Tonga (Pacific Island Guide)

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Pacific Island Guide  >  Tonga

General Information

Tonga - unique among Pacific nations - never completely lost its indigenous governance. The archipelagos of "The Friendly Islands" were united into a Polynesian kingdom in 1845. Tonga became a constitutional monarchy in 1875 and a British protectorate in 1900; it withdrew from the protectorate and joined the Commonwealth of Nations in 1970. Tonga remains the only monarchy in the Pacific.

There are 170 islands in Tonga, of which 56 are inhabited. They are of coral or volcanic formation. The total land area is less than 300 square miles. About half of the land is cultivated, and the soil is very fertile. Tonga is divided into three island groups: Tongatapu group in the south, Ha`apai in the middle, andVava`u in the north. Nukualofa is the capital, where the average temperature is 76 degrees and the humidity is 76 percent. Cyclones are possible from October to April, and the dry season is from June to November. 

The population is about 195,000. Nuku`alofa has about 35,000 inhabitants.  Tonga has close ties with Great Britain, and Tongan and English are both official languages.

About 30 percent of the people belong to the Free Wesleyan Church, which is the official state church, and the king is the head of it. The LDS Church is the next largest. About 40 percent of all Tongans are members of the LDS Church. Many Tongans have emigrated to Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Alaska, and the mainland of the USA.

Historical background

500 The islands are settled by Polynesians.
1400 A hereditary Tongan monarchy rules over Tonga, Samoa, Niue, Fiji, and others.
1470 The Tui Tonga becomes more of a sacred ruler and creates the Hau office. The Hau rules in governmental affairs, and is called the Ha`atakaluaua Dynasty.
1616 Dutch navigators visit Tonga.
1777 British Captain James Cook visits, and returns in 1777. He names Tonga the Friendly Islands.
1790 Civil war breaks out and continues through the 1820s.
1797 British missionaries from the Wesleyan Methodist Church arrive.
1800 Another dynasty is formed. The high chiefs live on Tongatapu, so it is known as the Land of Chiefs, and the other islands are called the Land of Servants.
1826 A Wesleyan Mission is established.
1831 Tuaufa`ahau is converted to Christianity, chooses the name George after the King of England, and wins a struggle against the Tui Tonga.
1845 He proclaims himself King George Tupou I. The Wesleyans help write a code of laws.
1850 The Tongan Islands are all united.
1862 Serfdom is abolished.
1875 A constitution is formed.
1891 The first LDS missionaries arrive in Tonga.
1895 LDS missionaries, Walker and Jensen arrive in Vava`u after visiting the King in Tongatapu.
1897 A written Tongan based on the Latin alphabet is established. The alphabet includes 16 letters, plus a glottal stop, for which an apostrophe is used. All words end with a vowel sound.
1900 A treaty of friendship is signed by King George Tupou and Great Britain.
1905 Britain makes Tonga a protectorate.
1918 Queen SaloteTupou III begins her reign.
1952 Liahona High school opens in Tonga tapu.
1965 Death of Queen Salote, whose reign was marked with great progress in education and other progress for the entire population.
1968 Her son, King Taufa`ahau Tupou IV begins his reign. First LDS Stake is created in Tonga.
1970 The British protectorate is dissolved.
1970 Tongan full sovereignty is restored. LDS Church membership is 14,000 in Tonga.
1983 An LDS Temple is dedicated at Nuku`alofa.
1990 Dissatisfaction with corruption in high places brings unexpected victories to the Tongan Pro-Democracy party, which represents the interest of the “commoners” who believe the “nobles” are taking unfair advantage of their lifetime positions in parliament.
2000 LDS Church membership stands at 45,000, divided between 16 stakes and a mission district.

2008 There are 54,281 LDS Church members inTonga.

Click on Tongan Customs and research ideas below for more information.

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