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You are in:  Nations > Oceania > Tonga
Tonga*Tonga flag
Basic facts
The country 
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Capital: Nuku'alofa
Area: 750 sq km; 290 sq miles
Population: 109,959 (2000 Estimate)
Urbanisation: Urban 44 per cent (1998 Estimate); Rural 56 per cent (1998 Estimate)


Exports: Squash, vanilla, fish, root crops, coconut oil

Industry: Tourism, fishing, wood and paper products, chemicals

Agriculture: Coconut, copra, bananas, vanilla beans, cacao, coffee, ginger, black pepper

Currency: 1 pa'anga (T$), consisting of 100 seniti

Natural resources: Fish, fertile soil, warm weather, beaches


The people

Ethnic: Tongan 98 per cent, European, other Polynesian 2 per cent

Language: Tongan (official), English (official). Tongan and English are both official languages. Government documents are in both languages, but Tongan is the language of daily communication. English is used in business correspondence and is taught as a second language in schools. Tongan was an oral language before 1897, when it received a written form in the Latin alphabet. The alphabet includes 15 letters: a, e, f, h, i, k, l, m, n, o, p, s, t, u, v, an "ng" sound and a glottal stop. All consonants are separated by a vowel, all vowels are pronounced and all words end in a vowel. The Tongans have an extensive oral history.

Religion: Methodist 36 per cent, Roman Catholic 15 per cent, Other Christian 49 per cent. Nearly all Tongans are Christian. The royal family, aristocracy and about 30 per cent of the people belong to the Free Wesleyan Church, which is the official state church. The King is the head of the church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) is the second largest church, followed by the Roman Catholic Church, the Independence Church of Tonga and the Church of Tonga. According to royal edict, the rules of the Sabbath are quite strict and widely observed in Tonga. Virtually everything is closed on Sunday, except for emergency facilities.


The history

Independence: 4 June 1970 (from the United Kingdom). The Dutch were the first Europeans to visit Tonga, in 1616. Captain James Cook came from England in 1773 and returned in 1777, naming Tonga "the Friendly Islands" because he was treated so well by the inhabitants. Civil war erupted in the 1790s and continued until 1849, when the islanders were united into a Kingdom by Chief Taufa'ahau Tupou. Topou, who was chief of the Ha'apai, had converted to Christianity in 1831 and had renamed himself George IV, after the British King. In 1845 Topou proclaimed himself King George Tupou I and founded the dynasty that has ruled to this day. A Wesleyan mission had been founded in 1826 and the Wesleyans helped to develop a written code of Tongan laws. In 1850 the King fully united all Tongan islands. Serfdom was abolished in 1862 and in 1875 a constitution was promulgated. King George Tupou II succeeded to the throne on his father's death in 1893. Tonga and the United Kingdom signed a treaty of friendship and in 1900 the United Kingdom made Tonga a protectorate. Queen Salote Tupou III ruled from 1918 to 1965 and she was followed by her son, King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, who currently reigns. In 1970 Tonga became completely independent of the UK and joined the Commonwealth.

Government: Tonga is a hereditary, constitutional monarchy and Tongans hold their royalty in high esteem. King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV is head of state and a Prime Minister is head of Government. The executive branch comprises a cabinet of ministers and island governors appointed by the King; when the King presides in person, it becomes the Privy Council. Cabinet ministers hold their posts until retirement. The legislative assembly (Fale Alea) includes the executive branch members, nine members of Tongan nobility (elected by their peers) and nine directly elected representatives. All literate tax-paying males are allowed to vote, as are literate females over the age of 21.

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