Modern Design of Hala Paini

    Tongan Kupesi: Map of the Hala Paini

    Tongan Kupesi Design: Map of the Hala Paini


    On the journey of learning about kupesi design meanings, I roll out a map of the Kingdom of Tonga. My eyes follow the roads with one route standing out from the Palace to the Royal Tombs, called Hala Tu‘i.

                In front of my eyes, the map starts to wave and transform into a kupesi drawing. I see two lines of pine trees along both the bottom and the top framing the picture on the tapa cloth. Within it is a painting of the Tongan Coat of Arms, a lion, an eagle and three black dots.
                Staring at the picture, it becomes blurry. As it comes back into focus, I see a computer screen, and the Tongan Kupesi Workshop Facilitator explains that the drawing depicts its origin from Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga.

                She says the trees were kupesi representations of the Norfolk Pines lining the road called Hala Tu‘i or King’s Road, which leads from the Palace to the Royal Tombs.

                She then invites me to identify any symbols in the picture. I point to an easily recognisable Tongan Coat of Arms that looks like a shield with three stars, a crown, three crossed swords and a dove carrying an olive branch.

                Looking at the picture, she then asks me if I spotted anything else, and I point to the Lion. She explains the Lion, or in Tongan language, Laione represents the eastern half of Nuku’alofa called Kolofo’ou.

                When I see the easily recognisable eagle, I’m told the Tongan word for eagle is ikale and represents the old western half of Nuku’alofa called Kolomotu’a.

                Pointing to the three black dots on the computer screen, I say, “That’s the Hea plant kupesi motif. You taught me earlier it originates from Vava’u.”


    The drawings combined represent what is known as Hala Paini or, in English, Pine Road. Hala is the Tongan word for road, and paini being the Tongan word for Pine Trees.

                Feeling the chair beneath me, I watch the memory go blurry until it refocuses on the map of the Kingdom of Tonga.

    This journey of pictorial storytelling through kupesi motifs has made me wonder what other stories are told by the symbolism of Polynesian drawing.


    Copyright © Richard J Bell 20th April 2021