Introduction / History The Kingdom of Tonga is a sovereign nation located in the South Pacific Ocean approximately 500 miles southeast of Fiji. Tonga is an archipelago consisting of 176 islands spread across 270,000 square miles. Despite the vast dispersal and large number of islands, only 52 are inhabited.
Settled as early as 1500 BC, Tonga never completely lost its indigenous governance. This fact makes it unique among the pacific islands. Nicknamed "The Friendly Islands", Tonga was united into a Polynesian kingdom in 1845, became a constitutional monarchy in 1875, and became a British protectorate in 1900. In 1970, Tonga withdrew from the protectorate and joined the Commonwealth of Nations. Today, Tonga remains the only monarchy in the Pacific.
Tonga's islands are organized into four major groups: Tongatapu, Ha'apai, Vava'u, and Niua. Most of the islands are raised coral islands, some are volcanic, and a few are atolls (coral island(s) that encircle a lagoon). Coral beaches lined with palm trees and emerald lagoons with luxuriant tropical vegetation are characteristic features. The capital, Nuku'alofa, is located on Tongatapu.
Where are they located? Tonga is located in the South Pacific Ocean approximately 500 miles southeast of Fiji. The geographic coordinates are 20 00 S and 175 00 W. Tonga is an archipelago consisting of 176 islands spread across 270,000 square miles. The islands total 277 square miles with 260 miles of coastline.
The weather is tropical modified by trade winds. The warm season is December to May with a cool season from May to December.
What are their lives like? Tongans are composed of Polynesians and Europeans. One hundred six thousand Tongans live in the islands. Since 1891, the growth rate increased steadily until peaking in the 1950s and 1960s. Migration to New Zealand, Australia, and the United States in the 1970s and 1980s resulted in a reduction in growth. Internal migration has been from the outer, northern, and central islands toward the southern island of Tongatapu. Approximately one third of the population lives in the capital.
The official languages of Tonga are Tongan and English. Tongan is a Western Polynesian language with three social dialects. One is for talking to the king, one for chiefs and nobles, and one for the common people. The "Talking chiefs" are among the few who know all three dialects and they mediate in official ceremonies and in encounters between the king, the nobility, and the commoners. Seventy years as a British protectorate resulted in widespread knowledge of English. Though much of the village population knows little English, in Nuku'alofa and other major towns, most business transactions are conducted using it. English is taught in elementary schools and is the language of most high school instruction. Despite this however, Tongan is the language commonly spoken in the streets, shops, markets, schools, offices, and churches.
The Tongan economy relies heavily upon agriculture and fishing. Major exports are vanilla, fish, handicrafts, and pumpkins grown for sale to Japan. King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV has modernized the country's economy. Made possible by foreign aid from New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and the European Community, the changes have created a widespread presence of Western products. The agricultural base of the Tongan economy remains and the tourism industry is growing. Revenues from Tongans working abroad are one of the largest sources of income for many families.
Typical agricultural produce are root crops such as taro, tapioca, sweet potatoes, and yams. Coconuts, bananas, mangoes, papayas, pineapples, watermelons, peanuts, and vegetables are also grown. Pigs and fowl are abundant and roam freely. Cows, sheep, and goats are also raised on the islands. Shell fishing is done along the shores and fish is in abundant supply in the surrounding waters.
Tonga continues to recognize a class structure system. Traditional society's premiere class is the ha'a tu'i (kings), followed by the hou'eiki (chiefs), ha'a matapule (talking chiefs), kau mu'a (would-be talking chiefs), and kau tu'a (commoners). All titles are passed along to the next generation following the male line of descent almost exclusively.
Only nobles and the king are now entitled to own and distribute land. An increasingly market-oriented economy and an expanding bureaucracy have recently added a middle class that runs the gamut from commoners to chiefs. Newly acquired wealth, however, does not easily overcome social barriers rooted in history. Claims of higher social status are often established by asserting a claim of kinship to holders of aristocratic titles.
Formal attire for men includes a tupenu (skirt) and a ta'ovala (mat) worn around the waist and kept in place by a belt of coconut fiber. Prestigious old belts made of human hair also are used. A shirt with a tie and a jacket complete the attire. Women wear long dresses and ta'ovala as well. The softness, color, and decorations of the ta'ovala indicate status and wealth.
People shake hands when they meet and relatives kiss by pressing each other's noses against their faces and soundly inhaling through the nose. The men that prepare the roasted meat for a feasts do not eat with the guests and are allowed at the table only when the first round of people has finished eating. Most food is eaten with the hands although silverware is also used. It is customary to wash one's hands at the beginning and end of a meal.
The gesture of raising the eyebrows in conversation expresses one's understanding of the conversation and serves as an invitation to continue. It is difficult for people to admit failure to understand or to respond negatively to requests.
Handmade crafts and performance arts are a large part of the expression of the island people's creativity. Women make bark cloth decorated with naturalistic figures such as trees, flowers, and animals. Women also weave mats and make flax baskets. The uniformity and consistency of the patterns reveal a weaver's skill. These activities are always conducted in groups while talking, or singing. Men carve wood, coral jewelry, and objects made of turtle shell or whalebone. Seeds, shells, and fresh flowers are woven into necklaces by both sexes.
Choral singing is done in churches and social clubs. Singing is part of the more holistic traditional art of blending of dance, music, and poetry. The punake (master poet) composes pieces that combine music, text, and body movements. Traditional dances include the Me'etu'upaki (paddle dance), the Tau'olunga (solo dance), and the Lakalaka (line dance).
Many western conveniences exist on the islands such as landline and mobile telecommunications, internet, satellite & cable TV, and television & radio stations. Air, land, and seaport transportation are also available and of modern quality. Amenities are available and more prolific near the larger populated areas.
What are their beliefs? Christian churches exist in even the most remote villages. After many years of effort, Wesleyan missionaries brought Christianity to the islands in 1790s. Forty-four percent of Tongans belong to the Free Wesleyan Church. Wesleyanism is also the official religion of the state and the monarchy. Among the other major churches are the Roman Catholic Church (16 %), the Church of Latter Day Saints (12 %), the Free Church of Tonga (11 %), the Church of Tonga (7 %), Seventh-Day Adventist Church (2 %), and Anglican Church (0.6 %).
What are their needs? Like all locations throughout the world, Tonga needs clear and consistent teaching of the word of God along with patient and sincere examples of Christian leadership. Every nation, regardless of wealth, prominence, or poverty needs kind oversight and instruction from Godly people. Tonga is open to Christian outreach as evidenced by the large numbers of people who associate with various churches. The opportunity to minister to these churches and to rural peoples of the country should not be overlooked.
As is common for nations consisting of many islands, the people in the remote islands may not have access to the same conveniences and supplies that are available to people in the more heavily populated areas. Supplies of educational materials, medicines, foodstuff, clothing, and housewares could be beneficial to them.
Prayer Points * Pray for God to invigorate His people in Tonga to accomplish His work
* Pray for the opportunity to reach out to other nations in the region utilizing Tonga as a launching place
* Pray for access for God's people to evangelize the lost throughout the world
* Pray for the needy and unemployed in this island nation.
References Some information was used with permission from http://www.everyculture.com/To-Z/Tonga.html#b and http://goo.gl/i41yG