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Tongan Traditional and Modern Attire

Updated on June 1, 2016
elayne001 profile image

Ruth, aka Elayne Kongaika, was raised in the orchard town of Orem, Utah. She married a Polynesian boy and has had amazing travel experiences

Youth in Tonga wearing traditional kiekie.
Youth in Tonga wearing traditional kiekie. | Source

In the early 70s we moved from a democratic society to one which was ruled by a reigning monarchy. It was very interesting to observe the cultures and traditions of Tonga. Although in the last few decades some things have changed, the way the people of Tonga dress at many events and ceremonies has not.

Typical Tongan women formal attire with modest dress, taovala and kafa around waist.
Typical Tongan women formal attire with modest dress, taovala and kafa around waist. | Source

Women

The female gender in Tonga dress modestly, usually wearing a dress and sometimes with a skirt (tupenu) under it to cover their legs and ankles. Around their waist they wear a ta'ovala, which is often woven or crocheted. This particular piece is worn to show respect to the royal family. To keep it in place, they wear a kafa which is often woven out of rope, inner fibers of coconut husks or even out of human hair. They add beads or shells for decoration. At times they wear a kiekie, which is smaller than a ta'ovala, and is tied around the waist. It is usually very light and is made out a variety of materials, including strips sugar sacks which have been undone.

Typical male formal attire
Typical male formal attire | Source

Men

Tongan men wear tupenus (skirts) which reache at least to the knees. They also wear a woven ta'ovala around their waists. The ta'ovala takes the place of a tie although they may wear both. They usually wear shirts with collars. On their feet they wear sandals or slippers. To attend church, they may wear a suit coat. To very special occasions, they may wear a ta'ovala that is finely woven and has been in the family for many years. The older it is, the more precious is becomes.

Funeral Attire

Traditionally, Tongans wear black to funerals. It is reminiscent of those in the Bible that wore sackcloth and ashes. If a person is very close to the deceased, they may wear black clothing and over that wear an old tattered mat to show their grief. It may even cover most of their body and even up over their head. If the person who died was very respected, the mourning period can go on for days or months and all the family will wear black. If one of the royal family passes away, individuals in Tonga will wear black for up to a year's time.

Funeral attire
Funeral attire | Source
Here is the same couple dress in their Western style wedding clothes.
Here is the same couple dress in their Western style wedding clothes. | Source

Wedding Attire


Today, a typical Tongan wedding may include the usual Western white lacey wedding dress and also the traditional Tongan wedding costume. This includes wearing tapa cloth covered with many layers of decorative finely woven heirloom mats, taovalas, kiekies, and adorning feathers, shells and leis made of freshly cut flowers or plants. Tonga is influence by British as well as American styles. The new wedding couple are expected to go to church on the first Sunday after they are married dressed in the traditional costume.

Traditional wedding attire of royal family members.
Traditional wedding attire of royal family members. | Source

Dancers

Tongans love singing and dancing. They perform group dancing and all dress alike. They often wear feathers in their hair, around wrists and legs. They utilize natural plants like ti leaves and other decorative foliage to make their costumes. Single dancers wear costumes that include shells, coconut shells, woven flowers and tapa cloth. Some are very elaborate and time consuming to make.

Young girls doing a tau'olunga (dance) with typical costumes.
Young girls doing a tau'olunga (dance) with typical costumes. | Source

More recently, designers have been busy using tapa cloth for beauty contests, weddings and special occasions. Anciently Tongans did not have cloth to make their clothes out of, but pounded mulberry bark into clothing.

Bridesmaids
Bridesmaids | Source
Beautiful creation with tapa
Beautiful creation with tapa | Source

Video showing traditional clothing and costumes

Comments

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  • elayne001 profile imageAUTHOR

    Elayne 

    5 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    @Austinstar - I appreciate that. Just came from Maui a couple of weeks ago - one of my favorite places.

  • Austinstar profile image

    Lela 

    5 years ago from Somewhere near the center of Texas

    Beautiful hub! Lots of stunning photos! I really liked this one a lot. I lived on Maui and there were many Tongans there. Great culture. I miss the islands.

  • elayne001 profile imageAUTHOR

    Elayne 

    5 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    @diogenes - They are Polynesian, but my husband has been mistaken for Indian, Egyptian, Hawaiian, since he is the dark one in the family. Actually, his mother is half English coming from Herbert James Brown, and his great great grandfather was born in Scotland, and besides he has one great grandmother who is full-blooded Maori from New Zealand. Tapa is used in many Polynesian cultures differing mostly in the design painted on it. Will I go back to Tonga one day? If I have the means and plenty of time to relax. I love the beaches there, particularly in Ha'apai.

  • diogenes profile image

    diogenes 

    5 years ago from UK and Mexico

    Excuse my ignorance, but are Tongans Polynesian or Melanesian stock?

    I spent time in Fiji where they use tapa a lot, I love that pattern. Some of the Mauri customs seem similar, also...

    Will you go back there one day?

    Bob

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