Queen Sälote of Tonga (1900–65) composer and poet

Queen Sälote of Tonga (1900–65) composer and poet

This week is Tongan Language Week – Uike Kātoanga’i ‘o e Lea Faka-Tonga. This is the third blog post where the Pacific Cultures team highlight collection items that relate to Tongan language and culture.

In Tongan Language week it is difficult to look past the contributions of Tonga’s Queen Sälote (1900–65) to the preservation and creative use of the Tongan language. Queen Sälote was a celebrated writer of poetry and song. She composed over one hundred songs, lullabies, laments and dances.[i]

Nuku’alofa Tonga 1963 photographer Ans Westra



Queen Sälote has a connection with New Zealand that began in 1909 when she was sent to school in Auckland where she stayed until she was 14. She visited New Zealand regularly throughout her life. In 1952, the Tongan government bought an Auckland residence, ‘Atalanga. This became Queen Sälote’s home away from home and later included a hostel for Tongans studying in Auckland. Her visits were mostly private, but she was acknowledged by both government officials and Mäori dignitaries.

When Queen Sälote died in 1965, she was deeply mourned. She was a loved and respected monarch.Queen Sälote’s children and grandchildren continue to maintain close links with New Zealand, especially with the Mäori monarchy, the Kïngitanga.

Te Papa has several treasured items and images associated with Queen Sälote in the Pacific Cultures Collections. They include a kie (fine mat) once owned by Queen Sälote, photographs featuring her by renowned photographer Brian Brake, and a ngatu launima some 23 metres long that was placed beneath her coffin when her body was flown back to Tonga from New Zealand in 1965.

In remembrance of Queen Sälote, we present a selection of images and artefacts below that you can click on to enlarge. We also offer a link to the blog site of Tongan/Samoan poet Maryanne Pale of the South Auckland Poets Collective. She has her own tribute to Queen Sälote and her poetry writing thats worth sharing.

Maryanne Pale, South Auckland Poets Collective  Link: http://maryannepale.com/2012/03/22/celebrating-world-poetry-day-in-remembrance-of-queen-salote-mafileo-pilolevu-tupou-iii/

Kie hingoa /ie ioga (fine mat) Tonga/Samoa. This kie was formerly in the possession of Queen Sälote. She gave it to the Kronfeld family in Auckland to cover the coffin of Minna Kronfeld whom she had known as a girl. It passed to Minna’s brother, Dr Moe Kronfeld, who gave it to Te Papa.
This is rare fragment of tapa commemorates the war effort of Queen Sälote and the Tongan people who raised money for the British to buy Spitfire airplanes during the Second World War (1939-1945). The aircraft depicted was the first of 3 Spitfires donated to the British war effort by the Queen and people of Tonga. A total of 15,000 pounds was raised in Tonga for this purpose, the aircraft depicted on the tapa was the result of the first payment of 5,000 pounds in April 1941.
Tonga, Royal Tour 1953 Brian Brake (photographer)
Tonga, Royal Tour (1953) Brian Brake (photographer). Queen Sälote is at the front of the vehicle.
Royal Tour , Tonga (1953) Brian Brake (photographer). Queen Sälote is on the right holding a fan.
This ngatu launima was associated with two queens. Made in 1953 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Tonga, it was later placed under Queen Salote’s coffin when her body was flown back from New Zealand in 1965. The tapa was given to the pilot of the plane Flight Lieutenant McAllister, and he in turn presented it to the Dominion Museum (Te Papa’s predecessor) in 1968. Click on the image to see the details.

[i] Wood-Ellen, E. (ed). Songs and Poems of Queen Salote. Vava’u Press, Tonga (2004).


  1. Bonjour,
    Thanks for your article, I was very interested by the Spitfire tapa.
    I’m trying to write an article about French Commander Leon Moron who came to the Tonga with the aviso “Rigault de Genouilly” about 12 of May 1937 and was received by Queen Salote. Leon Moron was a friend of my parents and he left them a tapa given by Queen Salote.
    I knew Commander Moron when I was 10 years old. I think he told me a story about going with Queen Salote to the top of a volcano to throw a roasted pig in the crater so there are no eruptions.
    Did these ceremonies exist or is it an invented memorie ?
    Thanks for your answer.
    Hélène Carcenac

  2. Mālō e lelei,
    This is a beautiful tribute to the late Queen Sālote in celebration of Tongan Language Week. My heart-felt thanks to your team for mentioning my blog and sharing my blog post in reference to Queen Sālote. I am both humbled and honoured.
    Mālo ‘aupito,
    Maryanne Pale

    1. Thank you Maryanne, you are most welcome…

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