Tonga profile

Map of Tonga

A group of more than 170 islands spread over an area of the South Pacific roughly the size of Japan, Tonga is the last Polynesian monarchy.

A deeply conservative, Christian country, Tonga voted in its first popularly elected parliament in 2010, ending 165 years of feudal rule.

A former British protectorate, Tonga became fully independent in 1970, though it was never formally colonised.

At-a-glance

school children perform a traditional dance
  • Politics: Tonga is a former British protectorate and the only monarchy in the Pacific
  • Economy: Agriculture is Tonga's main industry and unemployment is high
  • International: It relies on food imports from New Zealand, which is also home to many Tongan ex-pats

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

Tonga has no strategic or mineral resources and relies on agriculture, fishing and the money sent home by Tongans living abroad, many of them in New Zealand. Unemployment is high, particularly among the young.

Endowed with tropical beaches, rainforest and active volcanoes, it has a developing tourist industry - its main source of hard currency.

Almost all Tongans are Polynesian and its population has remained largely untouched by immigration. This has made it ideal for genetic research into the causes of common diseases.

Although Tonga has a highly traditional society, calls by young, Western-educated Tongans for a more democratic constitution had become increasingly hard to ignore.

In November 2009, a constitutional review panel recommended a ceremonial monarchy stripped of most of its real political power and a fully-elected parliament in place of the current, largely hereditary body. The king had previously indicated he was wholeheartedly committed to democratic reform.

A first tentative step towards reform was taken in early 2005 when elected MPs were appointed to the cabinet - previously handpicked from outside parliament - for the first time.

But demand for change became stronger. A public sector strike in 2005, marked by major street demonstrations, expanded into a campaign for political reform. In November 2006, riots erupted in the capital, in which eight people were killed.

Tonga's blow holes and rock pools Tonga boasts pristine waters teeming with whales and dolphins

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Asia stories

RSS

Features

  • RihannaCloud caution

    After celebrity leaks, what can you do to safeguard your photos?


  • Cesc FabregasFair price?

    Have some football clubs overpaid for their new players?


  • Woman and hairdryerBlow back

    Would banning high-power appliances actually save energy?


  • Rack of lambFavourite feast

    Is the UK unusually fond of lamb and potatoes?


  • Members of staff at James Stevenson Flags hold a Union Jack and Saltire flag UK minus Scotland

    Does the rest of the UK care if the Scots become independent?


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.