About the Kingdom of Tonga
Tonga is the only monarchy in the Pacific and the only Pacific nation never to fully lose its indigenous governance. Also known as The Friendly Islands, it consists of 171 coral and volcanic islands spread over 747 sq km with 48 of those inhabited.
The word ‘Tonga’ means south in many Polynesian languages and it is believed that its inhabitants originally came from Samoa back as far as 500 BC. Kings have ruled these islands for around 1000 years, reaching their zenith in the 13th century.
Dutch explorer Abel Tasman first visited the main island of Tongatapu in 1643, but regular European contact was another 125 years away. British Captain James Cook visited the archipelago in 1773 and 1777 and he coined the phrase ‘The Friendly Islands’ because of his perception that its people were of a gentle nature. Little did he know that a fierce debate raged among the Tongans during his visit as to who should the right of slaying himself and his sailors!
Christian missionaries arrived in 1747 and then again in 1812 and today the country’s 120,000 inhabitants remain strongly Christian. One of the claimants to the crown, Taufa’ahau became a Christian in 1845 and he was formally proclaimed King George Tupou 1 and the present dynasty began.
Modern day Tonga is still about its people and its traditional culture, although its capital Nuku’alofa is more westernised than the rest of the country and it is where the bulk of the population resides.
Families are paramount in Tongan life with each member playing a defined role. Women have a higher social standing than other Polynesian countries, with some authority over male family members.
Tongans enjoy the beach and the sea and revel in any opportunity to sing and dance. Religion comes a close second to family and almost all Tongans are churchgoers with little open on Sundays except to service the tourists.
Many Tongans live in the USA, New Zealand and Australia and the monies they send home are vital to the small nation’s economy. Tourism plays a major and growing role in that economy.