Social memory and the Langi (Royal tombs) of Lapaha, Tonga

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


    This paper examines how the traditional history of monumental tombs in a continuously occupied landscape in the Kingdom of Tonga has become fractured, and in some instances attaches uncertainly to a particular mortuary structure. The Tu'i Tonga dynasty ruled Tonga for more than 600 years (~AD 1200-1800), and traditional genealogies record 39 Tui Tonga, most of whom were buried in stone-faced sepulchres known as langi (sky) at the central place of Lapaha. Construction of the tombs (inscribed memory) required significant community investment, particular in the quarrying and transport of carbonate stone slabs and in mortuary ritual attending the death of a paramount. Nonetheless, the names of several of the largest tombs and knowledge of who is buried in them differ in records spanning 150 years. Political upheaval after European contact led to the demise of Lapaha (Mu'a) as the central place of Tonga while the termination of public ceremonies centred on the royal tombs as a result of the increasing popularity of Christianity weakened cultural knowledge (incorporated memory) about the tombs. The variability in the names of langi embodies the political decline of the Tu'i Tonga chiefdom, therefore, and is paralleled by archaeological evidence for reduced investment in tomb architecture.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationStudies in Global Archaeology no. 20
    EditorsHelene Martinsson-Wallin and Timothy Thomas
    Place of PublicationUppsala, Sweden
    PublisherUppsala University
    ISBN (Print)9789150624106
    Publication statusPublished - 2014

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