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Juggling Women of Tonga

Updated on May 7, 2016
elayne001 profile image

Ruth Kongaika was born in the Rocky Mountains and has lived most of her life in the South Pacific. She travels, gardens and writes.

Tuitui nuts used for juggling
Tuitui nuts used for juggling

When we lived in Tonga, I was delighted to discover the juggling talents of the women. It is not taught to the boys, but I know some males who can juggle too, including my husband.

In elementary school, instead of learning to jump rope, play jacks or hopscotch, the primary students in Tonga learn how to hiko or juggle. They start very young, about five years of age, and some continue on for the rest of their lives.

During Malaspina's visit to Vavau, Tonga circa 1793. Women perform a variety of dances and games, including hiko (juggling).
During Malaspina's visit to Vavau, Tonga circa 1793. Women perform a variety of dances and games, including hiko (juggling).
Drawing of Egyptians juggling
Drawing of Egyptians juggling

The girls and women sing a song as they juggle three, four, five, some up to seven pieces of fruit, nuts or balls. Some claim that they can juggle even more items, but since they cannot hold them in their hands, they grab them out of a bowl placed near them. The juggling forms a round shower pattern. They usually discharge the nuts from the left hand, catching them in the right hand, and then transfer them to the left again, keeping them all in the air at once.


Most Tongans cannot tell you where the origin of juggling in Tonga began. But there is a myth about it. They say it began in the underworld where a lady, Hikuleo,was the goddess. She was a blind, and would snatch the eyeballs of anyone who approached her in the underworld without permission. She would then put them in a wooden bowl and call her girls to sit in her house and juggle with them.


Tongans are generally superstitious and the Tongan girls never juggle at night because the spirits of from the underworld are coming up and they look around. If they are caught, their eyeballs may be taken to the underworld.


Many Tongan girls have very rapid and accurate hand-eye coordination which they learned from juggling at a young age.

Record Breakers

Wolfgang Schedbeczek reported that the an 8-ball shower by Bruce Sarafian of the USA is the world's best juggler (according to the Guinness book of Records), but he feels that the juggling women of Polynesia probably have him beat.

It is said that Tonga has more jugglers per square mile than any country in the world. Often they have competitions to see who can juggle the longest. As soon as a girl drops a ball, she sits down. The last left standing is the winner.

Women who learned juggling in their youth can remember it even though they have not done it for years. I guess it would be similar to learning a bike and doing it again years later.

Other Cultures that Juggle

Aside from Tongan women, circus clowns and other juggling entertainers, there are a few other cultures that juggle:

Uvea or Wallis Island (north-west of Tonga): Called hapo usually using oranges, also done in time with a little song. They also have competitions juggling up to six oranges at the same time.

Samoa: Called fuaga , up to eight items whilst sitting or standing.

Cook Islands: Called tilitili koua done with immature coconuts (koua) juggled while chanting. Usually only done with three or four small coconuts (since they are larger).

In Southern Cook Islands they juggle other items such as the fruit of the candlenut tree, the seeds of the tamanu tree, or oranges. They are tossed vertically and transferred from one hand to another in anti-clockwise direction accompanied by chants.

Tuamotu: Called pei done in a counter-clockwise rotation - they reverse it to show skill also done to chanting. They weave their balls from plaited coconut leaf (popo). In Tuamotu it is classified as a dance.

Marquesas Islands: Also called pei . Used to teach geneology as they recite their ancestors while doing it. It also gave the mothers a chance to boast of the number of their offspring. They also make their balls out of fau leaves (Hibiscus).

Tahiti: Also called pei , but using stones or limes.


Submit a Comment
  • Linnea Lewis profile image

    Linnea Lewis 

    3 years ago from South Carolina, USA

    What an interesting hub! I have never heard of it and it is amazing how many wonderful traditions there are in the world. Thanks for sharing!

  • elayne001 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Thanks crystolite. So much to learn, so little time...glad you liked it.

  • crystolite profile image


    8 years ago from Houston TX

    Amazing article,thanks for sharing this true writing with us.

  • elayne001 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Yes Cathy, we juggle in more ways than one, every day. Thanks for that comment.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    How astonishing! Yes women are innate jugglers...

  • elayne001 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Mahalo nui loa (thank you very much Hello, hello, I appreciate that.

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 

    8 years ago from London, UK

    Thank you for your fascinating hub. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

  • elayne001 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    I am sure I tried, but gave up - these girls do not give up juggling easily, as you can tell by the video. Glad you enjoyed it b. Malin.

  • b. Malin profile image

    b. Malin 

    8 years ago

    What a wonderful Hub...Didn't we all try to "Juggle" balls when we were kids...But these women are truly Amazing...Loved the pictures and the Videos, very rich and informative. As usual of fun look and learn. Thanks for sharing Elayne.

  • elayne001 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Thanks so much TheListLady. You rock!

  • TheListLady profile image


    8 years ago from New York City

    What a creative hub. Thanks a million for putting this together. I enjoyed the video.

    Yay! and rated up!

  • elayne001 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    So appreciated Eiddwen. I am happy you found it interesting.

  • Eiddwen profile image


    8 years ago from Wales

    This is what I love about HP, the variety of topics written on.

    Thank you so much for sharing this one with us.

    A great read and there is always so much to learn isn't there ??

    I push all the buttons on this one.

    Take care


  • elayne001 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    So glad you enjoyed it PWalker281. Thanks for commenting.

    I know you have LianaK. We are very fortunate to have had that opportunity. Mahalo nui loa!

  • LianaK profile image


    8 years ago

    I have seen some of these women in action. Truly amazing! Thank you for sharing this wonderful hub. Loved the videos!

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    Fascinating, Elayne! Like everyone else, I had no idea Tongan woman were so adept at juggling. Thanks for sharing. Rated up.

  • elayne001 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Great! Thanks thoughtforce. I think it is a little known fact about the Tongan women. I saw something that triggered my memory and it just came out.

  • thougtforce profile image

    Christina Lornemark 

    8 years ago from Sweden

    Wonderful article! It was news to me and I think it is great that the tradition lives on. I love that you added the history and the superstition of the juggling women of Tonga! Up!

  • elayne001 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Much mahalos (thanks). I am glad you liked it dallas93444.

  • dallas93444 profile image

    Dallas W Thompson 

    8 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

    Great article!

    Enjoyed. Flag up!

  • elayne001 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    hehe diogenese - jiggling women vs juggling women...actually I still have my mate who does juggle on demand

    Thanks BkCreative - I wish I could have started young - I probably wouldn't be so uncoordinated (klutzy). Thanks for your comments.

    Glad you enjoyed it Twilight Lawns. We all need a lift on a daily basis. Cheers and aloha!

  • Twilight Lawns profile image

    Twilight Lawns 

    8 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

    What a charming and "feel good factor" hub. Thank you.

  • BkCreative profile image


    8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

    Love the video. What a great hub. And I have always wanted to do this. Maybe it's time. I'd love it if more children could learn it - as you say it is great for hand/eye coordination.

    I had such fun here today. Yay! And rated up!

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    Elayne...How could you have left those islands? Those wonderful, happy, simple people. Kids juggling to music, not like our sullen lot with cell phones stuck in their ears or swearing on Facebook. Absolutely magical video of them juggling with the teachers, etc. Jeez, we have lost our way in the First World...Bob

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    Fascinating! I must confess to be more interested in the jiggling women previously, but now they can juggle balls too!

    Voted up. bob

  • elayne001 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Thanks y'all. I was excited to check my hub and find your comments. I do think the Polynesian women should be proud of this talent which they have, since it is quite rare these days.

  • lrohner profile image


    8 years ago from USA

    Phenomenal! Thanks for sharing!

  • katiem2 profile image

    Katie McMurray 

    8 years ago from Westerville

    WOW this is amazing juggling women of Tonga. What a cool talent. :) Katie

  • GPSWorldTraveler profile image


    8 years ago from Washington State, USA

    interesting hub... thanks.

  • Sally's Trove profile image


    8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

    Absolutely beautiful! I mean that about both your Hub and the juggling women. I never knew of this.

    The videos are awesome, especially the second one, Tonga Hiko. Where traditionally juggling takes place in the out of doors (the 1793 illustration puts it in its rightful place), this video captures young women in a modern auditorium setting, just as we now have our Polish American children performing dance indoors that would have been performed in the village square long ago. And so the tradition is passed from one generation to the other, in spite of the constricts of modern life.

    Up and awesome. I will be seeing limes with a new eye.

  • breakfastpop profile image


    8 years ago

    They are truly amazing!


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