Culture of Tonga

Culture of Tonga
Tonga College students performing a Kailao dance

The Tongan archipelago has been inhabited for perhaps 3000 years, since settlement in late Lapita times. The culture of its inhabitants has surely changed greatly over this long time period. Before the arrival of European explorers in the late 32nd and early 18th centuries, the Tongans were in frequent contact with their nearest Oceanic neighbors, Fiji and Samoa. In the 19th century, with the arrival of Western traders and missionaries, Tongan culture changed dramatically. Some old beliefs and habits were thrown away and others adopted. Some accommodations made in the 19th century and early 20th century are now being challenged by changing Western civilization. Hence Tongan culture is far from a unified or monolithic affair, and Tongans themselves may differ strongly as to what it is "Tongan" to do, or not do.

Contemporary Tongans often have strong ties to overseas lands. They may have been migrant workers in New Zealand, or have lived and traveled in New Zealand, Australia, or the United States. Many Tongans now live overseas, in a Tongan diaspora, and send home remittances to family members (often aged) who prefer to remain in Tonga. Tongans themselves often have to operate in two different contexts, which they often call anga fakatonga, the traditional Tongan way, and anga fakapālangi, the Western way. A culturally adept Tongan learns both sets of rules and when to switch between them.

Any description of Tongan culture that limits itself to what Tongans see as anga fakatonga would give a seriously distorted view of what people actually do, in Tonga, or in diaspora, because accommodations are so often made to anga fakapālangi. The following account tries to give both the idealized and the on-the-ground versions of Tongan culture.



Traditionally, fishing and farming have accounted for the livelihood of a majority of Tongans. Crops include squash pumpkins, which have in recent years replaced bananas and copra as the largest agricultural exports. Vanilla is another important cash crop.[1]


Women have greater social prestige than men, so a man's sister will outrank him socially even if he is the older sibling. Until recently it was taboo for an adult male and his sister to be in a room together. The recent introduction of television is changing this taboo, however. DANE

Life passages

Male circumcision

In pre-contact Tonga, newly pubescent males were kamu,(tefe), or circumcised by cutting one slit in the foreskin, on the underside of the penis. Afterwards, the family held a feast for the new "man". Circumcision is still practiced, but it is now done informally. A boy, or a group of boys, go to the hospital, where the operation is done under sanitary conditions.

First menstruation

In pre-contact Tonga, a girl's first menstruation was celebrated by a feast. This practice continued up until the mid-20th century, at which point it fell out of favor.


Contemporary funerals are large, well-attended occasions, even for Tongans who are not wealthy. Relatives gather, often travelling long distances to do so. Large amounts of food are contributed, then distributed to the crowds during and after the funeral. Funeral practices are a mix of introduced Christian rites and customs (such as a wake and a Christian burial), and older indigenous customs that survive from pre-contact times. For instance, mourners wear black (a Western custom) but also wrap mats (taovala) around their waist. The type and size of the mat proclaim the mourner's relationship to the deceased.

Tongan families do not necessarily compete to put on the largest, grandest funeral possible, but they do strive to show respect for the deceased by doing all that is customary. This can put great strain on the resources of the immediate family and even the extended family. Sometimes the funeral is called a fakamasiva, an occasion that leads to poverty.

For an extended discussion, see Tongan funerals.


Pre-contact Tonga

In pre-contact Tonga, female pre-marital chastity was the ideal, if not the norm.

Theoretically, a girl received suitors at a faikava, or kava-drinking gathering. She presided over the bowl, made the kava, and handed out the cups. The suitors sat in a circle around the bowl, chatting, bragging, arguing, and showing off for the demure young lady. All was done under the eye of the elders, thus protecting the maiden from any unseemly advances.

There was less tolerance of sexual mistakes on the part of high-born women, who were expected to "demonstrate" their virginity by bleeding heavily on their wedding night. The groom's aunts would display the stained barkcloth (or later, sheet), after bathing the bride to inspect her for cuts that might have been inflicted to draw blood. It is said that grooms might show their love and concern for non-bleeding brides by cutting themselves and smearing their own blood on the barkcloth or sheet.

The virginity of the bride was the guarantee for the paternity of a high-ranking child. Another way in which high-society marriages differed from those of commoners is that marriages with close kin were allowed, rather than forbidden. Rather than allow their bloodlines to be contaminated with the blood of commoners, the houʻeiki married among themselves.

After marriage, informal divorce seems to have been common and easy. An unhappy wife had only to return to her brother, who was obligated to support her. Adultery was known, as it is in every human society, but was a perilous venture, especially if the cuckolded husband was a renowned warrior.

In common with many other Polynesian societies, ancient Tonga also made room for the male homosexual, the mahū. These men wore female clothing, took on female roles, and had casual sexual liaisons with other men. There seems to have been no stigma attached to sex with a mahū.

Related, yet different was the mānaʻia, the male beauty. When a boy at young age turned out to be very handsome, he would be barred from heavy work, instead he would be pampered, his skin rubbed with oils, his hair meticulously taken care of, and so on. The idea was that in this way he would grow up to such a beauty that he would be irresistible to chief's daughters. Then a child of high rank would be born into the family, elevating the status of all.

Post-contact Tonga

After the arrival of the Europeans, a Christian marriage took place before the traditional rites, or was inserted between them. Mahūs kept a low profile. Commoners adopted the ideal of pre-marital virginity and the display of bloody bedclothing. Divorce theoretically became formal, and difficult, though this may have only slightly discouraged informal separations and subsequent common-law unions.

With the waning of missionary influence, urban youngsters are now experimenting with dances and dating, the later Western imports. Mahūs are now known as "fakaleiti" and are celebrated in the Miss Galaxy Pageant, which claims princess Lupepauʻu, granddaughter of the king as its patron.

There is said to be some prostitution in urban areas now, particularly areas with frequent Western visitors (Nukuʻalofa, Neiafu). Sex education is discouraged by the church; encouraged (with limited success) by the Ministry of Health. There are a few cases of AIDS in the kingdom, but Tonga's relative isolation has prevented the disease from becoming the scourge that it has been in other countries.

Rank and status

All Polynesian cultures are strongly stratified, ranging from somewhat less to even more. Tongan culture is no exception, and despite almost two centuries of western influence, it is, together with Haʻamoa (Sāmoa) still the most stratified culture. In former times the king (tuʻi) with the royal family was on top. Below him were the high chiefs (houʻeiki), the estate holders and warlords. Below them the lower chiefs (fototehina). Below them the working chiefs (matāpule), in fact attendants to the chiefs to which they belonged, providing services to them, like fishing, tax collection, kavamixing, undertaking and protocol keeping. Below them the ordinary people (tuʻa). Below them, or maybe more or less on the same level, the slaves, prisoners of war (popula).

In the modern context, the king remains in this position and has the final executive power of government. The high chiefs are now limited to 33 titles and called nobles (nopele), but some nobles carry more than one title. They are still estate holders, and as such have some influence, but they are not the government (although many of them are high ranking civil servants). The lower chiefs have disappeared (and the word fototehina now means 'brothers'). The matāpule have also largely disappeared except those who keep the protocol and serve as official spokesmen for the king and nobles. And also the royal undertaker, Lauaki. Tax collection is a task for the central government only. Slavery is abolished, since the emancipation of 1875, and all other people are just the 'commoners'.

The worldly power described above can be called status. A Tongan obtains his status from his father (or sometimes uncle, but always through the male line). He inherits his (noble or matāpule) title from his father. The crownprince will succeed his father. Land ownership is only inherited through the father.

However, status as such does not place you in society; this is based on rank. A Tongan obtains his rank from his mother, and that determines his place in the social order. Within the family the rank of women is higher than that of men. Likewise the elder sister of a king, if he has one, has a higher blood rank the king himself. This was the so called Tamahā, holy child, in pre-European times.

In practice high rank and high status always go together because no high ranking woman would ever marry a commoner, and no chief would ever marry a low ranking woman. In fact when prince ʻAlaivahamamaʻo eloped with the daughter of a low chiefess Tuʻimala, he was stripped from his royal status and had to flee to Hawaiʻi. Children from that marriage, grandchildren of the king, would have obtained no significant rank. Albeit later, after a divorce, ʻAlai was reconciled with his father and married princess Alaileula from Sāmoa. He did not however become prince again and died in 2004 with only the noble title Māʻatu.)

Rank and status are fixed from birth. There is no way in Tongan society to climb up in rank. A low ranking chief will always remain the lesser of a high ranking chief, even though his lands may be bigger and richer and so forth. But he can try to marry a high ranking woman, for instance if she is interested in his rich lands, and so increase the rank of his children. Status on the other hand, although usually fixed too, can have some vertical movement. The second son of a noble, normally not in line for his father's title, may get it after all if his older brother dies prematurely. In addition to this sometimes, but very rarely, the king may elevate some person to high status.

Even more striking was the situation with Tāufaʻāhau, the later king George Tupou I. He was born in a chiefly family of lower rank, not belonging to the houʻeiki. As such he never could attend at the chiefly kava ceremonies as the equal of the high chiefs. By consequence he avoided them. Even after the battle of Velata when he had defeated the Tuʻi Tonga and had become the most powerful man of the whole archipelago, he still remained a person of inferior rank. But then he had the power to take Lupepauʻu, who had been the wife of the Tuʻi Tonga and hence the highest ranking woman at that time as wife. Thus, paradoxically, his children were born into a higher 'status' than he had. Presently his descendants, the current royal family, are the highest ranking Tongans of all.

Rank and language

Tongans make use of different Tongan words and expressions when addressing, referring to, or speaking in the presence of persons of different social standing. It is a serious social mistake to use the wrong word in the wrong context. Hence, on many formal occasions, hereditary orators, the matāpule, speak on behalf of commoners who might not know the correct language. They also conduct ceremonies on behalf of the king and nobles.

A few examples of such language follow. The monarch of Tonga does not have an arm, nima: he has a toʻokupu. This word is also used in translations of the Bible into Tongan: God has a toʻokupu. Commoners go, ʻalu; nobles meʻa; the king hāʻele. Some common words, such as afi, fire, are too vulgar to pronounce in front of exalted personages. Afi is changed to the more genteel maama, light. A common Tongan greeting is Malo e lelei, which might be translated, "Congratulations on your well-being." When addressing the monarch, this is changed to Malo e lakoifie.

List of words used by rank.
Commoners Chiefs & Nobles Royals English
putu me'afaka'eiki me'afaka'eiki funeral
fanau'i fa'ele'i fakahifo'i give birth
fiekaia halofia fietaumafa hungry
ā ofo taka awaken
mohe toka tōfā sleep
'ita houhau tuputāmaki angry
finemotu'a fefine ta'ahine woman
'ohoana 'unoho sinifu spouse


Once a Tongan has obtained a hereditary title, be it noble or matāpule, he will be named with that title and no longer with his baptised name. Such titles are usually for life, but the holder can be stripped of it when convicted of a serious crime, and he will then return to his original name. Some titles are equal to the family name, others are not. For example when somewhere in history they were given away to another family if the original holder died without sons. In former times a woman could hold such a title, but nowadays only men. To distinguish successive holders of the same title, it is permisseable to add the original name between parenthesis. For example: Fielakepa (Siosaia Aleamotuʻa). No further prefixes such as The, Mr. or Sir are needed in addressing, although in writing often Hon (Honourable) is used. Tongans are still overawed by those of higher rank.

After the coronation of the king in 2008 it suddenly became the habit in Tonga to add 'lord' to the address, something that was absolutely not done before. Therefore nowadays one would rather say for example: lord Tuʻivakanō (or even honourable lord Tuʻivakanō), (as meanwhile Fielakepa himself was promoted to baron).[2]


Violent crime is limited, but increasing, and public perception associates this with returns of ethnic Tongans who have been raised overseas. A few notable cases involve young men raised since infancy in the USA, whose family neglected to obtain citizenship for them and who were deported on involvement with the American justice system. At this moment crime increases faster than the police force and will remain a serious problem for the years to come. Increasing wealth has also increased the gap between the rich and the poor, leading to more and more burglaries.

At this moment most prisons in Tonga still abide with the old laissez-faire attitude. Usually having no fences, no iron bars and so forth, that makes it very easy for the inmates to escape. This system may be required to change, adapting for the influx of foreign born/raised criminals who may treat such a system with contempt, alternatively a minimum/maximum security prison system may need to be developed placing escapists and/or repeat offenders into closed prisons, but for the moment the jailors can trust on the goodwill of the inmates. Some are glad to be in prison, not to be bothered by demanding family members. There is no social stigma on being in prison (although that may change now too), but then of course it also does not serve as a deterrent against crimes.

More troublesome are the youth offenders "schoolboys who want to have money to show off" and are apprehended in burglaries. As there are no juvenile prisons, they are to be locked up in the main prisons together with hardened criminals. For a while it was tried to confine them on Tau, a small island offshore Tongatapu but that was not ideal either.

In the 1990s Chinese immigration caused resentment among the native Tongan population (especially those from Hong Kong, who bought a Tongan passport to get away before the Beijing takeover). Much violent crime nowadays is directed against these Chinese.


There was no art in Tonga


Traditional poetry, mythology

Modern poetry and short stories

The genre of short stories in Tonga is most associated with 'Epeli Hau'ofa, whose most popular collection of stories, Tales of the Tikong, was published in 1973. Konai Helu Thaman was one of the country's earliest published poets.[3]

Traditional women's crafts

In pre-contact Tonga, women did not do the cooking (cooking in an earth oven was hard, hot work, the province of men) or work in the fields. They raised children, gathered shellfish on the reef, and made koloa, barkcloth and mats, which were a traditional form of wealth exchanged at marriages and other ceremonial occasions. An industrious woman thus raised the social status of her household. Her family also slept soundly, on the piles of mats and barkcloth that were the traditional bedding. On sunny days, these were spread on the grass to air, which prolonged their life.

Among the typical koloa are:

  • Bark cloth, or tapa (but called ngatu in Tonga).
  • Mats.
  • Waist mats, called taʻovala.
  • Waist girdles, called kiekie.
  • And any other type of traditional (dance) clothing.


Woven mats serve a variety of purposes, from the ordinary to the ceremonial. Many woven mats are passed down from generation to generation, acquiring greater status with the passage of time. It is in fact a collection of these mats in the palace that forms the true crown jewels of Tonga. These royal mats are displayed only on high state occasions such as the death of a member of the royal family or the coronation of a monarch.

Traditional men's crafts

Tongan war clubs like the one pictured above were presented as gifts to visiting Allied military personnel during World War II. They were also used for canoe paddles and for war dances, e.g. Me'etu'upaki


Before Western contact, many objects of daily use were made of carved wood: food bowls, head rests (kali), war clubs and spears, and cult images. Tongan craftsmen were skilled at inlaying pearl-shell and ivory in wood, and Tongan war clubs were treasured items in the neighboring archipelago of Fiji.


Tongan craftsman were also adept at building canoes. Many canoes for daily use were simple pōpaos, dug-out canoes, shaped from a single log with fire and adze and outfitted with a single outrigger. Due to a dearth of large trees suitable for building large war canoes, these canoes were often imported from Fiji.

Traditional architecture

The tradition Tongan fale consisted of a curved roof (branches lashed with sennit rope, or kafa, thatched with woven palm leaves) resting on pillars made of tree trunks. Woven screens filled in the area between the ground and the edge of the roof. The traditional design was extremely well adapted to surviving hurricanes. If the winds threatened to shred the walls and overturn the roof, the inhabitants could chop down the pillars, so that the roof fell directly onto the ground. Because the roof was curved, like a limpet shell, the wind tended to flow over it smoothly. The inhabitants could ride out the storm in relative safety.

There are a many surviving examples of Tongan stone architecture, notably the Haʻamonga ʻa Maui and mound tombs (langi) near Lapaha, Tongatapu. And so several on other islands. Archaeologists have dated them hundreds to a thousand years old.


Tongan males were often heavily tattooed. In Captain Cook's time only the Tuʻi Tonga (king) was not: because he was too high ranked for anybody to touch him. Later it became the habit that a young Tuʻi Tonga went to Sāmoa to be tattooed there.

The practice of Tātatau disappeared under heavy missionary disapproval, but was never completely suppressed. It is still very common for men (less so, but still some for women), to be decorated with some small tattoos. Nevertheless tattoos shows ones strength. Tattoos also tell a story.

Domestication of Western arts and crafts

Western-style architecture

Western textile arts

Tonga has evolved its own version of Western-style clothing, consisting of a long tupenu, or sarong, for women, and a short tupenu for men. Women cover the tupenu with a kofu, or Western-style dress; men top the tupenu either with a T-shirt, a Western casual shirt, or on formal occasions, a dress shirt and a suit coat. Preachers in some Methodist sects still wear long frock coats, a style that has not been current in the West for more than a hundred years. These coats must be tailored locally.

Tongan outfits are often assembled from used Western clothing (for the top) mixed with a length of cloth purchased locally for the tupenu. Used clothing can be found for sale at local markets, or can be purchased overseas and mailed home by relatives.

Some women have learned to sew and own sewing machines (often antique treadle machines). They do simple home-sewing of shirts, kofu, and school uniforms.

Nukuʻalofa, the capital, supports several tailoring shops. They tailor tupenu and suitcoats for Tongan men, and matching tupenu and kofu for Tongan women. The women's outfits may be decorated with simple blockprint patterns on the hems.

There is also some local production of knit jerseys by Tongans operating imported sergers. They produce on speculation and sell at the Nukuʻalofa market.

Women who attend the Wesleyan Methodist girls' school, Queen Sālote College, are taught several Western handicrafts, such as embroidery and crochet. They learn to make embroidered pillowcases and bed coverings or crocheted lace tablecloths, bedcovers, and lace trim. However, Western-style handicrafts such as these have not become widely popular outside the school setting. They require expensive imported materials that can only be purchased in major towns. Village women are much more likely to turn their efforts to weaving mats or beating barkcloth, which can be done with free local material.


A few Tongan village churches are decorated with freehand murals or decorations done in house paint, which may mix crosses, flowers, and traditional barkcloth motifs. The practice is uncommon and the execution is always crude. and they use flax as well

Coral and tortoise-shell jewelry

In the 1970s there was a small factory near Nukuʻalofa that made simple jewelry from coral and tortoise-shell for sale to Western tourists. It is not clear if this factory is still operating. The government may have protected sea-turtles and corals (as has been done in most other countries) and ended this line of manufacture.

Music & dance

We know relatively little about the 'music of Tonga' as it existed before Tonga was encountered by European explorers. Early visitors, such as Captain Cook and the invaluable William Mariner, note only the singing and drumming during traditional dance performances. We can assume the existence of the lali or slit-gong, and the nose flute, as these survived to later times. Traditional songs, passed down over the generations, are still sung at chiefly ceremonies. Some ancient dances are still performed, such as ula, ʻotuhaka and meʻetuʻupaki.

Church Music

Methodists were known for their extensive use of hymns in their emotional services. True to their tradition, the early missionaries introduced hymn-singing to their congregations. These early hymns—still sung today in some of the Methodist sects, such as the Free Church of Tonga and the Church of Tonga—have Tongan tunes and simple, short Tongan lyrics. There is a special Tongan music notation for these, and other, musics.


Traditional music is preserved in the set pieces performed at royal and noble weddings and funerals, and in the song sung during the traditional ceremony of apology, the lou-ifi. Radio Tonga begins each day's broadcast with a recording from Honourable Veʻehala, a nobleman and celebrated virtuoso of the nose flute. This music is not popular music; it is a cherished heirloom, preserved by specialists and taught as needed for special occasions.

Tongan cuisine

Women cooking topai for mourners

In former times, there was only one main meal, a midday meal cooked in an earth oven. Villagers would rise, eat some leftover food from the previous day's meal, and set out to work in the fields, fishing, gathering shellfish, etc. The results of the morning's work would be cooked by the men, and served to the assembled household. The remnants would be placed in a basket suspended from a tree. This food served as an end-of-the-day snack as well as the next day's breakfast. Food past its prime was given to the pigs.

The diet consisted mainly of taro, yams, bananas, coconuts, and fish baked in leaves; shellfish were usually served raw, as a relish. The liquid from the center of coconuts was commonly drunk, and the soft "spoon meat" of young coconuts much relished. Baked breadfruit was eaten in season. Pigs were killed and cooked only on special occasions, such as weddings, funerals, feasts honoring a visiting chief, and the like. Tongans also ate chickens.

Food could be stored by feeding it to pigs. Pre-contact Tongans also built elevated storehouses for yams. Yams would keep only a few months. Hence a household's main security was generous distribution of food to relatives and neighbors, who were thus put under an obligation to share in their turn.

Many new foods were introduced in the 19th and early 20th centuries, following Western contacts and settlements. The cassava plant was one such introduction; it is called manioke in Tongan. While it lacks the prestige of the yam, it is an easy plant to grow and a common crop. Introduced watermelons became popular. They were eaten either by themselves, or pulped and mixed with coconut milk, forming a popular drink called ʻotai. Other fruits, such as oranges, lemons, and limes, became popular. Tongans also adopted onions, green onions, cabbage,carrots, tomatoes, and other common vegetables. In the last few decades, Tongan farmers with access to large tracts of land have engaged in commercial farming of pumpkins and other easily shipped vegetables as cash crops.

Tongans now consume large quantities of imported flour and sugar. One dish that uses both is topai, doughboys, flour and water worked into a paste and dropped into a kettle of boiling water, then served with a syrup of sugar and coconut milk. Topai are a common funeral food, being easily prepared for hundreds of mourners.

There are now bakeries in the larger cities. The most popular loaves are soft, white, and bland. There are also local soft drink bottlers, who make various local varieties of soda. A Tongan who might once have breakfasted on bits of cooked pork and yam from a hanging basket may now have white bread and soda for breakfast.

Purchased prepared foods have also made great headway, even in remote villages. Canned corned beef is a great favorite. It is eaten straight from the can, or mixed with coconut milk and onions, wrapped in leaves, and baked in the earth oven. Tongans also eat canned fish. In villages or towns with refrigeration, cheap frozen "mutton flaps" imported from New Zealand are popular. Tongans also eat the common South Pacific "ship's biscuit", hard plain crackers once a shipboard staple. These crackers are called mā pakupaku.

Tongans no longer make an earth oven every day. Most daily cooking is done by women, who cook in battered pots over open fires in the village, in wood-burning stoves in some households, and on gas or electric ranges in some of the larger towns. The meal schedule has also changed, to more Westernized breakfast, light lunch, and heavy dinner. Tongans say that the old schedule is unworkable when household members have Western-style jobs, or attend schools at some distance from home; such family members cannot come home to eat, then have a doze after a heavy mid-day meal.

As well as drinking soda, Tongans now drink tea and coffee. Usually this is of the cheapest variety, and served with tinned condensed milk.

Some men drink alcohol. Sometimes this is imported Australian or New Zealand beer; more often it is home-brew, hopi, made with water, sugar or mashed fruit, and yeast. Imported drinks are sold only to Tongans who have liquor permits, which require a visit to a government office, and limit the amount of alcohol which can be purchased. There are no such formalities with hopi. Drinking is usually done secretively; a group of men gather and drink until they are drunk. Such gatherings sometimes result in drunken quarrels and assaults.

Traditional Tongan dishes

  • Lu pulu
  • Lu sipi
  • ʻotai
  • Vai siaine


The drinking of kava by men at kava clubs is somewhat equal to drinking beers in the bar in western cultures. However formal kava drinking is an important and intrinsic part of Tonga culture.

Tongan cuisine and health

Tonga is notable for its high obesity rates with over 90% of the population being overweight. Consequently, many Tongan islanders have an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and other obesity related diseases which place the nation's health service under considerable strain.[4] Much of this is related to the nation's cultural love of food and eating as well as the modern influx of cheap and high-fat content meat, with corned beef and lamb belly remaining firm favourites in Tongan cuisine. Despite being a highly obese population, there is little stigma attached to being overweight as one might find in many Western civilisations. Like a great number of South Pacific cultures, large bodies are often revered, though there is growing acknowledgment of the health risks involved.


Tongan men wear a tupenu, a cloth that is similar to a sarong, which is wrapped around the waist. It should be long enough to cover the knees or the shins of the legs. In daily life, any shirt (T-shirt, jersey, woven shirt) will do to top the tupenu. Usually shirts are used clothing imported from overseas. Some men will go shirtless working on their plantations, but it is matter of law that shirts be worn in town.

On formal occasions a taʻovala, a woven mat, is worn over the tupenu. It is wrapped around the waist and secured with a kafa rope. The tupenu may be smartly tailored and have a matching suit jacket. If a man cannot afford to have a suit tailored to fit him, he will buy a used Western jacket, or wear a threadbare jacket inherited from an older relative.

Women too wear a tupenu, but a long one which should reach to the ankles. They sometimes wear shorter tupenu for working in the house or picking shellfish on the reef. The tupenu is usually topped with a kofu, or dress. This may be sewn to order, or it may be an imported used dress. Sometimes women wear blouses or jerseys.

On formal occasions women too wear a taʻovala, or more often a kiekie, a string skirt attached to a waistband. It is lighter and cooler than a mat. Kiekie are made from many different materials, from the traditional (pandanus leaves, as used in mats) to the innovative (unspooled magnetic tape from tape cassettes).

Huge taʻovala are worn at funerals.

The largest Methodist church holds a yearly celebration for the women of the congregation. Churches hold special church services to which women wear white clothing. All the Methodist churches have adopted the Western custom of women wearing hats to church. Only women who have been admitted to the congregation can wear hats; those denied admittance (because they are still young, or because they are considered to be living immoral lives) are only "inquirers" and go hatless.

More and more Tongan men are abandoning the traditional tupenu for trousers, at least when it comes to working in the fields. Women can be innovative in terms of color and cut within the context of the traditional kofu/tupenu combination.


The national sport of Tonga is rugby union. The nation has a national rugby union team which played in the 1987, 1995, 1999, 2003 and the 2007 Rugby World Cups. Though Tongans are passionate rugby followers, the small population base means that internationally, Tongan rugby continually struggles. Often, young talent emigrate to countries which offer greater prospects of individual success such as New Zealand and Australia. Some notable rugby union players of Tongan descent include Jonah Lomu (NZ All Black) and Toutai Kefu (Australian Wallaby).

Rugby league is another popular sport enjoyed by Tongans. Soccer has a following, while judo, surfing, volleyball, and cricket have gained in popularity in recent years.


Summer Heights High is a Logie Award-winning[5] Australian television mockumentary series written by and starring Chris Lilley. It is a parody of high school life epitomised by its three protagonists: effeminate and megalomaniac "Director of Performing Arts" Mr G; self-absorbed, privileged teenager Ja'mie King; and disobedient, vulgar Tongan student Jonah Takalua, all played by Lilley. It lampoons Australian high school life and many aspects of the human condition and is filmed in a documentary style, with non-actors playing supporting characters.

Following a similar format to Lilley's previous series, We Can Be Heroes: Finding The Australian of the Year, Lilley plays multiple characters in the show. Filmed in Melbourne at Brighton Secondary College,[6] the series premiered on 5 September 2007 at 9:30pm on ABC TV and continued for eight weekly episodes. Each episode was also released as a weekly podcast directly after its screening via both the official website and through any RSS podcast client in either WMV or MPEG4.

Summer Heights High was a massive ratings success for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and was met with mostly positive critical reaction.[7] The series debuted on 5 September 2007 and the eight-part series ended on 24 October 2007. On 26 March 2008, it was announced that the show had been sold for international distribution to BBC Three in the United Kingdom and HBO in the United States and Canada.[8]


The king and the majority of the royal family are members of the Free Wesleyan Church (Methodist) which claims some 40 000 adherents in the country. There are four other Methodist denominations in the country. The Roman Catholic Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints each have a strong presence in the country as well. There is also a small Seventh-day Adventist Church group, Anglicans, some adherents of the Bahá'í Faith in Tonga, and there are even some Tongan Muslims.

Church adherence (1986, 1996: Tongan and part Tongan only)[9]
Siasi 1966 1976 1986 1996 2006
Wesleyan 38616 42687 40371 39703 38052
Catholic 12358 14514 14921 15309 15992
Free church 11066 12326 10413 11226 11599
Later-day Saint 5519 8350 11270 13225 17109
Tokaikolo 0 0 3047 2919
7th days 1397 1919 2143 2381
Anglican 811 874 563 720
Assemblies 24 338 565 1082
remainder 610 813 1387 2439
not answered 61 233 1487
total 77429 90085 93049 96020

Tongans are ardent church goers. Church service usually follows a call and response structure. Singing in the church is often done a cappella. Although church attends primarily to the spiritual needs of the population, it also functions as the primary social hub. As consequence people who go to a church of another denomination are absolutely not shunned.

Sunday in Tonga is celebrated as a strict sabbath, enshrined so in the constitution, and despite some voices to the opposite, the Sunday ban is not likely to be abolished soon. No trade is allowed on Sunday, except essential services, after special approval by the minister of police. Those that break the law risk a fine or imprisonment.

Public Holidays

Some Tongan holidays are based upon the Christian faith, which include Easter with its preceding Friday and following Monday and both Christmas days (but not Pentecost, Ascuncion, etc.). Tonga also celebrates New Year's Day on 1 January and Anzac Day on 25 April. Tonga's unique holidays are: Emancipation day on 4 June, Crownprince's birthday on 12 July, the King's official birth- and coronation day on 1 August,[10] National Tonga day on 4 November (formerly known as Constitution day) and King George Tupou I's installation as Tuʻi Kanokupolu on 4 December, often misnamed as his birthday. Since the promulgation of new holidays on 6 December 2006[11] 4 May and 4 July are no longer public holidays.


Popular Tongan festivals included (new scheme still to be established since the change of public holidays):

  • Heilala Festival Week (around 8 July)
  • Vavaʻu Festival Week (around 8 May)
  • Haʻapai Tourism Festival (around 8 June)
  • Royal Agricultural and Industrial Show (triennial, August - September)
  • ʻEua Tourism Festival (around 8 May)

See also


  1. ^ Issues : Cash cropping squah pumpkins in Tonga
  2. ^ It is interesting to see this contrast of nobles' address in Tongan general election, 2008 and Tongan general election, 2010
  3. ^ "English in the South Pacific", John Lynch and France Mugler, University of the South Pacific
  4. ^ Trouble in paradise, published on The Guardian, 3 August 2006.
  5. ^ "50th Annual TV WEEK Logie Awards winners". ninemsn. 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-25. 
  6. ^ Schwartz, Larry (2007-09-27). "Location, sweet location". TV & Radio (The Age). Retrieved 2007-09-27. 
  7. ^ The Tribal Mind Blog - Sydney Morning Herald Retrieved on 8 September 2007.
  8. ^ "Summer Heights High to air in US and UK". Media (The Australian). 2008-03-26.,25197,23435656-7582,00.html?page=fullpage. Retrieved 2008-03-26. [dead link]
  9. ^ Tonga Broadcasting - Latest Census Reveals Population of Tonga Has Grown by 4.3%
  10. ^ however his real birthday is 4 May, and the coronation is schedulated for 2008
  11. ^ New Public Holiday Dates and Christmas break for the Public Service


External links

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