There is not much known about Tonga prior to European contact due to the lack of a writing system. Apart from archaeological findings, historians have had to rely on the oral histories told to European settlers by Tongans.
It is believed that the first people to visit Tonga were the Lapita who came from Papua New Guinea and were named after the place in New Caledonia where archaeological evidence of their existence first surfaced. Like other Polynesian explorers, they set out in wooden boats and arrived on Tongan shores around 900 BCE. However, unlike other early explorers, historians do not believe that oversized populations were the cause of the Lapita Diaspora because the islands they called home were not heavily inhabited and therefore could have accommodated more people. One hypothesis instead suggests that due to the heavily practiced South Pacific tradition of land being passed down only to the eldest son, younger sons were forced to explore to find their own land.
The early explorers adapted well to the Tongan landscape and began to introduce domesticated animals and cultivated plants. A monarchy was established over time, and by the 12th century, Tongans were known across the Pacific, with Tongan monarchs reaching the height of the power in the 13th century, influencing areas as far as Somoa.
The first European contact came with the Dutch in April 1616. Willem Schouten and Jacob Lemaire moored at the northern islands Tafahi and Niuatoputapu. Tongan kings went aboard and portions of their now extinct language were written down. In January of 1643 Abel Tasman visited the main island Tongatapu after visiting New Zealand. It took another 125 years before travel to Tonga became more frequent. British Captain Cook arrived in 1773 and again in 1777 and he christened the islands “The Friendly Islands” due to the gentle nature of the people he met.
The first group of missionaries arrived from the London Missionary Society in 1747, followed by a second group in 1822. This group was led by Walter Lawry of the Wesleyan Missionary Society and Christianity began to spread throughout the islands. Today, the white cross on the Tongan flag is representative of the strong Christian foundations exhibited in the islands.
In 1831, King Taufa’ahau Tupou I took power and united all the Tongan Islands. He took the name Siaosi which in English means George in honour of King George III and the present dynasty in Tonga was established. While in power, Taufa’ahau Tupou created a constitution and a government modeled after Britain.
1900 saw the end of a Treaty of Friendship between Tonga and Britain with Tonga becoming a British protectorate. This meant that Tonga had a large degree of independence and autonomy, but foreign affairs were controlled by Britain. In 1968, Tongans were granted the right to control all internal affairs, and on 4 June 1970, they were granted full independence.
Despite a great deal of colonial influence throughout its history, Tonga is the only nation in the Pacific Islands that has never given up indigenous governance and is still officially known as The Kingdom of Tonga.
Tonga Travel Information
At Goway we believe that a well-informed traveller is a safer traveller. With this in mind, we have compiled an easy to navigate travel information section dedicated to the Tonga.
Learn about the history and culture of the Tonga., the must-try food and drink, and what to pack in your suitcase. Read about Tonga's nature and wildlife, weather and geography, along with 'Country Quickfacts' compiled by our travel experts. Our globetrotting tips, as well as our visa and health information will help ensure you're properly prepared for a safe and enjoyable trip. The only way you could possibly learn more is by embarking on your journey and discovering Tonga. for yourself. Start exploring...book one of our Tonga vacations today!
Extend Your Stay
Consider an additional stopover after or before one of your Tonga tours at one of Goway's other South Pacific destinations. You can choose from our selection of Australian vacations, New Zealand vacation packages, Tahiti vacation packages, one of our Fiji resorts or perhaps take a Cook Island vacation.
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