Kihei, Reyne K.
Nadamoto, Marissa M.
30 Oct 2009
Tonga, which is officially the Kingdom of Tonga, is one of Pacific islands. Tonga is unique among Pacific nations. It never completely lost its indigenous governance. The archipelagos of The Friendly Island is a nickname for Tonga. Archaeological evidence indicates that the Tonga islands have been settled since at least 500 B.C., and local traditions have carefully preserved the names of the Tongan sovereigns for about 1,000 years. The power of the Tongan monarchy reached its height in the 13th century. Tonga still remains the only monarchy in the Pacific.
How many Tongans are living in Tonga? The population estimated in 2009 of Tonga was around 120,000, they are almost Polynesians (Australian Government, July 2009). It’s 195th ranked in the world and has 360 / sq mi. Roughly 60% of the population lives on the main island of Tongatapu, which means sacred Tonga. In addition, there are major Tongans communities living in Hawaii, American Samoa, California, Utah, New Zealand and Australia. Over the past decades, Tongans have widespread over the western part of Polynesia, and many people in Samoa, Uvea, Turuna, and the Lau islands of Fiji share Tongan blood quantum (Australian Government, July 2009).
Tonga has officially two languages: Tongan and English. Tongan is a Polynesian language which seems relatively closed to Wallisian, Niuean, Hawaiian and Samoan. Comparative and historical linguists have basically determined related languages descended from the same family tend to get simpler as time goes by; or for example, younger languages in the same family might have fewer sounds. In this respect, modern Tongan language has phonological sounds more than Samoan, but not as many as Fijian, prompting such linguists to theorize that Tongan is maybe older than Samoan but not as old as Fijian.
About the religion, They have three religions; Wesleyan, Catholic, Free church, and Mormon. Tonga has been exposed to Christian missions of many denominations since the beginning of the 20th century. More recently, Pentecostal and Apostolic groups originating in the towns have evangelized them. Churches exist in many neighborhoods. Many people are Christians, but they may also adhere to some aspects of earlier Tonga belief and practice.
Tongan people physically and culturally belong to the Polynesian system but appearance and language are closely related to Samoan. So they were supposed to be from Samoa directly. Population decreased after they contacted western people. But population has increased since 1920. They have some mixed racial, and also a little Chinese and Europeans live there. The polygamy was dominant before; today monogamy is dominant due to Christianity. As I mentioned, They are closed to Samoan. Most of them engages in primitive agriculture and fishing, and both men and women with tattoo are custom carving.
Tonga has some religious and linguistic aspects, and Tongan language has been always important to Tongan people. Like many other pacific islands do, Tonga also has many oral myths and also has their ways of communication in their lifestyle. There are many traditional dances in Tonga, such as Mauluulu, Ula and Tauolunga. In ancient time, dances were one of ways for Tongan people to communicate and to bring down islands history and culture to the next generation. Tonga dances also have some relationship with the words like oral myths. Tongan dances still have special meaning for people there in present time, and Tongan people pass them down over the generations. In Tongan language, Malo e lelei. is the Polynesian greeting of Tonga. It is hello in English, but it means congratulation. Also, it means being well and the being in good health is worthy of gratitude. Like we say aloha. in Hawaii to greet and show our gratitude, Tongan people say malo e lelei. Tongan dances and greeting can show culture and history of a country and people in Tonga. (Tonga, Islands of Tonga).
Not only dances and greeting but also eating is a big part of cultural aspects. Tongan lifestyle meals are an interesting part of family life.Before European contacted Tonga, there was only one main meal, a midday meal cooked in an earth oven. People eat some leftover food from the previous day’s meal after they wake up, and set out to work in the fields or the ocean to gather food. Men cooked what they hunt and gathered, and they served to the assembled household. The leftovers were placed in a basket suspended from a tree. This food served as a snack or breakfast for the next morning. Women did not cook because cooking in an earth oven was hard, hot work, and it was the province of men. They raised children, gathered shellfish on the reef, and made backcloths and mats, which were a traditional form of wealth exchanged at marriages and other ceremonial occasions. (Tonga, Islands of Tonga) (TONGA: HISTORY & EUROPEAN DISCOVERY).
The diet of the people of Tonga usually consists of fish and seafood. Common dishes served at family meals are pork, chicken, yams, taro leaves, sweet potatoes, and fruits. Many new foods were introduced in the 19th and early 20th centuries, following Western contacts and settlements. Many crops and vegetables are introduced, such as cassava plant, watermelons and many other fruits. Tongans also adopted onions, green onions, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, and other common vegetables. The daily dish was westernized due to influences by colonization of British. (Pacific Islanders, Diet of”. Nutrition and Well-Being A to Z) (TONGA: HOUSES & VILLAGE LIFE)
Meals usually consist of eating on woven mats on the floor with traditionally no instruments but your fingers. Children are separated from the adults and at times when guests are present they are served first while the women or people who prepare the meal eat last. Tongans now no longer cook with an earth oven every day. Women cook almost daily. They cook in battered pots over open fire in villages, in wood-burning stoves in some households, and on gas or electric ranges in some of the larger towns. The meal schedule has also changed, to more Westernized breakfast, light lunch, and heavy dinner. Eating together is an important aspect in family unity.(Matangi Tonga Online)
Unity is important in tying together not only the individual families but the community. No matter the region of Tonga the family life is a very tight knit network. From the Every Culture online site, the younger generation is looked after and taken care of by their parents along with siblings, and children of other families. Everyone takes care of each other. Under the circumstances of divorce, the children will often be put under the responsibility of the grandparents. Its apparent in the present Tongan society how values have shifted from the past. Education is encouraged for children to achieve a better education in order to get better job. Children often help to provide support for their families financially. This is unlike the past where there was more emphasis put on learning specific skills which were essential to maintaining jobs which constituted manual labor as a source of income (Giovanni Bernardo, Every Culture).
Throughout Tonga, polygamy is common. Men can have many wives which they will visit in different households. Though, not all men have more than one wife, some relationships are monogamous. In the 1920s -50s childhood betrothal was also practiced but was eventually abandoned. Marriage within the family was a common practice and preferred. The intentions of marriage is to link other villages and neighborhoods together. Divorce is common but makes it possible for women to become the head of a household. This number is increasing though the idea has been around since the 1920s where women choose an independent lifestyle. Despite their husbands, woman will seek out to have children with their lovers by choice. In the case where a woman becomes a widow, usually she will lose all of her assets because they will be inherited to the children. Although controversial, because these women lose everything they are also inherited by descents of their husband. The duties of a married woman is very domesticated. The cooking, cleaning, and caring of the children is her responsibility along with tending to her husband. In this sense, the only way for woman to create something of themselves outside the home is to create their own assets and give it to their own kin (Giovanni, Bernardo. Every Culture).
Inheritance is large part of Tongan lifecycle. Depending on who is living, the father of the deceased or his heir will always claim the money but the majority of the estate will always go to the matrilineal kin. A new guardian will also be chosen by the kin and appointed to be responsible for all children and affairs left behind. He or she is the guardian of the new spirit (Giovanni, Bernardo. Every Culture).
For past times, sports are often watched and followed in Tonga. Rugby is the national sport along with cricket, volleyball, basketball, and tennis. Girls like to play netball. Drinking Kava is a common late night past time. It is a drink prepared from the root of a pepper plant. Traditional crafts such as weaving, stringing leis, and wood work are also common past times for men and women (Giovanni, Bernardo. Every Culture).
According to Te Papa, in Tonga, the Polynesian arts can very from types of paintings, to weaving, to tapa making, and dance. Focusing on the art of tapa making, women or men will pound bark to make decorated cloth for clothing; also known as ngatu. The tree called hiapo may only be tended to by the men and only the women can create the cloth from the bark. It is said that one of the main reasons for making the gnatu cloth is for gift giving. It will appear in ceremonies such as funerals, weddings, and other special Tongan events. Ngatu represents a symbol of wealth and is often used in weddings to drape over the wedding car (Te Papa).
The term wealth in Tonga is very abstract because most of the natives who inhabit the island live in poverty. Tonga has always been dependent on agriculture to keep the economy afloat. Tongans have always struggled to produce as much crops as possible to keep money flowing in their island to survive. Tonga came very close to economic disaster in the years 2006-2007 due to consumer price inflation which affected their true GDP (gross domestic product) tremendously. Tonga relies heavily on remittances particularly with the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Agricultural crops that are grown to be sold such as coconuts, bananas, and vanilla beans are Tongas main source of income. Tourism also plays an important role Tongas economy. (Economist Intelligence Unit page 51)
The form of government in Tonga is called Constitutional hereditary monarchy. This means that Tonga is run by a monarch that acts as the head of state; held together by a written or unwritten constitution. As of 2008, Tongas government consists of The Sovereign, HM King George Tupou V, the whole cabinet, and the government ministries and offices. Elected members hold their position for three years. Town and district officials who have been elected by popular vote are Tongas only form of local government. The officials that are selected represent the central government in the villages. The district official has authority over numerous villages. Tonga is the only island in the pacific that rules as a constitutional monarchy. Their monarch system hasnt changed since the pre-colonial period. (The Economist Intelligence Unit-Pacific Islands Country Report July 2009)
There are few ways to get around in Tonga. Transportation consists of the main airport, three harbors, paved and unpaved roads. Loans from China are being used to help with the finances of road building projects, which should improve the transportation system and provide more jobs for the people of Tonga. (Economist Intelligence Unit, page 56)
Education in Tonga is free and mandatory until children reach the age of fourteen. Tongan children usually enter school at the ages of 5 and 6. Any schooling after that is funded by a government funded scholarship. Tongans promote higher education and their literacy rate has been as high as 98% because of it. Tongans seek higher education abroad. Students are graded on a 1 to 9 scale, 1 being the highest and 9 the lowest. Passing or Failing is discouraged. Teachers are required to have a three year teaching diploma along with a Pacific Senior school certificate. (U.S. Department of State 2009-state.gov)
Tongans receive free medical and dental treatment. Non-tongans pay for medical and dental treatment on a fixed rate. Although Tuberculosis, filariasis, typhoid fever, dysentery, and eye and skin diseases are commom health problems in Tonga, Tonga is still considered to be a healthy country. Tongans have access to safe water and sufficient sanitation. In 2002, the life expectancy of a Tongan was 68 years of age. (nationsencyclopedia.com)
The monarchy of Tonga has similar aspects to many other Polynesian islands but is unique in the sense that it has its own culture and language through its history. Although it is relatively small it is rich in customs and traditions. Despite the fact that colonizers have passed through the islands in the past, they hold true to themselves by preserving the monarchy and heritage.