Tonga country profile

  • Published
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. In 2015, the country elected its first non-noble prime minister.

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

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.

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

FACTS

Kingdom of Tonga

Capital: Nuku'alofa

  • Population 107,000

  • Area 748 sq km (289 sq miles)

  • Major languages Tongan, English

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 70 years (men), 76 years (women)

  • Currency Pa'anga

Getty Images

LEADERS

Head of state: King George Tupou VI

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
King Tupou VI of Tonga and Queen Nanasipau'u

George Tupou VI succeeded to the throne on the death of his elder brother, the bachelor George Tupou V, in March 2012.

King George Tupou V ushered in parliamentary democracy in 2010, ending centuries of feudal dominance of government.

Prime minister: Siaosi 'Ofakivahafolau Sovaleni

Image source, Government of Tonga

Mr Sovaleni became prime minister after the November 2021, having served in the previous governments of Pohiva Tu'i'onetoa and 'Akalisi Pohiva.

He had fallen out with Mr Pohiva in 2017 during a power struggle between the prime minister and King George Tupou VI.

When Mr Pohiva returned to power at the end of the year, Mr Sovaleni went into opposition, returning to government under Pohiva Tu'i'onetoa in 2019.

MEDIA

State radio and TV tend to be pro-government, while private broadcasters offer little independent local coverage.

Privately-owned newspapers carry opposition views, but journalists can face harassment and threats of criminal charges. A Department of Information oversees all media reporting, US-based Freedom House notes.

TIMELINE

Some key events in Tonga's history:

1616 - Dutch explorers are the first Europeans to visit Tonga.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Dancers in traditonal costume

1773-77 - British explorer Captain James Cook visits Tonga three times.

1830s - Wesleyan missionaries convert paramount chief Taufa'ahau Tupou who in turn converts fellow islanders.

1875 - Taufa'ahau Tupou assumes the name of George Tupou I and establishes Tongan monarchy.

1900 - Tonga becomes a British protected state but is not formally colonised.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Salote, Queen of Tonga, during a visit in 1953

1970 - Tonga ceases to be a British protectorate and becomes fully independent within the British Commonwealth.

2010 - First vote for a popularly elected parliament.

2022 - Major volcanic eruption causes tsunami and major destruction.

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