'a is Samoa rite?

Those fragments of linguistic occurrence and place names sure says much of the history that went un recorded. Happy Sunday@

My guess is, it came from an English word. The English war ships of the 18th and 19th centuries were called the "Man-of-war".  The writings of early missionaries and English diplomats referred to these well armed war ships as such.  The Tongan word for it is "manuao", the Tonganised of the man-of-war. I suspect "manua" came from the same war ship. Then again, this is where discussion and guessing of our past is painfully enjoyable.  Have a good weekend!!!!!! 

bula vinaka David...the Tui Pelehake and his warriors were  already securing lands here in the Nadroga Province way before the arrival of Maafu,yes he fought battles and conquered but his battles were only within the Tovata Confederacy  which consist of Lau Groups and Vanua Levu...the braveheart  warrriors were the highlanders or the KAI COLO...their  province were the COLO EAST,COLO NORTH AND COLO WEST and that is Fiji's Mainland. 



Aisake Kuriwara - The Battle of Kaba in 1855 was probably one of the biggest battles in Fiji's history between Bau and Rewa or as the historians wrote - between Tongans warriors and the Rewans coalition put together by all heathen Chiefs who did not want to be Christian ... The battle was won before it started - how easy it was for the Vavau warriors to win the battle against the best Fiji offered at that time supported by some white settlers with guns. These Tongans - 2000 of them all in over 30 canoes - must be huge canoes to carry the lot over to Kaba - were led by their King and Ma'afu. When it comes to roasting - this too is not a monopoly reserved the highlanders ... have a read of the book A History of Fiji by RA Derrick ... these lot were quite good to the point if it was not for the Poms - would have extended their influence all the way to New Hebrides 


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