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Title: Tau'olunga  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: 'Aparima, Hula, Music of Tonga
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


A group tauʻolunga

The tauʻolunga is a traditional Tongan dance. The type of dance is comparable with (some) Hawaiʻian hula or the Tahitian ʻaparima.


The tau'olunga is a dance for virgins, especially for them to show off at their wedding day. But it can be danced at any special occasion. Often it is performed by a small group of girls, up to 10 or so. It is rare for a married, or any older woman to dance it. It is even rarer, but not impossible, to be performed by men. However, men can assist the dancing girl by mimicking her movements in an exaggerated and clownesque way, which is supposed to make her beauty more striking. The assistance of older women is usually limited to only handclaps on the rhythm of the music. This role is called the tuʻulafale.

It is usual for a girl to start the dance, then parents, cousins, family members or friends come on the stage to put money notes on her oiled skin, and then join her in the tu{okina}ulafale. The prizemoney (fakapale) is a reward for the girl, unless, as often is the case, the dance is performed as part of a fundraising.

The tauʻolunga mainly consists of a series of hand movements, which interpret the meaning of the selected song. However, most of the movements are so stylised that only adepts will understand them. Many of the typical gestures (haka) are standarised and have their own name. Also important is the movement of the head. The head with the eyes should follow the hands on important movements, otherwise they are to be directed to the public. The eyes are never to glance away. From time to time, little nods within one beat (teki) or two beats (kalo) must be made with the head. The girl must smile all the time.

The movements of the body and the legs are less important. They have to follow hands and head. Shaking the hips, as elsewhere in Polynesia, is forbidden. Most of the time the legs are standing still, knees must be together and bent (taulalo). Some small steps, never large, or a turn around can be performed. Overall, the girl's movements should be supple and soft, as should be her whole body.

A unique feature of any Tongan dance, not found elsewhere in Polynesia, is the rotational movements of the hands and wrists in many of the haka.


A tauʻolunga girl is usually dressed in a wrap around dress, either made from ngatu with traditional designs; a mat (kie) from handwoven pandanus leaves; a piece of cloth covered with green leaves, grass, fragrant flowers or shells; any shiny piece of cloth, decorated with sewn-on traditional patterns; or even a grass skirt. Every type of costume (teunga) has its own proper name. The dress reaches from just above the breasts down to the knees, leaving her arms and legs bare. As long skirts are the traditional apparel for Tongan girls, this is an occasion to show off her legs. If they are fair, the better.

Putting oil on her exposed skin parts so that they shine enhances her beauty even more in the Tongan mind. Around her middle she wears a belt (sisi) also usually made from leaves and fragrant flowers. Wristlets and anklets (vesa) may be worn, ranging from simple bands of cloth or ngatu to elaborate belts of leaves and flowers again. Around her neck she wears a black ribbon with a white cowry shell on it (puleʻoto). By tradition, if the shell is missing, then she is not a virgin. In practice, no girl does it without a shell. On her head she wears a little crown (tekiteki), which will enhance her head movements during the dance, consisting of feathers or some light plant material.

The more natural materials are used for her whole dress the better it is. Unfortunately plastic is slowly making its inroads nowadays.


Many technical motifs of the tauʻolunga are derived from the ancient Tongan ula / faʻahi-ula / fahaʻiula. The original ula was a group dance of young chiefly daughters who, on the rhythm of a quite monotonous song, made a series of postures beautiful to look at. The formalization of the dance as a distinct genre followed the introduction of the Samoan "taualuga" during the early 19th century and its institution among Tongan aristocratic circles (especially those associated with the Tu'i Kanokupolu lineages). The postures originally emphasized finger and hand motifs (following Samoan stylistics), until 1950 when queen Sālote personally integrated the distinctly Tongan wrist flourishes and lakalaka leg transitions into her song "Manu ʻo Palataisi" (Bird of Paradise), leading to the technical composition and format of the contemporary Tongan tauʻolunga.


  • A.L. Kaeppler, M. Taumoefolau, N. Tukuʻaho, E. Wood-Ellem; Songs & poems of Queen Sālote; ISBN 982-213-008-2
  • (various); olunga and hiva kakalaʻLangi tau; ISBN 978-982-9800-71-8
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