Moana Toa is an initiative by the AM's Pasifika Collections and Engagement team that aims to link Pasifika female leadership to culture and arts. To mark International Women’s Day 2022, the initiative will celebrate Pasifika women leading in their respective careers and recognise their contribution to changing the climate of gender equality through a series of blog posts and videos.

The literal translation of Moana and Toa in many Pasifika languages is "Ocean" and "Strong." The Pacific Ocean is home to tens of thousands of culturally diverse islands, and in many islands, the Pacific Ocean is referred to as "Our Mother." Therefore, the Moana Toa initiative aims to celebrate the strength, versatility and grace of Pasifika women and girls.

The series was created by Moemoana Schwenke, Anaseini Ulakai and Miriama Simmons.

Pacific Ocean waves
Pacific Ocean waves Image: Supplied
© Creative Commons

Mālō e lelei and warm Pacific greetings!

It is with great honour that we introduce Her Royal Highness Princess Angelika Lātūfuipeka Halaevalu Mata’aho Napua Okalani Tuku’aho. Her Royal Highness is the eldest child and the only daughter of His Majesty King Tupou VI and Her Majesty Queen Nanasipau’u Tuku’aho of the Kingdom of Tonga.

Her Royal Highness Princess Angelika Lātūfuipeka Halaevalu Mata’aho Napua Okalani Tuku’aho
Her Royal Highness Princess Angelika Lātūfuipeka Halaevalu Mata’aho Napua Okalani Tuku’aho Image: Supplied
© Courtesy of the Tonga High Commission, Canberra

Her Royal Highness is the incumbent High Commissioner of Tonga to Australia. She stepped into the role at only 29 years old, making Her the youngest female Head of Mission at the time. Her predecessor was the then Crown Prince Tupouto’a Lavaka now His Majesty King Tupou VI. Her Royal Highness is currently the longest serving Head of Mission for over 10 years.

I absolutely felt very humble and privileged when I came into my role as High Commissioner of Tonga to Australia. In comparison to my esteemed diplomatic colleagues, I was the youngest Head of Mission.

When asked about how Her Royal Highness can manage her role as a princess and the High Commissioner, she tells us that it is simply through maintaining cultural ties with her Tongan diaspora while representing Tonga’s interest in Australia. Her Royal Highness believes her role requires a balance of wearing multiple hats. Nonetheless, she says, being a woman, one is naturally accustomed to wearing many hats.

Kato alu

Kato alu
Kato alu – traditional Tongan ceremonial basket Image: Australian Museum
© Australian Museum

One of the largest Tongan collections at the Australian Museum are the kato alu. Her Royal Highness has a deep understanding of the kato alu and is knowledgeable on the rather intricate processes of producing one. Starting from the cultivation of the Alu or Aerial plant to its traditional purpose within the context of Tongan society.

As a young child I witnessed such processes supervised by Her Late Majesty Queen Halaevalu Mata’aho.

The Alu or Aerial plants, which can also be found in Australia, are used to weave the baskets. According to Tongan legends the kato alu originated from the Southern Island Group of Tonga, known as ‘Eua. These baskets were made for women as early as the 18th century to store beauty products such as scented oil and tuitui candle-nut scrub.

The kato alu can take up to one or more months to weave depending on the size. Traditionally, Tongan women have used coconut sennit or seashells for ornamenting the kato alu. These baskets are then exchanged on occasions such as weddings, birthdays and funerals.

One feature of the baskets that is rare today is the practice of painting the kato alu black. According to Her Royal Highness the practice observes certain taboos by the few women who are tasked with painting the kato alu.

"If we do not observe the taboos, we do not believe that the outcome of the work will be successful... These rituals have been passed down from generation to generation in the past," she tells us.

During this special process the paint maker recites a chant to Hina – an allegory of a beautiful Tongan woman.

Alas Hina, Dear Hina. Your food has been prepared. I have cooked your meal and it is ready. I ask that you take your meal and let down your hair so that I may achieve my responsibilities to the chiefs. Alas Hina, Dear Hina.

Modern day version of the kato alu is much plainer, and to acquire one that is painted black is a rarity. They are only presented at occasions as a kato alu but displayed in presentations as mere kato teuteu or ornamental baskets.

"[Only] a few women still have the knowledge of making Kato Alu," says Her Royal Highness.

It is believed that the actual know-how of producing the kato alu is declining. The Princess encourages the revival of the art urging young women to take interest in acquiring knowledge from their elders.

Due to the gap of the transition of knowledge from our elders to the younger generation, I hope that young girls of today can be interested to learn more from the older women about traditional protocols, like that of the kato alu production for instance.

Princess duties

The Tongan Royal Family
The House of Tupou on Coronation Day of the current rulers – HM King Tupou VI & HM Queen Nanasipau'u Tuku'aho. 4 July 2015 Image: Supplied
© Courtesy of the Tongan Palace Office

Princess duties require immense courage and dynamism yet, Her Royal Highness is encouraged through the traditional values embodied by the presentations of gifts including the kato alu. Values such as faka’apa’apa (mutual respect), tauhi vā (keeping good relations well and alive), mamahi’i me’a (loyalty and commitment), loto tō (humility and generosity in cooperating and sharing mutual obligation).

These are the four values that were highlighted by Her Royal Highness’s great-grandmother, the late Queen Sālote Tupou III of Tonga. During an opening speech at the Tonga Cultural and Heritage Society in 1964, Her Late Majesty highlighted the essence of the reciprocal vā (relationship) between the nobility and the kakai (people), defined by those values.

Her Royal Highness encapsulated these four core values with ‘ofa (love), alluding to the message, "love conquers all."

One must first have love for one’s God, king and country. To be able to grow in your faith and have a passion for the work that you do to serve, persevere and remain committed to achieve goals ... it helps to be humble and grateful.

Princess Angelika Lātūfuipeka and Princess Sālote Mafile’o Pilolevu.
Princess Angelika Lātūfuipeka and Princess Sālote Mafile’o Pilolevu. Image: Supplied
© Courtesy of HRH Princess Angelika Lātūfuipeka Tuku’aho

Her Royal Highness is not only a role model to her people but also sharing in her guidance are her royal nieces. The three princesses are the daughters of her brother, the Crown Prince of Tonga – Tupouto’a ‘Ulukālala. Their Royal Highnesses are Princess Halaevalu Mata’aho Tuku’aho, Princess Nanasipau’u ‘Eliana Tuku’aho and Princess Sālote Mafile’o Pilolevu Tuku’aho.

“I’d very much like my nieces to see, learn and experience the joy of serving others. We each have our own calling and we leaders are made by facing hardship and challenges.”

Princess Angelika Lātūfuipeka Tuku’aho highlighted the role of Tongan women at home and in communities. Despite the many challenges women face in our world today, Her Royal Highness believes that when women are given the strong supportive system that they need, success is inevitable.

Women and girls need to be more supportive of each other when it comes to their role...and when empowered they are indeed very capable and influential.

Amongst her many patronages Her Royal Highness is the Patron of the UNFPA in the Pacific and is a strong advocate for Good Health & Education, as well as Women and Youth’s Empowerment.

Watch the interview

Fakafeta’i e ma’u koloa Ta’ahine Pilinisesi!

We extend our outmost gratitude to Her Royal Highness Princess Angelika Lātūfuipeka Tuku’aho for gracing our Moana Toa series with her wealth of knowledge and wisdom on the traditional Tongan koloa or treasures. Her Royal Highness epitomises the true essence of a Tongan woman as well as being an eminent role model to young aspiring Pasifika female leaders. It was a privilege to have acquired vital insights to the kato alu from this special interview.


Mafile'o, E., 2012. Fofola E Fala Kae Talanoa E Kāinga. [online] Available here

UNFPA Pacific Island Countries. 2019. HRH Princess Angelika Lātūfuipeka Tuku‘aho appointed as Patron of UNFPA for the Pacific. [online] Available here