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Tongan wood king

For three years in the middle of the 12th century, the Tu’i Tonga Empire was ruled by a piece of wood.

I know this sounds weird, but it actually had a simple (and very clever) rationale. The Tu’i Tonga Empire had a long tradition of father-son inheritance, and by the time of the 12th king – Talatama – the leadership had changed hands in this way for maybe a couple of centuries. Just one problem: Talatama had no children.

Talatama did have a younger brother, Talaiha’apepe, but there was no precedent for a younger brother inheriting this title. So when the king died, he had to come up with a plan.

The plan was simple: appoint a doll made of wood as the king. The doll was named “Tu’itonganui ko e Tamatou” (roughly, the king who is made of Tou wood), and described as Talatama’s son. It was installed as king and even assigned a queen. Three years later, the doll “died,” apparently leaving a son. Surprise! The son was Talaiha’apepe, and he finally became king.

[Thanks to Nicoletta R. for suggesting this topic.]

Categories: History Medieval history Oceania Places Politics & law

The Generalist

I live in Auckland, New Zealand, and am curious about most things.

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