Sacred Kingship: Cases from Polynesia

Author: Claessen, Henri J. M.
Journal: Social Evolution & History. Volume 17, Number 2 / September 2018


This article aims at a description and analysis of sacred kingship in Polynesia. To this aim two cases – or rather island cultures – are compared. The first one is the island of Tahiti, where several complex polities were found. The most important of which were Papara, Te Porionuu, and Tautira. Their type of rulership was identical, so they will be discussed as one. In these kingdoms a great role was played by the god Oro, whose image and the belonging feather girdles were competed fiercely. The other case is found on the Tonga Islands, far to the west. Here the sacred Tui Tonga ruled, who was allegedly a son of the god Tangaloa and a woman from Tonga. Because of this descent he was highly sacred. In the course of time a new powerful line, the Tui Haa Takalaua developed, and the Tui Tonga lost his political power. In his turn the Takalaua family was overruled by the Tui Kanokupolu. The tensions between the three lines led to a fierce civil war, in which the Kanokupolu line was victorious. The king from this line was, however, not sacred, being a Christian.