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TM Kingdom of

Kids Edition 2017 Tonga

Tonga gets its name from the word Tongahahake, meaning "the wind that blows from the southeast."
Tonga is the last remaining Polynesian kingdom in the South Pacific. Tongan monarchs can trace their family
history back a thousand years.
Tonga is just east of the International Date Line, the imaginary line that runs from the North Pole to the South Pole
and separates one calendar day from the next.
Guns and gambling are illegal in Tonga.
Famous explorer Captain James Cook named Tonga the Friendly Islands.
Tongans are known for their tasty cuisine and elaborate feasts that often include as many as 30 different dishes.
Tongan was an exclusively oral (spoken) language until 1897.
Flying foxes and small bats are the only land mammals native to Tonga.
The island of Niuafo'ou is the world's only home to the Malau, a flightless bird that lays large eggs in the sand.
The eggs are warmed and brought to hatching by the heat from the island's active volcano.
Modesty is important in Tonga, and even at the beach women wear T-shirts and skirts and men wear T-shirts and
long shorts or pants instead of Western swimsuits.

The flag of Tonga was adopted on 4 November 1875. The red represents the
government of Tonga, while the white stands for purity. The red cross on a white
background is a symbol of Christianity and is similar to the flag of the Red Cross.

National Image
The heilala is the national flower of Tonga. The nation celebrates the flowering of the
heilala with a large festival, including parades, music, fishing competitions, and beach

Land and Climate

Area (sq. mi.)

Area (sq. km.)

Tonga is an archipelago (island chain) made up of more than 170 islands in the South Pacific. Located about two-thirds
of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand, Tonga is a little bit larger than Singapore, or about four times as large as
Washington, D.C. The islands are divided into three groups: Tongatapu in the south, Ha'apai in the center, and Vava'u
in the north. The islands are limestone, most of them made from coral formations that lifted up from the ocean. Others
have volcanic bases under the limestone. Only 36 of the islands are inhabited. Tongatapu is the largest island, where

CultureGrams Tonga
the capital city of Nuku'alofa is found. Tongatapu is mostly flat, with a few high cliffs in the southwest. The second
largest island, Eua is made up of rolling hills and beautiful beaches. The majority of the island is set aside as a national
park. Many of the islands are protected by offshore coral reefs. In recent years, starfish, coral, and shell collectors have
damaged some of the coral reefs.

The climate in Tonga is tropical with two main seasons. The warm season lasts from December to May, and the cool,
drier season runs the other half of the year. Tonga is usually humid. The average daily temperature is 75F (24C).
March is the wettest month on average. Cyclones tear across the islands from October to April, and earthquakes and
volcanic activity are common on Fonuafo'ou.



Two-thirds of Tongans live on the island of Tongatapu. The majority of the population is
of Polynesian descent, though there are smaller groups of other Pacific islanders, as
well as a few hundred Europeans. Tongans are a young people. More than a third of
the population is under the age of 15, and the average age is 22. Although more
Tongans are moving to the capital city, most of them still live in villages outside the city.
Many Tongans move to other countries in search of work. Around 18 of every 1,000
Tongans move to places like New Zealand, Australia, and the United States. These
Tongans make sure to keep in touch with their families back home, however, and often
come back for weddings, funerals, and other special events.

Tongan and English are both official languages of Tonga, but Tongan is the language most people use in everyday
conversation. It is a Polynesian language closely related to Hawaiian and Samoan and was only oral (spoken) before
the 20th century. A written form was established in 1897, and the alphabet included 16 letters and a glottal stop (a
sound made by stopping the air flow), which is written as an apostrophe. In Tongan, all consonants are separated by a
vowel and all words end in a vowel. Words are written exactly the way they sound. For instance, the traditional greeting
Ml e lelei is pronounced "MAH-low eh leh-LEH."

Can You Say It in Tongan?

Hello Ml e lelei (MAH-low eh leh-LEH)
Good-bye Alu (ah-LOO ah)
Please Faka molemole (FAH-ka MOW-leh MOW-leh)
Thank you Ml (MAH-low)
Yes Io (ee-oh)
No Ikai (ee-KAI)


CultureGrams Tonga


Source: The World Factbook 2017. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2017.
Almost all Tongans are Christian. The Free Wesleyan Church is the official state religion and is headed by the king.
More than a third of the population belongs to this church. The second largest church is the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints. Smaller groups include Roman Catholics, the Independence Church of Tonga, and the Church of
Tonga. The constitution states that the Sabbath (Sunday) is sacred. All stores close from midnight on Saturday to
midnight on Sunday, and people are expected to go to church and stay at home with their families instead of going out
and doing outdoor activities.

Time Line
800 BC
800 BC The first Lapita settlers arrive in Tonga
AD 200
AD 200 Explorers from what are now Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji set out to
discover and settle eastern Polynesia
1100 The Tongan empire expands under Tui Tonga Momo to include what
is now Samoa and parts of Fiji
1200 Mua becomes the capital of the Tongan Empire
1250 Samoa rebels and casts off Tongan rule
1600 Dutch explorers are the first Europeans to visit Tonga
177377 British explorer Captain James Cook visits Tonga three times

1799 Chief Tukuaho is murdered, sparking a half-century civil war

1820s Wesleyan missionaries arrive from England


CultureGrams Tonga
1830s Wesleyan missionaries convert chief Taufaahau Tupou, who then
converts fellow islanders
1875 Taufaahau Tupou takes the name of George Tupou I and establishes
the Tongan monarchy
1900 Tonga becomes a British protected state (country protected by another
191865 Queen Salote Tupou III reigns
1958 Tonga receives greater autonomy (self-control) from Britain
1970 Tonga becomes fully independent within the British Commonwealth
1988 Tonga allows U.S. nuclear warships passage through its waters
1994 Tongas first political party, the Tonga Democratic Party, is founded
1999 Tonga joins the United Nations
2000 Prince Ulukalala Lavaka Ata is appointed prime minister
2003 The constitution is changed to give greater power to the king and
increase government control of the media
2005 Thousands of protestors march through the capital demanding
democratic (government by the people) reform
2006 The first elected commoner becomes prime minister
2012 King Tupou V dies and is succeeded by his younger brother, King
Tupou VI

2014 Tonga is hit by one of the worst cyclones in recorded history; an

underwater volcanic eruption begins forming a new island off the coast
of Tonga

The Lapita
Tongans had no writing system before the 20th century, so there are very few records
telling about the people who lived there in ancient times. Tongan mythology states that
Tongan rulers were descended from the Creator and that the islands of Tongatapu and
Ata were the first islands to be drawn to the surface from the depths of the ocean by
the great hero Maui.

It is believed that the islands were settled by the Lapita people between 1500 and 500
BC. The Lapita crossed the ocean to what is now Tonga and lived in communities on
beaches above the tide line. Evidence of their existence remains in the form of
ceramics and large stone monuments, such as the Ha'amonga a Maui. The
Ha'amonga a Maui stands 17 feet (5 m) high and is made of pieces of coral limestone
that weigh more than 40 tons each. Some of these early monuments mark the graves
of former kings.


CultureGrams Tonga

The Tu'i Tonga

Over time, the population grew and people began to move further inland. By the 12th
century, a line of rulers known as the Tu'i Tonga came to power. At its height, their
empire included what are now Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Niue, and other Pacific islands. The
high chiefs lived on Tongatapu, while the rest of the inhabitants lived on the other
islands. Tongatapu became known as the Land of Chiefs and the other islands as the
Land of Servants.

In 1616, the Dutch became the first Europeans to visit the islands. British captain
James Cook arrived in 1773 and returned in 1777. He named the land the Friendly
Islands. Cook was followed by the first Christian missionaries from London. They were
Wesleyan Methodists and they worked to convert the local population to Christianity.
Missionaries of other religions followed, and the islanders were soon mainly Christian.

Civil war broke out in the 1790s between the Tu'i Tonga and Taufa'ahau, the young
warrior chief of Ha'apai. The conflict continued for the next several decades.
Taufa'ahau converted to Christianity in 1831 and took the name George after the
English king at the time. He went on to defeat the Tu'i Tonga and proclaimed himself
King George Tupou I. He founded the dynasty that continues today. George Tupou I
united all the Tongan islands and worked with Wesleyan missionaries to create written
laws all Tongans had to obey. He presided over the creation of a constitution and
encouraged freedom of the press.

When the economy began to struggle at the turn of the century, King George Tupou II
turned to Britain for help. The two nations signed a friendship treaty in 1900, and a few
years later Tonga became a British protectorate (nation protected by another nation).
The close relationship between the two countries lasted for many years, and Tonga
remains the only Pacific nation never to be colonized.

Tonga Today
Today, Tongan rulers no longer have absolute power. Much of the day-to-day running of the government is done by the
prime minister and parliament (lawmaking body), while the monarch has more of a ceremonial role. Members of
parliament are directly elected by the people instead of the authority being passed down within noble families. Tongans
are proud of their independence, royal heritage, and culture. Though many Tongans move to other countries in search
of work, they send money home to help support their families and stay in close touch with them. Tongans are known
for their generosity and friendly nature. The faka Tonga (Tongan way of life) is a relaxed one.

Games and Sports

Rugby is the national sport of Tonga, and boys of all ages love playing it. More girls and
women are starting to play rugby as well. Most villages have their own teams that
compete against each other, and the national teams Ikale Tahi (Sea Eagles) and Mate
ma'a Tonga (Die for Tonga) are very well-known. Swimming, cricket (similar to
baseball), volleyball, walking, yoga, Zumba, aerobics, and tennis are also popular. Kids
like playing with marbles and slingshots or juggling. If they don't have their own balls,
some children make them out of a piece of fruit. The game pani involves throwing a ball
at a stack of empty cans to see how many you can knock down.


CultureGrams Tonga

Christmas is a festive time in Tonga. No matter what day of the week it falls on,
Christmas is treated like a Sunday. People do not go out shopping. Instead, they go to
church in the morning and then go home to visit with friends and family and eat a
special lunch of roasted pigs and yams. On Christmas Eve, children go to Sunday
school and put on the story of Jesus's birth for their families. They sing Christmas
carols around their villages or communities and then are given gifts from their Sunday
school teachers. At home, children usually receive a small gift from their parents. This
can be anything from balloons and candy to a small toy.

On New Year's Eve, Tongans go to a midnight church service. Afterward, they visit
friends and kiss each other on the cheek to welcome the New Year. On New Year's
Day, men get together to drink kava (a nonalcoholic drink that can make you feel
relaxed or sleepy). Women and girls play netball (similar to basketball) matches. Most
Tongans attend church services every day throughout the first week of January.

The Heilala festival takes place the first three weeks of July. It began as part of the
celebrations of the former king Tupou IV and has continued to the present day. The
festival includes singing and dancing competitions and the Miss Tonga pageant, in
which young women compete in a variety of categories, including talent and traditional

In the past, Tongans usually ate two meals a day. But more and more people are eating three meals a day now: a light
breakfast, lunch in the afternoon, and dinner in the evening. Lu pulu is a favorite meal. It is made of taro leaves cooked
with coconut cream and corned beef. Tongans eat a lot of fish, and roast pig is a traditional dish served at festivals and
on holidays. Tropical and citrus fruits are plentiful, especially mangoes, grapefruit, guavas, oranges, papaya,
watermelon, coconuts, and passion fruit. In the countryside and on the outer islands, Tongans eat sitting down on
woven mats. In the cities, people generally eat at a table. On Sundays and other special occasions, families cook their
meals in an umu (underground oven). The food is placed over hot coals and covered with banana leaves and dirt.
Potato chips are a favorite snack for kids in the cities.


Adult Literacy

Schooling is free for kids age six to fourteen. Some parents pay for their younger
children go to preschool before starting primary (elementary) school. Most primary
students have about an hour of homework to do each night. Secondary (high) school
students usually have about two hours of homework each night. In order to move on to
government-sponsored secondary schools, students take an exam. There are only
enough spots for about one-third of all students. Those who don't get in usually go to a
church-sponsored secondary school.

Kids study languages, math, and science in primary school. Lunch boxes are not very
common, and most kids share the food they bring to school. Schools offer
extracurricular activities, such as soccer, rugby, and cricket (similar to baseball). In
some schools, students are responsible for the cleanliness of their classrooms and
school grounds. They often use brooms and baskets made out of coconut leaves to
sweep and collect the trash. In areas where lawnmowers are not available, boys use
bush knives to cut the school grass.


CultureGrams Tonga

Life as a Kid
Independence and having fun are top priorities for Tongan kids. In the countryside, kids
are free to roam their neighborhood or community for hours after school. Their parents
tend to be more relaxed and don't worry about knowing where their children are at all
times. Children also have chores, such as taking out the trash and collecting firewood.
In their free time, kids enjoy playing card games, tag, and marbles, as well as learning
to juggle and play rugby. Where equipment is not available, girls use vines to make
jump ropes, while boys use soursops (the fruit of an evergreen tree) as rugby balls.
Sharing is important to Tongan kids. Whenever someone has something to share, such
as food, it is freely shared with friends without making the friends feel that they have to
bring something to share next time. Tongan kids spend a lot of time at church or
involved in church activities. These events are followed by ice cream or a meal of hot
dogs and fried chicken. Tongan kids are encouraged to stand up for themselves and be
able to handle teasing from other kids. Occasionally, this teasing can cross over into
bullying, but learning how to handle it is considered part of growing up.


Head of State
King Tupou VI
Head of Government
Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva

Tonga is a constitutional monarchy, which means it has both a king and a constitution. The king does not make the
laws. Instead, laws are made by the parliament (lawmaking body) working together with the prime minister. Members
of parliament elect the prime minister. Parliament consists of the 26-member Fale Alea (Legislative Assembly). Most of
these members are elected by the people to serve four-year terms. The voting age is 21.

Money and Economy


Fishing and farming make up the majority of the Tongan economy. Two-thirds of the
nation's exports (goods sold to other countries) come from fishing and farming.
Important exports include coconuts, yams, bananas, vanilla beans, and fish. Tonga
pays a large amount of money each year to import (buy from another country) food
from New Zealand. Tourism is the second largest industry, as people from around the
world travel to Tonga to visit its beautiful beaches and waters. Much of the country's
income comes from Tongans who live overseas and regularly send money home to
their families.


CultureGrams Tonga

Getting Around
Many Tongans own and drive their own cars. Public buses and taxis are readily
available on Tongatapu but not on the outlying islands. Colorful minibuses generally
pack in as many people as possible, and passengers flag them down by waving their
arms. Kids walk to school and back and enjoy spending that time with their friends,
telling stories and singing together. Ferries travel between the islands, and airplanes
regularly fly between the main island groups.

Tonga is the only country in the Pacific that officially designates Sunday as a holy day.
The majority of stores and businesses are closed on Sundays, with the exception of a
few restaurants for tourists and outer island resorts. Planes and ferries only travel on
weekdays and don't run on Sundays. On Sundays, most Tongans go to church, eat
together, and rest. Sports activities are prohibited on Sunday, and if you are caught
swimming or playing loud music that is not religious, you can be taken to court and
fined. Interestingly, no matter what day of the week Christmas and Good Friday land on
each year, they are always observed as Sundays.

Learn More
Contact the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Tonga to the United Nations, 250 East 51st Street, New York, NY
10022; phone (917) 369-1025. Or contact the Tonga Visitors Bureau; web site


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