Tamahā is a word from Sāmoan origin: tama sā, meaning holy child. She was the oldest daughter of a Tuʻi Tonga Fefine. Most of them stayed at the small but glorious island of Tungua in Haʻapai, so that their high rank did not interfere with matters of state, conducted by the lords on Tongatapu. The institution was established in the beginning of the 17th century, around the time that the Tongan ranking system developed into what it is nowadays.

Tradition (see: E.W. Gifford, Tongan society, 1929) names 6 Tamahā, starting with Fonokimoana, an ending with ʻAmelia Fakahikuʻoʻuiha, when the line of the Tuʻi Tonga also collapsed. On the other hand queen Sālote Tupou III (see: E. Bott, Tongan society at the time of Captain Cook's visits, 1982) only recognised 3 Tamahā, crossing off those who were not the oldest child of a Tuʻi Tonga Fefine.

A Tamahā was officially installed. Unlike their mothers, there was only one Tamahā at any given time, if any, and a potential contestant had to wait until the death of her predecessor before she could get the title.

  • D.V. Burley; Sacred child and sacred place; Polynesian paradox, USP 2005; ISBN 982-02-0371-6