About Tonga

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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%
Population: 104,000
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 1500–1000 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. Tonga’s 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 25–15 and Samoa 19–15; and came very close to upsetting the eventual winners of the 2007 tournament, the South African Springboks, losing 30–25 in the end. They then lost to England 36–20 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 29–11, and 1999 when they won one game beating Italy 28–25 (although with only 14 men they lost heavily to England, 10–101). 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.[33] 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.[10] 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.

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