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State

Capital

Tonga

Nukualofa

(Friendly Islands)

Currency unit

Australian $

Connections

Empire

Western Pacific

 Politics

 Economics

 Green

 Rights

History

A British Protectorate from 1900 until Independent in 1970. Pop. 97,000.

Austronesian speaking people are believed to have settled at least 3500 years ago. Possibly they came from Fiji whose early artifacts were similar. In the 13th century the ruler of Tonga exercised prestige and influence as far as Hawaii. Tonga is regarded as one of the main sites of origin of the Polynesian culture with a network of trade throughout the western Pacific.

The Dutchman Jacob Le Maire visited Tonga in 1616. Abel Tasman visited in 1643. James Cook arrived in 1773. The first missionaries arrived in 1826 and abolished the traditional religion. The chief then began to call himself King. He was descended from a line of sacred rulers who could trace their ancestry back to the 10th century.

The King of Tonga gained his power from a traditional chieftainship when the Missionaries arrived. He declared himself king in 1845 even though this was not a traditional office and his adoption of the Christian religion offended the people who wished to stay with the old beliefs. The missionaries encouraged the formation of kingdoms in the islands of the Pacific even before the colonial period.

Tonga remained independent and was recognized by other powers including Germany in 1876, UK in 1879 and the US in 1888. However, financial weakness brought about a colonial regime under Britain in 1900 with a Treaty of Friendship followed by Protectorate in 1905. The protectorate ended in 1970. Tonga is the only ancient kingdom remaining in the Pacific.

Languages

Tongan - an Austronesian language related to and probably ancestral to the Polynesian languages of the western Pacific.

 

English

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Politics

The king and the nobility rule. There is a 30 member assembly - Fale Alea - but only 9 members are elected by the people; 12 are ministers appointed by the king; and 9 are nobles elected by the 33 nobles (landowners). It has limited authority. The cabinet is appointed by the king and he does not have to obey the assembly.

The constitution was devised in 1875 under the influence of British missionaries and continued during the Protectorate when the real power was the British Governor. However, it reflected the traditional power of the nobility as landowners. It may have reflected Britain itself where the vote was given to a limited part of the population and the hereditary House of Lords still had large powers. It reminds the observer of the European feudal period as the peasants have to rent land from the nobility - although in 1875 the king freed the serfs. On independence the constitution was not replaced with a democratic system.

There is now a movement demanding democracy which could well result in tension and disturbance.

The king has announced 29 July 2008 that he will give up his absolute power.

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Economics

Tourism

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Green/Ecology

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Human Rights

Press freedom is limited by a licencing system. The traditional monarchy does not like criticism.

Climate effects

Last revised 29/07/08


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