World Stamps

Stamps tell story of Tonga, the South Pacific’s last monarchy: Stamps Down Under

May 3, 2021, 2 AM

By Janet Klug

Little islands in the South Pacific don’t get much attention. Tonga is certainly one of the lesser known of these islands, but historically it is pretty interesting, especially when you realize that it has the only remaining monarchy in an ocean full of former monarchies.

For example, the Cook Islands once had Makea Takau Ariki (“ariki” means queen), who reigned for 40 years, from 1871 until her death in 1911. 

Queen Makea’s image is found on some Cook Islands stamps issued between 1893 and 1919, such as the one shown here from 1894 (Scott 10). 

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A Fijian warlord, Seru Epenisa Cakobau (pronounced Thakombau), became the first monarch of Fiji, uniting the island’s warring tribes but ruling as King Cakobau for only a short time, from 1871-74. 

Fiji was then ceded to Queen Victoria by King Cakobau, who finally appeared on a 1970 Fiji postage stamp that marked the nation’s independence.

Pacific island monarchies came and went but Tonga’s marches on. The Tongan monarchy dates back to the 10th century, when the leaders were chiefs who later evolved to kings. 

In 1875, the first constitution was adopted during the reign of King George Tupou I, the man who united all of the islands within Tonga. 

Tonga began issuing postage stamps in 1886, the first of which shows King George Tupou I. Most of the stamps issued during his reign also bore his image, and in many cases there are varieties that are extremely difficult to find.

Illustrated here is a surcharged 2½-penny on 8d stamp from 1894 (Scott 23), one of several surcharges that exist with missing periods, misspelled words, doubled surcharges, and more. 

King George Tupou I died in 1893 at age 96. Having outlived both his son and grandson, he was succeeded by his great-grandson, George Tupou II (in Tongan, Siaosi Tupou II).

The first stamp to bear the new king’s image was issued in 1895 (Scott 29), but the monarch did not like his appearance on the stamp. 

The stamp was redrawn and reissued, but the king still didn’t like it. 

Two years later, a new set of 15 attractive engraved stamps was issued (Scott 38-52). 

King George Tupou II’s new portrait graced several denominations of new stamps, and this time he was pleased.

On June 1, 1899, the king married Lavinia Veiongo, and the royal wedding was commemorated with a postage stamp (Scott 53), perhaps the first royal wedding to be depicted on a stamp. 

The 1d ovava tree-design stamp was overprinted 

“T-L”: the “T” for Taufa’ahau, the king’s family name, and the “L” for Lavinia, along with the wedding date, written as “1 June, 1899.” 

In 1900, Lavinia gave birth to a daughter, Salote, but Lavinia later contracted tuberculosis and died in 1902. 

George Tupou II chose a husband for Salote: a chieftain of distinguished lineage named Viliami Tungi Mailefihi, and they married in 1917. 

The king died the following year and was succeeded by Salote, only 18 years old. She became the first (and, to date, the only) queen regnant of Tonga.

Nine stamps were issued for the new Queen Salote Tupou III in 1920 (Scott 54-62). 

The 2d and 2½d denominations are fun to collect because there are several varieties and reissues, all of which are affordable within a very modest budget. 

The youthful-image Salote stamps were issued until 1942; thereafter, a more mature image of the queen appeared on Tonga’s stamps.

Queen Salote died in 1965, shortly after Tonga had begun issuing die-cut, circular, embossed metallic stamps that displayed images of Tonga’s new coinage and the nation’s beloved ruler. 

Most of the citizens of Tonga would say Queen Salote could not be replaced, but the eldest of her three sons took the throne in 1965 as King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV. 

The first stamps bearing his image were issued to commemorate the 1967 coronation (Scott 175-181).

These, too, were coin stamps: die-cut, embossed and printed on palladium foil. Tupou IV had married Halaevalu Mata’aho Ahome’e in 1947, and the royal couple produced four children. 

Tonga continued issuing oddly shaped stamps during most of Tupou IV’s reign, which ended with his death in 2006. 

His son then became king, as George Tupou V, with two stamps and a souvenir sheet in 2008 to mark the coronation (Scott 1144-1146).

In 1974, the then-unmarried prince had created a glitch of royal succession by fathering a daughter, who was ineligible for accession to the throne because there had been no royal marriage. 

When George Tupou V died in 2012, he was succeeded by his brother, who became King George Tupou VI and is the current monarch of Tonga. 

His coronation took place in 2015, with the event marked by two stamps and a souvenir sheet (Scott 1272-1274). 

King George Tupou VI and Queen Nanasipau’u Vaea have three children, with the eldest son, Tupouto’a ‘Ulukalala, the crown prince and heir apparent. 

The crown prince and his princess have a son and a daughter, with their son being second in line for the throne. 

Long live the Tongan monarchy? Maybe, but there are Tongan citizens who are requesting the elimination of the monarchy and feudal system as a whole.

Time will tell if the royal days are numbered for this last outpost of South Pacific monarchy.