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Fahu is a social organization practiced by the people of Tonga, a Polynesian kingdom in the Ocean region of the Pacific.


Fahu social organization is built upon a foundational relationship between a person and their father’s sister and paternal cousins. There are a few key superiorities in the social structure of fahu[1]:

  1. One’s paternal side is superior to their maternal side of a family unit, and
  2. Sisters are situated as superordinate and sacred counterparts to their brothers, thus
  3. The sister of one’s father is the highest ranking family member

Prior to Western contact, the inner dynamics between the chiefly kinship groups were governed by this social convention. Although fahu rights do not hold the same political strength and implications they historically did, they remain, to a notable degree, a part of the contemporary social practices in Tonga.[1]

Socio-Environmental Impact[edit]

Similar social structures to fahu have been cited as significantly beneficial for human adaptation to environmental threats, especially those situated in hurricane-prone regions such as Tonga[2]. The benefit stems from the fahu’s ability to provide a network and capacity to allow for relocation or people and resources during environmental events, such as hurricanes or droughts.[1]

However, there have been environmental consequences of note due to the fahu structure, or rather, a disturbance of the structure. In the 1980s, Tonga saw a severe depletion of its sandalwood tree (locally known as “‘ahi”) due a disruption of the fahu social hierarchy, which was incited by market demand for the resource. This led to heightened local competition and eventually an overharvest of the tree. Nearly all of the sandalwood resources were depleted over the span of two years.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Evans, Mike. “Property, propriety, and ecology in contemporary Tonga.” Human Organization, vol. 66, no. 1, 2007, pp. 22–27,
  2. Alkire, William H., 1978 Coral Islanders. AHM Publishing Corporation: Arlington Heights.

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