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(tŏng`gə), officially Kingdom of Tonga, island kingdom (2015 est. pop. 106,000), 270 sq mi (699 sq km), South Pacific, c.2000 mi (3,220 km) NE of Sydney, Australia. Tonga is the only surviving independent kingdom in the South Pacific. NukualofaNukualofa
, town (1986 pop. 21,300), capital and chief port of the Kingdom of Tonga, on the northern coast of Tongatapu island. The city has a deep harbor; copra, bananas, vanilla, and handicrafts are exported. The royal palace and government buildings are in Nukualofa.
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 is the capital.

Land, People, and Economy

The more than 150 islands constitute three main groups: Tongatapu (seat of the capital) in the south, Vavau in the north, and Haapai in the center. Several of the islands are volcanic, with active craters, but most are coral atolls. The climate is tropical. Most of the people are Polynesian and Christian (primarily Methodist). Tongan, a Polynesian language, and English are spoken. Squash, coconuts, bananas, vanilla beans, cocoa, coffee, ginger, and black pepper and kava are grown, and there is fishing. Tourism and remittances from Tongans working abroad are also important. Vegetables, vanilla beans, seafood, and kava are exported, while foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, fuels, and chemicals must be imported. The main trading partners are Japan, the United States, and New Zealand.


Tonga is governed under the constitution of 1875 as revised. The monarch is the head of state, and the government is headed by the prime minister, who is elected by the Legislative Assembly. The unicameral Legislative Assembly has 26 seats, 9 for nobles and 17 for representatives elected by popular vote; all serve four-year terms. Tonga is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Administratively, the country is divided into the three island groups.


Archaeological evidence indicates that the islands of Tonga were settled c.830 B.C., but the Polynesians are believed to have arrived some 400 years after that. The current ruling dynasty traces its rise to power to the 10th cent. Dutch navigators sighted the northern islands in 1616 and the rest of the group in 1643. Capt. James CookCook, James,
1728–79, English explorer and navigator. The son of a Yorkshire agricultural laborer, he had little formal education. After an apprenticeship to a firm of shipowners at Whitby, he joined (1755) the royal navy and surveyed the St.
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 visited the islands in 1773 and 1777 and named them the Friendly Islands. English missionaries arrived in 1797 and helped to strengthen British political influence. Internal wars in the early 19th cent. ended with the accession of King George Tupou I (1845–93), who unified the nation and gave it a constitution (1862), a legal code, and an administrative system. His successor, King George Tupou II (1893–1918) concluded a treaty making Tonga a British protectorate in 1900. Tonga remained self-governing, with the British responsible for foreign and defense affairs. Queen Salote Tupou III ruled from 1918 to 1965, when she was succeed by her son, King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV. A new treaty in 1968 reduced British controls, and complete independence was attained on June 4, 1970.

Since the late 1980s, Tongans have agitated for democratic reforms, but the king has generally opposed any change that would dilute the monarchy's power. In 2001 it was revealed that as much as $37 million in government funds had disappeared as a result of investment in a Nevada asset management company, and corruption within the royal family and government remains a problem. Amendments in 2003 to the constitution permit the restriction of freedom of speech, a move that was used to silence publications critical of the government, but parts of the amendments (and restrictive media laws passed in 2003) were subsequently declared void.

In 2005 two commoners were selected to join the cabinet for the first time, and in 2006 one (Fred Sevele) was appointed prime minister, also a first. In July–Sept., 2005, the nation experienced a civil service strike that turned into a call for democratic reform, but the strike was settled without any addressing of the broader political issues. King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV died in 2006, and George Tupou V succeeded him.

Frustration over the failure of the legislature to enact reforms led to rioting in the capital in Nov., 2006; many government offices and businesses were destroyed. Following the rioting, the government imposed a state of emergency that was not rescinded until Feb., 2011, and announced that there would be new legislative elections in 2008 and that a majority of the members of the legislature would be popularly elected. Subsequently, the government arrested a number of prodemocracy legislators on charges relating to the riots and moved to set back legislative reform to as late as 2010. Reconstruction was largely underwritten with Chinese loans, resulting in significant debt for Tonga, and repayment, due to begin in 2018, was postponed that year till 2023.

In the 2008 legislative elections, prodemocracy candidates, including incumbent legislators facing sedition charges dating from the 2006 riots, won two thirds of the popularly elected seats. In July, 2008, prior to the king's formal coronation, he announced that he would yield much of his power as part of a move toward democracy, but progress toward that goal was slow. The five legislators accused of seditious conspiracy had all their indictments dismissed in Sept., 2009, except for a seditious speech charge against one representative. A tsunami the same month devastated the northern island of Niuatoputapu.

In Nov., 2009, the constitutional commission issued its recommendations, which called for reducing the king's power, making the head of government answerable to the Legislative Assembly, and increasing the people's legislative representatives; in Apr., 2010, legislation increased the number of the people's representatives in future elections. In July, however, the judicial independence was undermined when the king was given control over the appointment of judges. In November, a prodemocracy party won a majority of the popularly elected seats, but an alliance of the noble representatives and independent representatives chose the new prime minister, Lord Tuivakano.

In Mar., 2012, the king died; his brother succeeded him as Tupou VI. A number of Tonga's islands suffered damage, in some cases devastation, from a cyclone (hurricane) in Jan., 2014. After the Nov., 2014, elections, Akilisi Pohiva, the longest serving commoner in the assembly and a champion of democratic reforms, was elected prime minister. Pohiva became the first commoner to serve in the office. Early elections in Nov., 2017, resulted in a majority for Pohiva's party, and he again became prime minister. Pohiva died in office in 2019, and Finance Minister Pohiva Tu'i'onetoa succeeded him. A cyclone in Feb., 2018, the strongest recorded to hit the country, caused significant and widespread damage to Tonga.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(also Tonka, Batonga, or Batonka), a people in Zambia and Rhodesia.

The Tonga inhabit the Tonga plateau and the middle course of the Zambezi River. They number about 450,000 (1973, estimate). Their language belongs to the central group of the Bantu family. Their religion is based on ancestor worship and a cult of the forces of nature; there are some Christians among the Tonga, mainly in the propertied classes. The Tonga social structure contains vestiges of the tribal system, such as secret societies and matrilineal kin groups. The main occupation of the Tonga is land cultivation (maize is the main crop); some of them engage in cattle raising.


Svanidze, I. A. “Izmeneniia v khoziaistve u naroda tonga pri kolonial’nom rezhime.” Sovetskaia etnografiia, 1960, no. 6.
Jaspan, M. A. The Ila-Tonga Peoples of North-Western Rhodesia. London, 1953.
Colson, E. Social Organization of the Gwembe Tonga. [Manchester, 1960.]



(Kingdom of Tonga), a state in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. Tonga is part of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Located in the Tonga islands (Friendly Islands), Tonga comprises three groups of islands: Vava’u, Ha’apai, and Tongatapu, and about 150 other small islands. Area, 699 sq km. Population (1975), 100,000. The capital is the city of Nukualofa, on the island of Tongatapu. The kingdom is divided administratively into three regions—Tongatapu, Ha’apai, and Vava’u.

Constitution and government. Tonga is a constitutional monarchy. The present constitution was adopted in 1875, and amendments have been adopted since then. The government is headed by a king, who appoints a cabinet, convenes sessions of Parliament, and has the power of pardon. Legislative authority is vested in a unicameral parliament called the Legislative Assembly; seven of its members are elected by the population, seven are chosen by the royal nobility, and other members are in the government. Parliament is convened for a three-year term. All citizens have the right to vote (women received the franchise in 1960). National judicial bodies were created after 1970.

Natural features. The two parallel chains of the Tonga islands are located on a submerged mountain range that stretches meridionally and is bounded in the east by a deep trench (10,882 m). The western chain is more than 700 km long; it is composed of mountainous volcanic islands rising in sharp peaks up to 1,029 m high. There are active volcanoes, some of which are submerged (Fonuafoo, or Falcon Island). The eastern limestone chain consists mainly of atolls and uplifted coral islands, ranging in elevation from several meters to 200 m. The islands have a tropical marine climate. From December to April there is a warmer and more moist season with prevailing northwesterly and northerly winds; the cooler and drier season lasts from May to November, and its predominant winds are southeasterly trade winds. The average temperature is 26.1°C in February and 20.3°C in August. Annual precipitation is about 2,000 mm. The only islands that have rivers are Eua and Niuatoputapu. The soils of the archipelago are fertile red earths. The islands are covered with dense tropical forests, with numerous tree ferns, palms, guavas, and lianas. The main areas of jungle are on the volcanic islands. The area is poor in fauna. Mammals are represented by rats and mice; and there are about 30 species of birds, including doves, parrots, and corncrakes. There are snakes, lizards, and such insects as mosquitoes, beetles, and ants. There are numerous species of fish, sea turtles, and mollusks.

Population. The Tongans, a Polynesian people, compose 98 percent of the kingdom’s population. European-Polynesian métis, who are linguistically and culturally close to the Tongans, account for less than 1 percent of the population. There are also Polynesians from other islands, as well as Europeans (primarily British and Anglo-Australian). Most of the inhabitants are Methodists. There are also small groups of Catholics and other Christian denominations. The official languages are Tongan and English. The Gregorian calendar is used.

The annual population growth for the period 1970–74 was 2.9 percent. As of 1966, 74 percent of the population was employed in agriculture. The average population density (1975) is 143 persons per sq km, but the real density is greater, since the population is distributed very unevenly and one-fifth of the land area is uninhabited. Tongatapu, which has more than 60 percent of the population, is the most densely populated (about 220 persons per sq km). About 18 percent of the population is urban (1970, estimate). About one-third of the population lives in the cities of Nukualofa, Pangai (Lifuka Island in the Ha’apai group), and Neiafu (Vava’u Island).

Historical survey. In the late fifth and early sixth centuries, the Tonga islands were inhabited by Polynesians. The first state formations, in which leadership was hereditary, appeared in about the tenth century. The Europeans discovered the islands in the 17th century and sent missionaries in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In 1900 a British protectorate was established over the islands. The islands were formally regarded as self-governing territories, but in fact they were under the control of the British consul. In 1958 the islands’ autonomy was somewhat broadened; in particular, the government of Tonga obtained the right to conclude trade agreements with other countries. An Anglo-Tongan agreement of 1968 stipulated the gradual lessening of British control over the Tongan government. On June 4, 1970, Tonga’s independence was officially proclaimed.

Since 1964 the government has published The Chronicle, a daily newspaper with a circulation of 13,000 (1974). The government also controls radio broadcasts through the Tonga Broadcasting Commission, established in 1961.

Economy. After the kingdom became independent, the government instituted a program of economic development for 1970–75. The plan devoted the most attention to the production of export crops, the expansion of fishing, and the improvement of the infrastructure.

Agriculture is the basis of the economy. In 1971, 55,000 hectares (ha) of land was devoted to agriculture, of which 24,000 ha was plowland, 29,000 ha was under perennial crops, and 2,000 ha was under meadows and pastureland. The best lands belong to the royal family and the hereditary nobility, who rent them to peasants. The main export crops include coconut palm (115,000 tons of coconuts and 13,500 tons of copra in 1974) and bananas (4,000 tons); citrus fruits (4,000 tons) and pineapples are also important. Crops grown for local consumption include sweet potatoes (6,000 ha and 77,000 tons in 1974), cassava (3,000 ha and 26,000 tons), yams, and taro. The population also engages in fishing and the raising of livestock and poultry. In 1974 there were 3,000 head of cattle, 32,000 swine, and 5,000 goats. (These sectors produce for the local market.) Industries include sawmills and establishments for the processing of agricultural raw material. Exploration for petroleum is under way.

The main seaports and commercial centers of Tonga are Nukualofa and Neiafu. In 1973–74, the value of exports was 3.2 million pa’angas, and of imports, 8 million pa’angas. The main exports are copra and bananas, and the main imports are machinery and equipment and foodstuffs (sugar, tea, and coffee). Tonga’s main trading partners are New Zealand, Great Britain, and Australia. The islands have international tourism. The monetary unit is the pa’anga; 1 pa’anga = A $1.00.

Education. Elementary education is free and compulsory for children aged 6 to 14. The term of study in the elementary and secondary schools is six years; the latter consists of four-year and two-year terms. During the 1972–73 academic year there were about 16,600 pupils in the elementary schools and 10,100 students in the secondary schools. The islands have a four-year pedagogical college, which trains elementary school teachers.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Official name: Kingdom of Tonga

Capital city: Nuku’alofa

Internet country code: .to

Flag description: Red with a bold red cross on a white rectangle in the upper hoist-side corner

Geographical description: Oceania, archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand

Total area: 288 sq. mi. (747 sq. km.)

Climate: Tropical; modified by trade winds; warm season (December to May), cool season (May to December)

Nationality: noun: Tongan(s); adjective: Tongan

Population: 116,921 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Tongan 98%, other Polynesian, European

Languages spoken: Tongan, English

Religions: Christian (Free Wesleyan Church claims over 30,000 adherents)

Legal Holidays:

ANZAC DayApr 25
Birthday of the Heir to the Crown of TongaJul 12
Boxing DayDec 26
Christmas DayDec 25
Easter MondayApr 25, 2011; Apr 9, 2012; Apr 1, 2013; Apr 21, 2014; Apr 6, 2015; Mar 28, 2016; Apr 17, 2017; Apr 2, 2018; Apr 22, 2019; Apr 13, 2020; Apr 5, 2021; Apr 18, 2022; Apr 10, 2023
Emancipation DayJun 4
Good FridayApr 22, 2011; Apr 6, 2012; Mar 29, 2013; Apr 18, 2014; Apr 3, 2015; Mar 25, 2016; Apr 14, 2017; Mar 30, 2018; Apr 19, 2019; Apr 10, 2020; Apr 2, 2021; Apr 15, 2022; Apr 7, 2023
King Tupou I DayDec 4
National DayNov 4
New Year's DayJan 1
Official Birthday of the Reigning Sovereign of TongaAug 1
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


a kingdom occupying an archipelago of more than 150 volcanic and coral islands in the SW Pacific, east of Fiji: inhabited by Polynesians; became a British protectorate in 1900 and gained independence in 1970; a member of the Commonwealth. Official languages: Tongan and English. Religion: Christian majority. Currency: pa'anga. Capital: Nuku'alofa. Pop.: 104 000 (2004 est.). Area: 750 sq. km (290 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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Her magisterial ethnographic work encompassed almost every aspect of Gwembe Tonga society and traced the changes from settled agricultural life on the rich soils of the riverbanks to the despair of dislocation and the establishment of a new pattern of existence.
About the same time, Tonga, which had the status of a British-protected state, chose to take over what responsibilities the British had and become an independent state, or as the King of Tonga, Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, preferred, "made its reentry into the Comity of Nations".
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