Tonga -- Geography --
Official Name: Tonga
Capital City: Nuku'alofa
Languages: Tongan, English
Official Currency: Pa'anga
Religions: Methodist 47%, Catholic 14%, Free Wesleyan Church 14%, Mormon 9%, Church of Tonga 9%
Land Area: 289 sq km
Climate: Tonga climate is tropical, although
it is noticeably milder than Fiji or Samoa.
Vava'u, being further north than Tongatapu is
warmer. Overall, temperatures between November
and April (summer) are slightly higher than
the winter months, as is the humidity and the
resulting tropical downpours. There are no high
islands in Tonga so rainfall is generally less than
Fiji, Samoa or the Cook Islands.
Natural Resources: limited forest resources consisting of natural
hardwood forests, exotic plantation forests, and coconut plantations
Administrative division: Ha'apai, Tongatapu, Vava'u
Tonga -- History --
An Austronesian-speaking group linked to the archeological construct known
as the Lapita cultural complex reached and colonized Tonga around 15001000 BCE.
The dates of the initial settlement of Tonga are still subject to debate.
Nevertheless, reaching the Tongan islands (without Western navigational tools
and techniques) was a remarkable feat accomplished by the Lapita peoples. Not
much is known about Tonga before European contact because of the lack of a writing
system during prehistoric times other than the oral history told to the Europeans
and the Eurocentric interpretations of Polynesian culture by Europeans. The first
time the Tongan people encountered Europeans was in 1616 when the Dutch vessel
Eendracht made a short visit to the islands to trade.
By the 12th century Tongans, and the Tongan paramount chief, the Tu'i, had a
reputation across the central Pacific, from Niue to Tikopia, leading some historians
to speak of a 'Tongan Empire'. In the 15th century and again in the 17th, civil
war erupted. It was in this context that the first European explorers arrived,
beginning with Dutch explorers Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire in 1616, who
called on the northern island of Niuatoputapu, and Abel Tasman, who visited Tongatapu
and Ha'apai in 1643. Later noteworthy European visits were by Captain Cook
(British Navy) in 1773, 1774, and 1777, Alessandro Malaspina (Spanish Navy)
in 1793, the first London missionaries in 1797, and the Wesleyan Methodist Walter
Lawry Buller in 1822.
In 1845 the ambitious young warrior, strategist, and orator Taufa'ahau united Tonga
into a kingdom. He held the chiefly title of Tu?i Kanokupolu, but was baptised with
the name King George. In 1875, with the help of missionary Shirley Waldemar Baker,
he declared Tonga a constitutional monarchy, formally adopted the western royal style,
emancipated the 'serfs', enshrined a code of law, land tenure, and freedom of
the press, and limited the power of the chiefs.
Tonga became a protected state under a Treaty of Friendship on 18 May 1900, when
European settlers and rival Tongan chiefs tried to oust the second king. Within
the British Empire, which posted no higher permanent representative on Tonga than
a British Consul (1901-1970), it was part of the British Western Pacific Territories
(under a colonial High Commissioner, then residing on Fiji) from 1901 until 1952.
Although under the protection of Britain, Tonga is the only Pacific nation never to
have given up its monarchical government as did Tahiti and Hawai'i. The Tongan
monarchy unlike the UK follows a straight line of rulers.
The Treaty of Friendship and Tonga's protectorate status ended in 1970 under
arrangements established by Queen Salote Tupou III prior to her death in 1965.
Tonga joined the Commonwealth of Nations in 1970 (atypically as an autochthonous
monarchy, that is one with its own hereditary monarch rather than Elizabeth II),
and the United Nations in September 1999. While exposed to colonial forces, Tonga
has never lost indigenous governance, a fact that makes Tonga unique in the Pacific
and gives Tongans much pride, as well as confidence in their monarchical system. As
part of cost cutting measures across the British Foreign Service, the British
Government closed the British High Commission in Nuku'alofa in March 2006,
transferring representation of British interests in Tonga to the UK High Commissioner
in Fiji. The last resident British High Commissioner was Paul Nessling.
Tonga -- Economy --
Tonga's economy is characterized by a large non monetary sector and a heavy
dependence on remittances from the half of the country's population that
lives abroad, chiefly in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. The
monetary sector of the economy is dominated and largely owned by the royal
family and nobles. This is particularly true of the telecommunications and
satellite services. Much of small business, particularly retail establishments
on Tongatapu, is now dominated by recent Chinese immigrants who arrived under
a cash-for-passports scheme that ended in 1998.
The manufacturing sector consists of handicrafts and a few other very small
scale industries, all of which contribute only about 3% of GDP. Commercial
business activities also are inconspicuous and, to a large extent, are dominated
by the same large trading companies found throughout the South Pacific.
In September 1974, the country's first commercial trading bank, the Bank of
Tonga, opened. There are no patent laws in Tonga.
Rural Tongans rely on plantation and subsistence agriculture. Coconuts,
vanilla beans, bananas, coffee beans and root crops such as yams, taro and
cassava, are the major cash crops. The processing of coconuts into copra and
desiccated (dried) coconut was once the only significant industry but
deteriorating prices on the world market has brought this once vibrant industry,
as everywhere throughout the island nations of the south Pacific, to a complete
standstill. In addition, the feudal land ownership system meant that farmers had
no incentive to invest in planting long-term tree crops on land they did not own.
Pigs and poultry are the major types of livestock. Horses are kept for draft
purposes, primarily by farmers working their 'api 'uta (a plot of bushland).
More cattle are being raised, and beef imports are declining. The export of
squash to Japan once brought relief to a struggling economy but recently
local farmers are increasingly wary of this market due to price fluctuations,
not to mention the huge financial risks involved.
Tonga's development plans emphasize a growing private sector, upgrading agricultural
productivity, revitalizing the squash and vanilla bean industries, developing
tourism, and improving the island's communications and transportation systems.
Substantial progress has been made, but much work remains to be done. A small
but growing construction sector is developing in response to the inflow of aid
monies and remittances from Tongans abroad. It remains to be said that the most
significant contributor to Tonga's economy are remittances from Tongans living
abroad. In recognition of such a crucial contribution, the present Tongan
government has created a new department within the Prime Minister's Office
with the sole purpose of catering for the needs of Tongans living abroad.
Furthermore, the Tongan Parliament in 2007 amended citizenship laws to allow
Tongans especially those living overseas to hold dual citizenship.
Efforts are being made to discover ways to diversify. One hope is seen in fisheries;
tests have shown that sufficient skipjack tuna pass through Tongan waters to
support a fishing industry. Another potential development activity is
exploitation of forests, which cover 35% of the kingdom's land area but are decreasing
as land is cleared. Coconut trees past their prime bearing years also provide a
potential source of timber.
The tourist industry is relatively undeveloped; however, the government recognizes
that tourism can play a major role in economic development, and efforts are being
made to increase this source of revenue. Cruise ships often stop in Nuku'alofa and Vava'u.
Vava'u in fact is well known for its whale watching, game fishing, surfing, beaches
and is increasingly becoming a major player in the South Pacific tourism market.
Tongas postage stamps, which feature colorful and often unusual designs (including
heart-shaped and banana-shaped stamps) are popular with philatelists around the world.
Real estate companies have also just started to spring up in Tonga; as such,
they were basically unheard of less than a decade ago. These have provided a
way of making income for many Tongans as nearly every male Tongan has plots of
land that he has never seen and the leasing of this valuable and attractive land allows
the Tongan to live in a comfort not experienced before. There are also many Tongans who
work as commission agents and earn a living by finding available land parcels and
bringing them to local ex-pats or computer savvy Tongans to list on-line. Some of
these so-called real estate companies have done more harm than good and one would
be wise to be careful when dealing with them. However for the most part acquiring
real estate in Tonga is a simple, straightforward and problem-free process.
In 2005 the country became eligible to become a member of the World Trade
Organization, however on July 25, 2006 it was announced that Tonga has deferred
its membership of the WTO until July next year according to the Tongan Prime
Minister, Dr. Feleti Sevele.
The delay he said did not mean that Tonga was withdrawing its WTO membership
application, but to give Tonga more time to improve its tariff system.
The Tonga Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TCCI) was incorporated in 1996 and
endeavours to represent the interests of its members, private sector businesses,
and to promote economic growth in the Kingdom.
Tonga -- Culture --
General Overview: Tonga has been inhabited for perhaps 3,000 years, since settlement
in late Lapita times. The culture of its inhabitants has surely changed
greatly over this long time period. Before the arrival of European
explorers in the late 1600s and early 1700s, the Tongans were in frequent
contact with their nearest Oceanic neighbors, Fiji and Samoa. In the 1800s,
with the arrival of Western traders and missionaries, Tongan culture
changed dramatically. Some old beliefs and habits were thrown away, and
others adopted. Some accommodations made in the 1800s and early 1900s are
now being challenged by changing Western civilization.
Contemporary Tongans often have strong ties to overseas lands. Many Tongans
have emigrated to Australia, New Zealand, and the United States to seek
employment and a higher standard of living. U.S. cities with significant
Tongan American populations include Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon;
Anchorage, Alaska; Inland Empire, California; San Mateo, California; East
Palo Alto, California; San Bruno, California; Oakland, California; Inglewood,
California; Los Angeles, California; Salt Lake City, Utah; Honolulu, Hawaii;
Reno, Nevada, and Euless, Texas (in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex). Large
Tongan communities can also be found in Auckland, New Zealand, and in Melbourne
and Sydney, Australia. This Tongan diaspora is still closely tied to relatives
at home, and a significant portion of Tonga's income derives from remittances
to family members (often aged) who prefer to remain in Tonga.
Tongans, therefore, often have to operate in two different contexts, which
they often call anga fakatonga, the traditional Tongan way, and anga
fakapalangi, the Western way. A culturally adept Tongan learns both sets
of rules and when to switch between them.
Sports: Rugby union is the national sport in Tonga, and the national
team ('Ikale Tahi or Sea Eagles) has performed quite well on the
international stage. Although in recent years the national team has not
performed as well as neighboring Samoa and Fiji, Tonga has competed in
four Rugby World Cups, the first being in 1987. The 2007 Rugby World Cup
was its most successful to date, with Tonga winning both of its first two
matches, against the USA 2515 and Samoa 1915; and came very close to
upsetting the eventual winners of the 2007 tournament, the South African
Springboks, losing 3025 in the end. They then lost to England 3620 in
their last pool game to end their hopes of making the knockout stages but
were by no means disgraced. In fact, by picking up third place in their
pool games behind South Africa and England, Tonga has since been rewarded
with automatic qualification for the 2011 Rugby World Cup to be held in New Zealand.
Its best result prior to 2007 was in 1995 when they won one game beating
Ivory Coast 2911, and 1999 when they won one game beating Italy 2825
(although with only 14 men they lost heavily to England, 10101). Tonga
performs the "Sipi Tau" (war dance) before its matches. Tonga used to
compete in the Pacific Tri-Nations against Samoa and Fiji which has now
been replaced by the IRB Pacific 6 Nations involving as well Japan,
the second string All Blacks (Junior All Blacks) and Wallabies (Australia A)
although from 2008 the Junior All Blacks would be replaced by the Maori All Blacks.
At club level, there are the Datec Cup Provincial Championship and the Pacific Rugby Cup.
Rugby union is governed by the Tonga Rugby Football Union, which is also a member
of the Pacific Islands Rugby Alliance. Tonga contributes to the Pacific Islanders
rugby union team. Jonah Lomu, Viliami (William) 'Ofahengaue and George Smith, Wycliff Palu,
Tatafu Polota-Nau are all of Tongan descent. Rugby is popular in the nation's schools
and students from schools such as Tonga College, Tupou College are regularly offered
scholarships from New Zealand, Australia and Japan.
Rugby league has also gained some success in Tonga. In the 2008 Rugby League World
Cup Tonga recorded wins against Ireland and Scotland. In addition to the success of
the national team, many players of Tongan descent make it big in the Australian
National Rugby League competition. These include Willie Mason, Brent Kite,
Willie Tonga, Anthony Tupou, Antonio Kaufusi, Israel Folau, Taniela Tuiaki,
Michael Jennings, Feleti Mateo, Fetuli Talanoa, to name but a few.
Tongan Boxer Paea Wolfgram won the silver medal in the Super Heavyweight
division (>91 kg) at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. He is among one of
the very few Polynesians and Pacific Islanders to win an Olympic medal,
one other notable person to be Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku
(a.k.a. Duke Kahanamoku), a native Hawaiian.
Tongan women are known for being skillful jugglers.
A number of US citizens of Tongan descent have made successful
careers in American football. Euless' Trinity High School, the
Texas state champion football team in 2007 and #1 ranked team nationally
in 2008, has several Tongan players. Haloti Ngata is a professional football
player in the NFL. Ngata is a defensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens.
Vai Sikahema, a native of Tonga, is a former NFL running back/kick returner,
who now is a sportscaster in Philadelphia. Ma'ake Kemoeatu, also born
in Tonga, plays as a defensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers. His brother
Chris Kemoeatu plays as an offensive guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tonga -- Politics --
Overview: Tonga operates as a constitutional monarchy. The reverence for the monarch
is likened to that held in earlier centuries for the sacred paramount chief,
the Tu'i Tonga. Criticism of the monarch is held to be contrary to Tongan
culture and etiquette. A direct descendant of the first monarch, King George
Tupou V, his family, some powerful nobles, and a growing non-royal elite caste
live in much wealth, with the rest of the country living in relative poverty.
The effects of this disparity are mitigated by three factors: education, medicine, and land tenure.
Tonga provides free and mandatory education for all children up to the age of
fourteen, with only nominal fees for secondary education, and foreign-funded
scholarships for post-secondary education. Tongans enjoy a relatively high
level of education, with a 98% literacy rate, and higher education up to and
including medical and graduate degrees pursued mostly overseas.
Tongans also have universal access to a national health system. Tongan land
is constitutionally protected and cannot be sold to foreigners (although it
may be leased). While there is a land shortage on the urbanized main island
of Tongatapu (where 70% of the population resides), there is farm land available
in the outlying islands. The majority of the population engages in some form of
subsistence production of food, with approximately half producing almost
all of their basic food needs through farming, sea harvesting, and animal
husbandry. Women and men have equal access to education and health care,
and are fairly equal in employment, but women are discriminated against in
land holding, electoral politics, and government ministries. However, in
Tongan tradition women enjoy a higher social status than men, a cultural
trait that is unique among the insular societies of the Pacific.
The pro-democracy movement in Tonga promotes reforms, including better
representation in the Parliament for the majority commoners, and better
accountability in matters of state. An overthrow of the monarchy itself
is not part of the movement and the institution of monarchy continues to
hold popular support, even while reforms are advocated. Until recently,
the governance issue was generally ignored by the leaders of other countries,
but major aid donors and neighbours New Zealand and Australia are now expressing
concerns about some Tongan government actions.
Following the precedents of Queen Salote, and the consel of numerous international
advisors, the government of Tonga under King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV monetized the
economy, internationalized the medical and education system, and enabled access
by commoners to increasing forms of material wealth (houses, cars, and other
commodities), education, and overseas travel. The government has supported
Olympic and other international sports competition, and contributed Peacekeepers
to the United Nations (notably to Bougainville and the Solomon Islands).
The Tongan government also supported the American "coalition of the willing"
action in Iraq, and a small number of Tongan soldiers were deployed, as part
of an American force, to Iraq in late 2004. However, the contingent of 40+
troops returned home on 17 December 2004. In 2007, a second contingent
was sent to Iraq while two more were sent during 2008 to be part of Tonga's
continuous support for the coalition. This Tongan involvement was finally
concluded at the end of 2008 with no loss of Tongan life reported.
The previous king, Taufa'ahau and his government made some problematic
economic decisions and are accused of wasting millions of dollars in poor
investments. The problems have mostly been driven by attempts to increase
national revenue through a variety of schemes, considering making Tonga a
nuclear waste disposal site (an idea floated in the mid-90s by the current
crown prince); selling Tongan Protected Persons Passports
(which eventually forced Tonga to naturalize the purchasers, sparking
ethnicity-based concerns within Tonga); registering foreign ships
(which proved to be engaged in illegal activities, including shipments
for al-Qaeda); claiming geo-orbital satellite slots (the revenue from
which seems to belong to the Princess Royal, not the state); holding a
long-term charter on an unusable Boeing 757 that was sidelined in Auckland
Airport, leading to the collapse of Royal Tongan Airlines; building an
airport hotel and potential casino with an Interpol-accused criminal;
and approving a factory for exporting cigarettes to China
(against the advice of Tongan medical officials, and decades of health
promotion messaging). The king has proved vulnerable to speculators
with big promises and lost several million (reportedly 26 million USD) to
Jesse Bogdonoff, a financial adviser who called himself the king's Court
Jester. The police have imprisoned pro-democracy leaders, and the
government repeatedly confiscated the newspaper The Tongan Times (which
was printed in New Zealand and sold in Tonga) because the editor had been
vocally critical of the king's mistakes. Notably, the Kele'a, produced
specifically to critique the government and printed in Tonga by pro-democracy
leader 'Akilisi Pohiva, was not banned during that time. Pohiva, however,
had been subjected to harassment in the form of frequent lawsuits.
In mid-2003 the government passed a radical constitutional amendment to
"Tonganize" the press, by licensing and limiting freedom of the press,
so as to protect the image of the monarchy. The amendment was defended
by the government and by royalists on the basis of traditional cultural
values. Licensure criteria include 80% ownership by Tongans living in the
country. As of February 2004, those papers denied licenses under the new
act included the Taimi 'o Tonga (Tongan Times), the Kele'a and the Matangi
Tonga, while those which were permitted licenses were uniformly church-based
or pro-government. The bill was opposed in the form of a several-thousand-strong
protest march in the capital, a call by the Tu'i Pelehake (a prince, nephew of
the king and elected member of parliament) for Australia and other nations to
pressure the Tongan government to democratize the electoral system, and a legal
writ calling for a judicial investigation of the bill. The latter was supported
by some 160 signatures, including seven of the nine elected "People's
Representatives". The strong-arm tactics and gaffes have overshadowed the
good that the aged king had done in his lifetime, as well as the many
beneficial reforms of his son, 'Aho'eitu 'Unuaki'otonga Tuku'aho (Lavaka Ata
'Ulukalala), who was Prime Minister from January 3, 2000 to February 11, 2006.
The former Crown Prince and current monarch, Tupouto'a,
and Pilolevu, the Princess Royal, remained generally silent on the issue.
In total, the changes threatened to destabilize the polity, fragment support
for the status quo, and place further pressure on the monarchy.
In 2005 the government spent several weeks negotiating with striking
civil-service workers before reaching a settlement. The civil unrest
that ensued was not limited to just Tonga; protests outside the king's
New Zealand residence made headlines, too. A constitutional commission
is currently (2005-06) studying proposals to update the constitution.
On July 29, 2008 the Palace announced that King George Tupou V would
relinquish much of his power and would surrender his role in day-to-day
governmental affairs to the Prime Minister. The royal chamberlain said
that this was being done to prepare the monarchy for 2010, when most of
the first parliament will be elected, and added: "The Sovereign of the
only Polynesian kingdom... is voluntarily surrendering his powers to
meet the democratic aspirations of many of his people." The previous
week, the government said the king had completed the sale of his ownership
of state assets which had contributed to much of the royal family's wealth.