The Pacific Ocean is full of stunning islands – from Fiji to Hawaii and beyond – but few can compete with Tonga. Join us as we uncover what makes this independent nation special.
Want to learn more about Tonga?
- Capital (and Largest City): Nuku’alofa
- Population (2011): 103,252 (181st)
- Total Area: 748 km² (186th)
- Official Languages: Tongan, English
- Currency: Tongan pa’anga (T$) (TOP)
History of Tonga
The earliest known settlers across the archipelago can be traced back to 1500-1000 BCE. Much later, in the 12th century CE, Tonga began to expand and grow – even developing the reputation of a regional empire under their king or paramount chief. Despite spreading across much of the Central Pacific, the nation was gripped by civil war twice between the 15th and 17th centuries. While many specifics (especially from antiquity) have been lost to time, some oral histories have since been chronicled to expand our understanding of early Tonga.
The Dutch were the first to arrive in Tonga in the year 1616, followed by further traders and (over 100 years later) English Captain James Cook. Cook’s positive reception during a yearly feast resulted in Tonga being named the ‘Friendly Islands’ in the West – though one English writer stated that Cook wasn’t killed only because the chiefs failed to reach an agreement with one another.
Monarchy and Early 20th Century
In the mid 19th century, Tāufaʻāhau (later known as George Tupou I) united Tonga into a single kingdom. He turned the country into a Western style constitutional monarchy. While some tried to oust the royals in the early 20th century, a friendship treaty with Britain helped the monarch stay in place. Despite this, Tonga remained a sovereign country – though a British consul was stationed on Tonga until 1970.
In 1970 the friendship treaty was ended and Tonga joined the Commonwealth of Nations – while still maintaining its own monarchy. Although the British High Commission is no longer open in Tonga, the island country has preserved its independence and prosperity throughout the years and looks set to continue doing so.
Tongan culture is similar in many ways to other Pacific island nations. It has changed and adapted over the years thanks to contact with Western explorers and missionaries – the influence of the latter can clearly be seen in the dominance of Christianity. That all being said, there are many diverse ways of life and sets of beliefs and values throughout Tonga. Rank and status also remain heavily ingrained in Tongan culture.
Previously one midday meal would be the norm, with leftovers consumed before heading out to work the fields. Today, local produce is eaten throughout Tonga while pre-prepared meat (canned tuna, corn beef, etc.) is very popular.
The flag of Tonga consists of a red background with a white square in the top left on top of which lies a red cross. Adopted in 1875, the constitution mandates that the flag can never be changed. The white represents purity, the cross denotes Christianity, and the red represents the sacrifice of Jesus.
The national sport (and most popular) in Tonga is rugby union. Like some other Pacific islands, the national team is fairly strong – generally sitting just below the ten big powers. Rugby league has also found some success in the country, though the public sporting consciousness remains dominated by union.
Geography of Tonga
There are 169 islands that make of the archipelago of Tonga, with 36 inhabited. Covering an area of around 800 kilometres north to south, the islands are divided into three different groups – Vava’u, Ha’apai, and Tongatapu. The climate is tropical while some islands are volcanic in nature.
Cities and Towns
The capital, Nuku’alofa, is the largest settlement in Tonga with around 24,000 people calling it home. There are also many small villages and hamlets spread throughout the islands.
Facts about Tonga
- There is a higher proportion of Mormons here than any other country
- 90% of the population is considered overweight
- Humpback whales migrate here to give birth
- Tonga straddles the international date line
- Tonga won a boxing silver medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics
With a strong tradition of independence, Tonga is building on its proud history to forge an exciting future.
Stay informed. Stay Current.