A Tongan Wedding: Courtship and Marriage on the Isle of Tonga

By Polynesian Cultural Blogger Bobby Akoi, Jr. 

One of my favorite times of the year is celebrating a wedding of a couple.  I’ve been to almost every ethnic wedding you can think of and had the awesome privilege of marrying some of them.  But I can honestly say that there is no wedding like a Polynesian wedding.  I can tell you it ain’t no piece of cake or cookie.

tonganweddingTongan weddings and receptions have always intrigued me.  The families seem to put all their eggs in one wedding. It’s normal to have between 5-15 people in the wedding line, and that’s just on the bride’s side.  Although the weddings & receptions today have incorporated the western culture, I love how their cultural traditions still remain strong.

Traditionally, Tongan weddings comprise of a number of traditional steps or phases:

1.   Friendship (fai kaume’a)

2.   Dating (‘a’a)

3.   Man ask for permission to get married (faitohi)

4.   Celebration before the wedding (fakalelea)

5.   The wedding day (ma’utohi)


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Step 1: Friendship

A young man meets a girl and is interested in her. He then takes the chance to ask her honestly for her friendship and if the girl accepts, then their relationship starts.


Fakalelea – a celebration before the wedding

Step 2: Dating

This is when they actually date each other. The man must always go to the girl’s home and ask permission from her parents to take her out or to enter the home.  To develop their relationship, especially with the girl’s parents, this stage is critical.

Step 3: Permission to get married

At this stage they get to know each other very well and the man has to make his proposal to the girl’s dad or her uncle which is known as the ‘Ulumotu’a, the Head of the Extended family.  This phase may include the gifting of food, tapa and mats to the family of the bride-to-be.  If the proposal is accepted, they will decide on the date of the wedding.  

Step 4:  Fakalelea

Fakalelea is the celebration before the wedding. Tongan weddings generally take three days. This is done to show that everyone is truly happy for the marriage to take place. There is also a lot of dancing and exchanging of other foods and gifts between the families.

Step 5: The Wedding Day

This is the BIG DAY for the couple to be united as one.  One of the many famous traditions known to Tongans is the making of tapa cloth. A wedding couple will have to wear special Tongan ta’ovala made of tapa cloth and mats.  Way back in the old days when there was a wedding, most of the wedding attire were made out of tapa cloth. Every piece of tapa has its own meaning.  It may be a symbol that represents the family, or something that has to do with the royal family.   There’s a lot of hard work for the women in preparing for the big day.  But I have never heard any of the women complain, because in the end isn’t it all worth it?



The wedding reception will include speeches, gift giving, dancing, singing, and the best part lots and lots of food to fill one’s stomach.  

Oh, and did I mention the roast pig?








Or the fancy wedding cake?



10 Responses to “A Tongan Wedding: Courtship and Marriage on the Isle of Tonga”

  1. Talisa Braggins says:

    Hi I’m getting married in Tonga on the 29th of September 2018 and I need help finding someone to do hair and makeup could you please help

    • Nina Jones says:

      Congratulations! I wish we could, but we are actually based off of the island of Oahu and have no connections there, I’m afraid.

  2. Paige says:

    I’m currently dating a guy from Tonga and I’m slowly learning about their culture and stuff.. is al this actually true?

    • Nina Jones says:

      Absolutely, in the traditional communities and families. But cultures are always changing due to world influence. Show this to the gentleman you are dating and ask him if his family follows these traditions. The Tongan people are lovely, open and caring people. For many, tradition is very, very important to them.

  3. Sharon m says:

    Am glad to learn more of my own tradition.

    • Nina Jones says:

      The first stated goal of the Polynesian Cultural Center is to “preserve and portray the cultures, arts, and crafts of Polynesia”. It is an honor to support this important goal through our blogs.

  4. Ofa says:

    Why is there so many cakes ?

  5. Ameyaw Eric says:

    What are the marriage list a man is supposed To present before she can receive a marriage in Tonga community.

    • Nina Jones says:

      Thank you for your question, Eric. I went to our Tonga Village Manager, Tevita Taumoepeau for an answer:

      Remember, the concept of marriage in Tonga is different from a westerner’s point of view. Marriage was arranged by the families for stronger political ties or economic reasons, etc. So the acceptance was done by the families who were being asked if they felt they got a good deal out of the alliance. Only the nobility or the children of the gods are the ones whom we hear about through legends and stories who defied all odds to marry for love.

      I hate to say it but in ancient Tonga, the women had very little say in whom they accepted in marriage. They felt it was their duty to subjugate their will to that of her parents and family. And such was the practice of marriage in Tonga.

      But to answer your question, a young man’s family would present the bride’s family with the same types of gifts: mats, tapa, pigs and anything they prized highly. However on the wedding day, it was the groom who hosted the wedding reception, and not the bride, like in the western world. So a young man had to showcase his wealth and ability to demonstrate that he is able to care for his future family. In the end, should the young woman’s family be satisfied, the bride would in a very symbolic gesture, take her bedding in the form of mats and tapa to her new home.

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