HIKO: Women Jugglers of Tonga

In January of 2012, Connie "Paprika" Leaverton visited The Kingdom of Tonga, an Asian Pacific island group not too far from Fiji, and began documenting the ancient tradition of Hiko.

She found that Hiko is still present in their culture, but the origin and history has been lost because the culture does not record its history except by passing it down verbally with each generation.

There is no written history of Hiko and many of the stories have been lost, at least in the capital of Tonga where Leaverton visited in January. The women are not sure why Hiko became part of their everyday world.

Hiko Trailer


The beautiful Polynesian Tongan women juggle tui tui nuts from a tree, which are green and about the size and weight of limes. They throw the nuts in a circular pattern called a shower and learn mostly in the schools at recess in the elementary schools.

Playing hiko brings a smile to every woman and girl. Throwing the tui tui nuts brings the women back to their childhood and carefree times. Empowering smiles and laughter replace their usual stoic and distant shyness.

Young girls love the opportunity to show what they can do, and many can juggle 5 in this shower pattern…not an easy thing at all!

Legends of women juggling 10 tui tui nuts abound .… the world record for a shower of balls is documented at 8 objects.

So 10 is like hunting a mythical creature that people have spotted somewhere in the past….but is it true?

The locals say that in the smaller islands, Hiko's verbal history is alive and well, and so I am Hiko hunting and will go the smaller islands in January of 2014.

Is there a verbal history intact in the smaller islands? Is there a woman who can juggle..gulp…10?

Hiko Women JugglingJuggling reminds them of their childhood

Tui Tui Nuts & Costumes

The green fruit that the women juggle are used in many capacities, including a perfume, a soothing lotion, and a game much like hopscotch, using the small seeds inside the fruit that is thrown into little squares.

They use local palm trees and feathers for costumes for the dance and men and women dress in native, festive costuming for special events where Hiko is performed.

Hiko Women JugglingGathering plants from the garden for a costume

Hiko Women JugglingMaking the costume

Hiko Tui Tui NutsTui tui nuts from beech trees

The Kingdom Of Tonga

Tonga is the last remaining Polynesian monarchy and has around 170 islands and 3 main island groups spread out over more than 150 miles.


Tonga has never been controlled by foreign powers and proudly has always been self–governed. Their first King took power in 1831 after thousands of years of tribal rule. The three island groups came together and chose one leader.  The British did come in and influence their government, but did not take over the rule of Tonga.

The smaller islands are not affected by modern technology and residents live more of a traditional Tongan life.

The Tongan women elders told her this is the way to find the true history of Hiko.

Connie 'Paprika' is the first to research and record the stories and history of Hiko so thoroughly. Only small references in films and print have been made to Hiko in the past.



When Connie 'Paprika' visited the Capital of Tonga in January of 2012, most of the Hiko history had been lost.

She was happy to find they still played HIKO, but they don't know why it is part of their culture.

She had no idea if Hiko would still be intact upon her visit because the last filmed reference was in 1970s and a few small printed references from 1990-2005 were her only hope.

Having produced and directed the 2006 documentary "Trailblazers: Women Who Juggle" with Cindy Marvel as co-producer, Leaverton found this Hiko culture and included a segment in their video.

This only whetted Leaverton's appetite to find out more. It took her 6 more years to finally make it to Tonga, and even then, she didn't know if Hiko existed until she landed on the islands. It does exist!

Tui Tui NutsMore tui tui nuts

There is an ancient underworld goddess/god myth of how HIKO was born, but this story was only partially referenced and not fully known. The historian died and it was not passed on.

This might be our last chance to truly discover and share this beautiful ancient history of women jugglers in Tonga before it is forgotten or completely disappears.

Tui Tui NutsWomen in traditional Dress

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