Though there are many small islands located in Oceania in the south pacific, the Kingdom of Tonga isn’t one that many people talk about or know of its existence. Tonga is an archipelago consisting of 170 islands of which only 36 are inhabited by people. As of the beginning of 2020, the population of this nation is 108,137, with a surface area of 750 sq. km. The average lifespan is 68 years. Most Tongans speak either Tongan or English. Nuku’alofa is the capitol and is said to mean “abode of love.” Tonga is an ancient Polynesian island nation, its recorded history dating back as far as 900 BC. Sea farers considered the island chain to be the gateway to Polynesia. It’s also referred to as the friendly islands. Here are some interesting facts about the Kingdom of Tonga.
1. Tonga was discovered around 500 B.C.
Polynesian explorers settled Tonga in around 500 BC. These settlers believed that the Polynesian God had a son with a maiden. That son became the first King of Tonga in around 950 A.D. It is said that all the Kings and Queens have been descended from that first King up until very recently. Other relatives of the first King are said to have become chiefs that regularly fought amongst each other.
2. It has rich cultural traditions
An interesting fact about Tonga is that it has ceremonial dances that were passed down from generation to generation, which they still practice today in national ceremonies and in the local villages. The paddle dance is one such dance, where the dancers carry paddles that are painted or carved with pictures of the human body. The paddle dance is called me’etu’upaki. They also have a war dance, and a dance that involves people sitting and standing along with polyphonic singing. It is also typical to listen to the elders speak of fables, myths, religious stories, and familial history during national ceremonies, as well as ceremonies in the villages.
3. This country was visited by explorers such as Captain Cook
In 1773, Captain Cook sailed to Tonga for the first time, and it became known as the friendly islands because of their welcoming reception. He visited again in 1774 and 1777. The Tongans had plotted to kill him, but they could not agree upon a method and eventually gave up. a fun fact about Tonga.
4. Tonga was unified by a King George Tupou
The Kingdom of Tonga went through a long period of war and unrest from 1799 to 1852. This period was ended by King George Tupou I, who had recently become a Christian Methodist. The King’s reign was from 1845 to 1893 and brought with it, unification, independence, their constitution and administrative structure. This popular King is the reason that Christianity spread so quickly throughout the islands of Tonga.
5. The British protected Tonga from German aggression
To protect Tonga from German aggression, the United Kingdom declared Tonga a protected state under the British Monarchy as a treaty of friendship in 1900. In 1970, the treaty was legally ended, and Tonga became an independent nation.
6. It kept its identity and heritage even after colonialism
Despite the influences of colonialism from the 1500’s onward, Tonga has managed to hold on to its traditions and identity and has been somewhat unspoiled, but even today keeping their heritage still, remains challenging due to globalization and western influences.
7. Christianity is the main religion of Tonga
Most people of Tonga are Christian. One third of the population belongs to the Free Wesleyan Methodist Church, and one-fifth of the population is Mormon. An interesting fact about Tonga is that it has the largest population of Mormons per capita in the world.
8. Tongans care about the environment and climate change
Tongans have been worried about preserving their land and living sustainably for at least 170 years, when King Tupou I declared “God and Tonga are my inheritance.” There has been a culture of environmental activism woven into the strands of Tongan society as observed from both their past and by the Kingdom of Tonga’s present involvement with the UN’s Voluntary Political Forum on Sustainable Development.
9. Tonga’s economy is based on agriculture
A fun fact about Tonga is that agriculture drives its economy. This includes coconuts, vanilla beans, squash and bananas, but also to a lesser extent corn, breadfruit, limes, watermelon, pineapples and tomatoes. Other exports include timber production, raising livestock, and fishing. Most of what is raised is consumed by Tongans, but the rest are exported to the United States, New Zealand, Japan and Australia. Tonga also imports products from Australia, Singapore, United States, Fiji and New Zealand.
10. Tonga had a very brief authoritarian period
In 1999 until 2006, Tonga had a brush with authoritarianism. The state created state-run television, and news outlets critical of the government and monarchy were banned due to reforms. The reforms were due to the squandering of a large national surplus gained through selling Tongan passports to foreign nationals during the previous decade. The money had been invested by an American, who subsequently lost all the money that had been made. A fun fact about Tonga is that the country had its first ever national strike in 2005 with public workers striking for better pay. This led to the election of Tonga’s first non-noble prime minister and an increase in the seats in government for those who were popularly elected, putting the authoritarian leaning practices to rest.
11. Tonga is experiencing climate change
The Kingdom of Tonga, which lies in the Pacific Ocean’s ring of fire has at least 4 active volcanoes in its archipelago. In 2009, there was a large underwater earthquake measuring 8.3, which in turn caused a tsunami. The tsunami was said to have killed at least 10 Tongans, and villages were destroyed. Besides the volatility due to the ring of fire, climate change also poses an imminent threat to the islands. While parts of the islands are mountainous and volcanic, and protected by reef barriers other parts of the islands are flat and unprotected. These islands are seeing the concerning effects of the rising sea level, which is also a natural threat to its people.
In conclusion, the Kingdom of Tonga has a long and interesting history and remains relevant in today’s world and economy. It’s a beautiful and vibrant nation, with periods of change, peace, and unrest. Tonga is an ancient culture which has been able to constantly re-invent itself, while holding on to its cultural heritage, to fit into today’s modern world and economy and help them remain a relevant player on the world stage, albeit small. The threat of imminent climate change leaves sustainability at the center of the nation’s promise to its past and future heritage, with the hope to be a part of the positive influences in the global fight against climate change.
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