The Tongans were the first true Polynesians and the greatest
Polynesian culture in history. Their culture and tradition
has formed the basis of all later Polynesian cultures. As a
people, a society, and as a culture Tongans have had the
least amount of European influence than any other group of
Polynesians. This in itself makes them unique, and different
in some dramatic ways even from their nearest and closest
Polynesian neighbor the Samoans. Within the boundaries of
this short essay I will attempt to convey those things that
are Anga Fakatonga, that is the “Tongan Way.”
Ancient Hawaii by Herb Kawainui Kane: “When the British
Expedition under Captain James Cook arrived in Hawaii,
differences of world view and logic between the two cultures
often made actions which were perfectly rational to one
group seem bizarre or incomprehensible to the other. Hawaii
was not unique in the world, wherever the emerging modern
European culture collided with a culture rooted in a primal
past, the same gulf of misunderstanding existed.”
Rethinking a Universal Framework in the Psychiatric
Symptom-Disorder Relationship by Margarita Alegría, Ph.D.,
and Thomas McGuire, Ph.D.: “A person’s ethnicity/race,
social factors, culture, and the context in which they live
influence the prevalence of psychiatric disorders as well as
the manifestation of behaviors and reports that are
interpreted as symptoms of a disorder.”
SIRIPONGS vs CALDERON 35F3d 1308 9th Circuit 1994 competent
counsel undertaking to represent defendants with unique
cultural backgrounds have an obligation at least to consider
the effect of that background on their client’s conduct.
Polynesia is a vast collection of island groups, and in some
cases individual islands that are located within a triangle
the Pacific Oceans. Beginning in the southwest is New
Zealand the home of the Maori, to the distant east is Easter
Island, and to the north are the Hawaiian Islands.
The belief is that the ancestors of the Polynesians were
Indonesians that migrated to the east through occupied
Melanesia and its dark skinned people to the eastern islands
of Fiji. From there these first Polynesians known as
Proto-Polynesians moved to the uninhabited island groups of
Tonga. It was circa 1300 BC when Tonga is settled and it is
from here that the Polynesian culture began to develop. It
was not until circa 1000 BC that Polynesians occupied Samoa.
For the next thousand years the peoples of Tonga and Samoa
flourished and their cultures developed together as
communication between these island groups was common.
Perhaps because of population issues or perhaps because of
war the next wave of migrations began with the discovery of
and settlement of the Marquesas Islands in 300 AD. Further
exploration from the Marquesas Islands continued, in 400 AD
settlements on Easter Island began, and then the Hawaiian
Islands in 500 AD. The two last settled island groups of
Polynesia were the Cook Islands in 900 AD and New Zealand in
1100 AD. These last migrations also originated out of Samoa.
These newer Polynesian societies had a sense of their
origins as inter island trade did exist between them. These
newer cultures knew the “Cradle of Polynesia” Fiji, Samoa,
and Tonga as Havaiki their legendary birthplace.
This classical era in Tongan kingship began according to
belief when the first Tu'i Tonga, 'Aho'eitu, and his five
brothers were said to have climbed down a casuarina tree
from heaven. The legend is that 'Aho'eitu became the first
Tu'i Tonga, while his five brothers were his attendants. The
Tu’i Tongans were absolute hereditary monarchs. It is in
this time that Tongan warriors in double canoes that could
hold up to 200 warriors conquered and enslaved their
neighbors of Samoa, parts of Fiji, Futuna, and Uvea, and
other lesser island groups in their vicinity.
The Tongan Empire began its decline in 1250 AD when the
Samoans began their successful rebellion against the rule of
Tu’i Tonga and the Tongans. As the Tongan Empire began to
collapse so did the power of the Tu’i Tonga. The Tu’i Tonga
Dynasty continued until about 1470 AD ending with the 24th
Tu’i Tonga. This the classical era of Tongan history, which
began about 950 AD, and reached its zenith in 1250 AD, went
into decline to about 1600 AD.
Modern Tongan history began in 1643 with their first brief
and hostile encounter with European explorers. In 1773,
1774, and 1777 Captain Cook visited Tonga in his
explorations. One of his findings in Tonga and in all of
Polynesia was that boxing was a very popular sport which
both men and women were well adept so much so that not one
of his crew could defeat any Tongan they tried to box.
Boxing continues to today to be a family taught tradition.
It was in Cook’s last visit that he presented to a Tu’I
Tonga a tortoise from Galapagos. This gift kept by
succeeding royal families of Tonga. The tortoise lived well
past 200 years of age dying in 1996.
In 1781, Spanish explorers briefly visited Tonga claiming it
for Spain never again to return. In April 1789, the HMS
Bounty while in the Tongan waters had its famous and
infamous mutiny. In 1797 missionaries came to Tonga to
convert the heathen but gave up by 1804 and left.
In 1822, Methodist Missionaries arrived in Tonga, and over
time built the first school there. The first major convert
was a chief named Taufa’ahau Tupou of Ha’apai. Upon his
conversion, he discharged his many wives and retained his
favorite. Beginning in 1845 with the assistance of the
missionaries, and some modern weapons he defeated rival
tribes in warfare. This war pitted Christians against
Traditionalists and Catholics against Protestants. In 1845,
this chief became King George Tupou I and successfully
united all of Tonga once again. This first king took the
name George naming himself after the King of Great Britain.
In the years that followed slave-traders roamed the South
Pacific, kidnapping thousands of Polynesians later sold in
Peru as laborers on the guano islands. The majority of these
slavers were Peruvian. It was usual for the slavers to come
to an island under the pretense of being traders. In 1862, a
devastating raid struck Ata, a small remote island in Tonga,
led by Captain Thomas James McGrath master of the 209-ton
Tasmanian whaler Grecian. Using the pretense of being a
trader he and his crew were able to take most of the
population captive. The captives went east to Peru, and sold
into slavery. Ata has remained unpopulated ever since.
King George Tupou I in the subsequent years outlawed slavery
and serfdom in Tonga, and caused the nation to convert to
Christianity. He had land divided amongst the common people
equally. However, he made most chiefs landed hereditary
nobles. Finally, on the 4th day of November, 1875 he
established a constitution for Tonga. This constitution
unlike the American constitution did not provide for rights
or equality, rather it defined the absolute power of the
king and the royal family in all things.
Towards the end of the century, the wars and revolutions
that had plagued Tonga were a distant memory. The King
reigned over a realm at complete peace, crime was rare and
murder unknown. The only public forces were a ceremonial
guard without ammunition and an unarmed police force. His
long and glorious reign ended in 1893 when he died at the
age of 97. Throughout the Pacific, mourners knew him as the
‘Grand Old Man’. Perhaps his greatest achievement was that
he kept Tonga from being a European colony.
King George Tupou II succeeded on the death of his great
grandfather. Although a gifted composer and lyricist, with
wide ranging artistic and aesthetic interests, he was not a
political leader. He left the cares of state in the hands of
a Wesleyan missionary called The Rev Shirley Baker. Baker
soon made himself a virtual dictator, energetic and
inventive, but prone to drive sane bureaucrats to
distraction. Ever short of funds, his native inventive
genius devised a special brand of accountancy to manage the
kingdom's financial affairs.
Administrative chaos, financial mismanagement, disaffection,
and baying creditors resulted with an inevitable British
intervention. By force Baker left the islands in 1899,
leaving the government expenditure curtailed, and the size
of the cabinet and parliament trimmed. When these reforms
still failed to restore financial calm, the King by
persuasion, accepted becoming a British Protectorate in
1900. These were grim days for Tonga, a series of natural
disasters compounding made-made ones were devastating to the
Tongan soldiers in World War I fought alongside Australians,
and New Zealanders in Gallipoli. King George Tupou II died
in 1918, leaving his throne to his eldest surviving
daughter, Queen Salote. She was to reign for forty-seven
years. Her long reign began at the end of one world war and
continued through the Second World War where the Tongan Army
fought with distinction with the Allies in the Solomon
Islands. Of worthy note is that per capita Tonga had more
troops involved in World War II than any other country.
Under her guidance, the islands steadily made progress in
all fields. The population slowly recovered and expanded to
the point where it became a burden. Economic growth, good
government, and financial regularity became the envy of far
larger realms. For half her reign, her constant helpmate and
partner was Prince Tungi, who was both Prime Minister and
Prince Consort. The Queen's government was personal and she
was widely interested in all things. She took a close
personal interest in the welfare of all her subjects as
individuals, noble or commoner, rich or poor, young and old.
During this time, through her wonderful charm, kindness and
serene dignity, Tonga became famed the world over.
THE KING AND HIS JESTER
In 1965 the Queen died. She was universally lamented at
home, throughout the islands of the Pacific, and indeed
throughout the world. Her son became King Siaosi (George)
Taufa’ahau Tupou IV after her death. He is the first Tongan
monarch to have received a university education. He attended
schools both in New Zealand, and in Australia. King
Taufa’ahau Tupou IV has not enjoyed the renown of his
predecessors nor have his three surviving children
demonstrated the compassion of their grandmother Queen
Early on in the reign of King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, a most
peculiar war took place. In 1972,
he personally led the invasion of the Republic of Minerva.
The Republic of Minerva was the idea of two American
libertarians from California (Michael J. Oliver and Morris
C. ‘Bud’ Davis). They had realized that a coral shoal known
as Minerva’s Reef was not the possession of any government,
or within the territorial waters of any country. This reef
lay south of Fiji, and southwest of Tonga.
The two hired a ship and crew and sailed to Minerva’s Reef.
Once there they began a landfill project to turn the reef
into an island. They then established
a government and on January 19, 1972 declared the island to
be the Republic of Minerva.
Their ultimate plan was to
expand the size of the landfill so that eventually a
population of 30,000 could reside on it.
To raise funds they intended to register international ships
at very low rates and sell coin gold currency for collectors
One day for reasons never made public King Taufa’ahau Tupou
IV sent the naval gunboat Olovaba, a 100-man convict work
detail, a brass band, and his self to the uninhabited
Minerva. Upon arrival on June 21, 1972, they tore down the
flag of the Republic of Minerva from atop the small beacon
light tower, read a proclamation, and raised the flag of
Tonga. In an interesting twist, Fiji then laid claim to
Minerva but retracted it when on July 15, 1972 by royal
edict the King of Tonga claimed the island.
Since that time in 1982, a small force of Americans tried to
reclaim the island. The Tongan military evicted them. The
war is dormant, as there has never been a declaration of
surrender or peace by the government of the Republic of
In 1986, the King embarked on a scheme to sell Tongan
passports and citizenships. This scheme inspired by a Hong
Kong businessperson that saw a market for them with the
anticipated 1997 takeover of Hong Kong by China. Many Hong
Kong Chinese bought them for up to $46,000 each. The
disgraced Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos was reputed
to be among those who bought one. $26 million was taken in;
none of which ever seen by the Tongan people, nor used for
The next great business venture started when a mysterious
Dr. Wong persuaded the king to import a workforce of Chinese
laborers to build an unwanted high-rise hotel on royal land
next to the airport. The hotel was never completed and Dr.
Wong has vanished with the investment funds.
July 4, 1996, marked the King’s 78th birthday and present
were “Reverend Doctor” Han Min Su and “Doctor” Park Jun Ku.
Although no one in Tonga knew these two Korean men, they had
immediate access to the king. This was because they came to
award him the “World Peace Harvester’s Prize.” The Koreans
stated that they had discovered Tonga was “a crime free
nation with the least of environmental pollutions on the
God-created natures.” This was a fraud, as the prize does
The Koreans told the king about an extraordinary invention
by one Kim Myung Rae, a device that would turn seawater into
natural gas. In addition, this invention could safely
dispose of nuclear wastes. The king on the advice of his
ministers, and all of his family members, decided to invest
in this scheme to turn seawater into natural gas. The king
went on record stating, "The location of the kingdom is
ideal for technical research on a final methodology of
nuclear waste disposal without bringing any of the hazardous
material into the country.”
On behalf of the Royal Kingdom of Tonga, Baron Vaea signed
an agreement with the Koreans giving them an island to build
a "Sea Water Gas Production Pilot Plant”. This would also be
a nuclear waste disposal site. One month later Tongan
Foreign Minister Crown Prince Tupouto'a was in Fiji and
signed the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. He did
not bother to tell anybody that his father had just approved
a nuclear waste facility in Tonga.
It was in November 1997, that a parade held in Nuku’alofa
celebrating the ground breaking of this new industry took
place. The king in a speech used the words of Saint Paul to
express Tonga’s pending good fortune: "many are called but
few are chosen." The king expressed that he was pleased that
the Samoans “had not been so chosen.” With the learning of
this scheme, the true good fortune came. The good fortune
was that every practicing physician in Tonga threatened to
leave the country, resulting in the business venture not
In 1998, not learning anything from past get rich quick
schemes J.D. Bogdonoff an employee of a San Francisco branch
of Bank of America befriended a member of the Tongan
parliament. J. D. Bogdonoff sought for and received the
title of Court Jester. He then proposed the investment $26
million into an insurance brokerage. This money was in Bank
of America and it was from the sales of Tongan passports.
The investment went forward. Whether it was without the
king’s knowledge or not is still in debate. The decision to
invest the money however was in direct violation of the laws
of Tonga. J.D. Bogdonoff embezzled the money. Since that
time, a legal suit in California filed by the Kingdom of
Tonga has reached a settlement of pennies on the dollar.
In October 2001, having obtained unused satellite orbits in
the southern hemisphere the royal family of Tonga began
marketing these orbits to other counties. The principal
leaser of these orbits is China. His Royal Highness Crown
Prince Tupouto'a in announcement stated the purpose of this
business venture "establish for the Kingdom of Tonga, a
communications network that will fundamentally change the
social and economic fabric of the nation and provide the
impetus for taking 21st century Tonga into the New World
Economy, as an active participant." The profits of this
business venture go directly into the pockets of the royal
family and not into the economy of Tonga.
Since September 11th, 2001 King Tupou IV has decided to
raise revenues by registering foreign ships. This is a "flag
of convenience" for those who want inexpensive
registrations. On January 3rd, 2003 the cargo ship Karine
was captured by Israeli commandos in the Red Sea. They found
that the ship’s owner was an Iraqi, and that its captain was
a Palestinian military official. On board were about 50 tons
of weapons aboard, including rockets and explosives. As a
result, the US Navy is wary of and is prepared to stop and
search if considered necessary any of the 62 ships which the
CIA has identified flying Tongan flags. Since the seizures,
Tonga has quit the foreign ship registry business.
The royal family includes Princess Regent Princess Salote
Mafile'o Pilolevu Tuku'aho Tuita. She is the king's only
daughter and is by tradition the highest rank person in
Tonga (higher than king). In January 1999 during a period
where both her father and brother, the crown prince, were
absent from the country she was appointed as the regent. She
is married to a second cousin and is the mother of four
daughters and an adopted son. Crown Prince Tupuoto'a will
inherit the throne, because he is the eldest male sibling.
Crown Prince Tupuoto'a is a bachelor and he is playboy
according to some. He owns a twin-engine plane, and his
chauffeur drives him about Tonga in a London style taxi. His
hobbies include computer games, radio controlled boats, and
toy soldiers. Instead of traditional attire, he prefers to
wear lavish western style military uniforms. Some say, that
he has already planned his future coronation, which would
take place upon the death of his father.
Like his father, and his sister he is very wealthy. The
members of the royal family own Tongasat, the nation’s
electric producing utilities as well as the phone company,
insurance companies, and most of the rented real estate.
Estimates have Tongasat alone bringing in $25 million a year
to the royal family. While the common people depend on
subsistence farming, the royal family has McDonald’s meals
flown in from New Zealand for the grand children of the
On September 19th, 2006 King
Taufa'ahau Tupou IV died. He
was 88 years old. Ten days later a thousand pallbearers with
over 200 members of the Tongan Royal Defense Force and the
Police Force carried the Royal Cataflaque, Royal Corps of
Musicians leading the procession through downtown
Nuku’alofa’s sea of mourners wearing black. Members of the
Royal family, and Church leaders were part of the
procession. The Free Wesleyan Centenary Church Bell tolled
and a 21-gun salute sounded. The procession ended at the
cemetery at Mala'e Kula.
The Royal Undertaker, Lauaki, stood by the casket atop of
the Royal Cataflaque. The casket was draped in fine mats and
the flag of the Royal Insignia. An estimated 10,000 people
were inside the compound itself with many thousands more
watching from outside. Nevertheless, even with the masses of
people inside and outside, there was a deafly silence as
cultural protocols were followed to the letter.
ROYAL COAT of ARMS
For over 30 years now, there has been a movement in Tonga to
democratize the nation. This movement has been slowly
gaining minute momentum as more citizens in Tonga and abroad
have exposure to democracy and obtain higher educations. The
king has absolute power, and when challenge to his authority
is successful in court, he has caused the parliament to
amend the constitution so that he is no longer in violation
of it. Over the years, his opponents had special attention
by the national police force including the arrest of some.
As the middle class grows so do those who wish to engage in
capitalism so will the unrest increase. The average citizen,
which is about 98% of the population, is ignorant of the
world and world events. They listen to the radio controlled
by the government and watch government controlled TV.
Prohibited from sale, distribution, or possession in Tonga
is any newspaper or magazine criticizing the royal family.
The Royal Family and
Democracy in the News
Tonga's Pro-Democracy Movement published in Pacific Affairs;
6/22/1994; by Kerry E. James: “The neighboring polities of Fiji and Western Samoa are
modeled more on the Westminster two-party system and have to
contend in parliament with a "loyal opposition." The Tongan
king regards this institution quite simply as a
contradiction in terms. Article 44 of the constitution also
declared the monarch's person sacred, which is now repugnant
to some Christian clergy.”
“But in Tonga the king and the crown prince have already
preempted that logic by asserting that democratic
revolutions merely "set the stage for communism.”
“They crusade also for wider social justice and a more
equitable distribution of power and of Tonga's meager
resources of land and career opportunities. Nevertheless,
the government still has the numbers, and the king controls
the government. It is difficult, therefore, to see how
democratic change might occur in the next twenty-five years,
except by royal fiat, which would imply an emphatic change
of royal heart, either in this monarch or the next. Crown
Prince Tupouto'a is the most important figure in the drama
yet to be played out, and he has made sure that he is also
the most enigmatic.”
Tonga Sullies Itself, The Press, 09-24-96, New Zealand
In a magazine article King Taufa'ahau Tupou said that he was
unable to find any suitable Cabinet material among the
current crop of parliamentarians. The leaders he had in mind
would be well-educated, with good manners. He said that in
Britain the people elected to Parliament were pillars of
their society and natural leaders. His view of elected
members in Tonga is that they are ``those who cannot be used
for anything else. They have been sacked from their jobs and
they are going into the House in order to make a living.''
The Tongan Royal Family, New Internationalist Magazine,
07-01-03: “His ordinary subjects, known as commoners', are more likely
to approach him on hands and knees”.
The Tongan Royal Family, New Internationalist Magazine,
07-01-03: “When the US attacked Iraq the King wrote to President Bush
pledging Tonga’s support, in the hope of restoring to the
people of Iraq ‘control of their own destiny’.”
And, just 3 days after this magazine article appeared Crown
Prince Lavaka 'Ata was quoted as stating:
Tonga Won’t Be Pushed Around: Tonga’s PM, Xinhua News
Agency, 07-03-03: "I think you are trying to force processes that happened in
Europe for several centuries. You are trying to force (this)
not only on Tonga, but on other countries who have... not
had the same historical experience,"
May 2005 news highlight from Indymedia.com
Between 10,000 and 20,000 people took part in a
demonstration in Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa, according to
newspaper reports. The protest was directed against the
Tongan monarchy and in particular the crown prince’s
involvement with the power company Shoreline. The driving
force behind the march was discontent by the people over the
high cost of electricity. A former employee of Shoreline
revealed the huge salaries of the executives of Shoreline,
the company that has monopoly control of the electricity
market. The Crown Prince Tupuoto’a and his two business
partners own Shoreline Group
The Revolution Begins
Scoop Video: Tonga - An Island On The Brink Thursday, 21
September 2006, 12:35 am Article:
Shortly after attending the State Funeral for the King of
Tonga, New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark encouraged
Tonga to continue with constitutional and democratic reform.
She said: "There's been enormous division in Tonga and I
think there's an opportunity to move ahead… There's a new
prime minister. There's a will for change, I believe, and we
will support that however we can." “
November 2006 news highlight from Indymedia.com
Pro-democracy movement leaders in Tonga say the system needs
to change, according to a report by indymedia activists.
This comes after riots broke out in Tonga's capital,
Nuku'alofa, on November 16 resulting in 8 deaths and many
businesses set ablaze. The riots occurred after a
demonstration of 800 people marched on parliament with
banners calling for immediate reform. Other banners attacked
public figures, and another labeled the current structure a
Australia and New Zealand have dispatched troops to Tonga to
shore up the corrupt rule of the Tongan Monarchy. The
Australian government has intervened as part of its
pro-market agenda for its Pacific sphere of influence.
May 2007, TOUCHSTONE: Churches seek political reconciliation
Last November protestors frustrated at the lack of political
reforms in Tonga took to the streets of the capital,
Nuku’alofa. Rioters burned and looted shops and eight people
were killed. The alleged leaders of the riots include
several parliamentarians and they are soon to face trial on
charges of sedition and treason.
Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga representatives to the MCCP,
Rev Tevita Mohenoa Puloka and Rev ‘Ahio talked with
Touchstone about the current situation in Tonga.“The charges
facing the politicians are very difficult to prove. Even if
they are not found guilty, they may not be able to run for
Parliament again,” Tevita said.“The Free Wesleyan Church
supports to government and wants the law to run its course.
At the same time the church wants reconciliation between the
parties. We are not saying the charges should be dropped.
Tevita says a lot of people don’t understand that
American-style democracy will not work in Tonga. Democracy
will come to Tonga but it will be democracy Tongan-style.
The king changed the constitution of Tonga in 10 minutes.
Other countries would have required a bloody revolution to
do this. No doubt things need to be changed but change takes
time. The Free Wesleyan Church is supporting the king. The
former king brought a lot of change to Tonga including
schools and economic development.”
LAW AND GOVERNMENT
Tonga is an absolute monarchy. The government is the king,
the royal family, and the nobility of Tonga. Martial law is
imposable at a whim, and habeas corpus does not exist in
The parliament consists of eighteen elected representatives:
nine nobles, who represent the interests of fewer than
thirty noble titleholders, and nine people's representatives
who must speak for the ninety-five thousand or so commoners
in the kingdom. Only the nobility votes in parliament and
makes the decisions.
Independent from the government is the judiciary. The system
of laws and court procedure followed in Tonga are parallel
to those of Great Britain but have not enjoyed modernization
as have those of Great Britain. Tongan laws of interest are:
- The King is sacred.
- All land in Tonga belongs to the royal family.
- It is
a crime to anger a public official.
- It is a crime to insult the government or any member of
Land can be occupied under long term leases.
- Businesses must
be at least 51% owned by a Tongan citizen.
- Consensual sodomy is a crime.
- Homosexual activity is a
The age of consent for a female to have sexual intercourse
is 12 years.
Incest has clear definitions describing what relationships
are incestuous. What is interesting is that a male of any
age is guilty of incest but only females 18 or older can be
guilty of incest.
If a person of nobility or royalty marries a commoner, they
and their descendants lose their status as nobility or
royalty and yes, this is strictly enforced.
The constitution guarantees freedom of the press, but it is
prohibited by censorship.
Capital punishment is by public hanging. The last such
execution was about 1990.
Under the rule of the current king, the tax laws have
changed. The flat tax of 40% in 1986 became a flat tax of
10%. To make up for the lost revenue a sales tax of 5% now
The current Tongan economy is agriculture based and provides
for nearly all of Tonga’s export earnings. The three
important exports are pumpkins to Japan, vanilla beans, and
coconuts (coconut oil and copra). Tourism is the only
industry in Tonga. Although it is growing, it is not growing
because of any organized effort to cause its growth. Foreign
businesses do not exist in Tonga because businesses must be
51% owned by Tongans. The only current western franchise
there is in Nuku’alofa. It is an Avis car rental and it is
there because a Tongan noble has the franchise.
Since 1931, the population has risen from 27,000 to 90,085
in 1976. It currently holds at about 100,000. Land reform
has not been forthcoming and this has lead to increasing
shortages of available farmable land for the commoner. The
nobility continues to hold huge estates at the expense of
the commoner. The king instead of initiating land reform has
encouraged migration as a release valve for the expanding
Imports included low grade canned meats and fish, fuels,
vehicles, machinery, chemicals, and building materials.
Without foreign aid in the form of grants, and gifts from
Japan, Canada, European Union, United States of America, New
Zealand, and Australia Tonga’s economy would evaporate.
Remittances from immigrant Tongans to their families insure
that the commoner that lives in poverty lives so more
Today in Tonga cars are more common then 30 years ago. The
vehicles seen are generally one of two types. The first is
used Japanese made cars. In Japan, car owners must replace
their engines at about 75,000 miles. This is their method of
smog control. Used cars are not common in Japan. Instead,
they ship them to the Philippines, Samoa, and other places
such as Tonga. The other type of vehicle seen in Tonga is
the high price car such as SUVs. Stolen SUV’s from other
countries arrive easily as imports because Tongan law
enforcement does not have the means to track these vehicles.
Cell phones are now popular as are TVs and VCRs. Tongan
migrant relatives send these items, or they are bought in
Tonga with the remittances sent to Tonga by migrant
LANGUAGE & EDUCATION
In the first half of the 19th century, waves of missionaries
came to the shores of the various islands of Polynesia.
British Protestants arrived in Tonga, French Catholics in
Tahiti, and American Mormons in Hawaii are but a few of the
many that came. In each island group the missionaries
desired to teach a society that possessed no written
language how to read the Bible in their language. The first
obstacle they had to overcome was to create an alpha bit
that represented the pronunciation of the local population’s
Given the various ethnic backgrounds of the missionaries,
interpretations of sounds rose to different spellings of
identical words with identical pronunciations. One example
of this is the Tongan word panga, which in Samoa spelling is
paga but pronounced panga. The alpha bits that were
developed differed from culture to culture. Thus, we see in
Samoa 5 vowels and 9 consonants where as in Tonga there are
5 vowels and 11 consonants. Eventually Bibles printing began
in the local languages and with the zeal to learn
Christianity Polynesia obtained the highest literacy rate in
the world in the 19th century.
Today in Tonga, two forms of Tongan exist side by side.
There is Tongan as spoken by the commoner and High Tongan as
spoken by the nobility. In High Tongan, there are words,
phrases, and nuances that the average Tongan has never
learned and most foreigners that speak Tongan are unaware
of. The American Peace Corps urges its volunteers to use
English when addressing the nobility for fear of
accidentally insulting a person of nobility.
The government of Tonga provides free compulsory education
for 12 years (ages 6 to 18). Education is compulsory but
this is not enforced. The further one travels from the
capitol city of Nuku’alofa on Tongatapu the main island the
less likely a child will go on to a secondary school. The
more distant the island from Tongatapu the less likely a
child will attend a secondary school. School students in all
schools wear uniforms.
Here, secondary schools have various names including
intermediate school and high school. In Tonga, they are
colleges. Grade levels are forms in the secondary schools.
With the exception of Tonga High School, the churches, and
not the government run the better secondary schools. Of
these church sponsored schools, the Mormons tend to have the
best schools. So much so that some Tongan families convert
to Mormonism in order to obtain this better education for
their children. “School Mormons” are Tongans who convert in
order for themselves or children go to the Mormon schools.
In 1999, according to local estimates teachers made roughly
$2,000 U.S. per year in Tonga. Teachers are a well-paid
profession. Most teachers are native Tongan. Some teachers
are from aid programs from Australia, Great Britain, and New
Zealand as well as the American Peace Corps.
Atenisi University and the University of the South Pacific
both have a campus in Tonga. Tonga has one trade school that
offers technical skills to post-secondary students.
Tonga High School
In 1947, the monarchy established the first secondary school
in Tonga. It is Tonga High School. This school caters to the
nation’s highest academic achievers. The intake selection
process of Tonga High School guarantees that it will
consistently rank above all the other secondary schools.
This then has and continues to make it the most prestigious
secondary school in Tonga. The gender imbalance at the
school is also a factor in this high scoring. There is
almost a 2-1 ratio of girls-boys at the school. The other
factor in this equation is that only Tonga High School can
afford to retain the finest teachers available.
The motto of the school is “ki he lelei taha” meaning “to
the best”. The Tonga High School Alumni Association
newsletter from the San Francisco chapter (August 2003)
appears to indicate that this school has another motto. This
motto is “koe tonga kuo tu’utai’ meaning “survival of the
fittest”. The newsletter also states that Tonga High School
has served to select, educate, and mold the future leaders
of Tonga. The future leaders of Tonga to date have been the
Overall, school discipline is harsh by western standards.
Discipline from a teacher varies from very harsh punishment
from the Tongan teachers to discipline such as detention
administered by the non-Tongan teachers. Physical discipline
administered by Tongan teachers ranges from having one’s
face slapped, to knuckles struck with a ruler, to being
punched and knocked down.
In an interview, I conducted with a school administrator it
was explained to me that when they had a principal from New
Zealand that principal opposed corporal punishment. The
school enrollment immediately dropped off as parents sent
their children to schools with strong corporal punishment.
Once the principal from New Zealand left (after several
years) and a Tongan filled his position, the policy reversed
and enrollment went up.
Of the 170 islands in the Kingdom of Tonga, only 36 or so
have inhabitants. These islands are spread over an area as
large as Japan (700,000 sq kilometers/ 140,000 sq miles of
ocean spread out north to south over 500 miles), yet if all
the dry land was amassed it would be about 290 square miles
of which Tongatapu represents 99 square miles. The entire
kingdom boasts a population of less then 100,000. The
estimate is that 70% or more of the population resides on
the island of Tongatapu where the capital of Tonga is
located in the city of Nuku’alofa.
Because the country is just west of the international
dateline it greets each day ahead of the rest of the world,
thus giving rise to the country’s tourist motto: “Where time
The Tongatapu Group is the southernmost group of Tongan
Islands. Tonga by coincidence means south. In addition to
boasting the largest population of all the islands, it is
also home to the countries only international airport. From
here, smaller planes fly daily except Sundays to the outer
Nuku’alofa is small. It has one main street. Some streets
have streetlights and most are paved. Traffic lights do not
exist nor do many traffic signs. Average walking time from
one end of the city to the other is about 30 minutes. The
nation’s treasury, military headquarters, police
headquarters, parliament, and courts are all located within
a half mile of the royal palace. The Tongan military known
as the Tongan Defense Service and is composed of 250
personnel. On or adjacent to the only main street one will
find the three principal hotels, Avis car rental, post
office, banks (with ATMs) and acceptable restaurants.
Haʻapai is the name given to a group of islands, islets,
reefs and shoals that is located in the central part of the
Kingdom of Tonga, with the Tongatapu group to the south and
the Vavaʻu group to the north. The Ha'apai islands are the
geological and geographical center of Tonga. Most of the 68
islands are small low coral atolls, the exception being the
volcanic islands of Tofua and Kao to the west.
The main island of the Ha'apai group is Ha'apai, with the
quaint old 'town' of Pangai as its center. Seventeen of the
Haʻapai islands are populated. All the larger islands are in
the east, the Lifuka group. South of there is the island of
ʻUiha, which contains two villages, ancient burial grounds
and an ancient monument. The huge islands of Tofua (active
volcano) and Kao (dormant volcano) towards the far west are
a class on themselves. Towards the southwest of the
archipelago are the islands of the Kotu group, locally known
as Lulunga. Towards the far south are the islands of the
Nomuka group, locally known as ʻOtu Muʻomuʻa.
The second most populated group of islands in Tonga and is
the only part of Tonga that caters to tourism is the Vava’u
Island Group. These isolated islands are 150 miles north of
Tongatapu and many of the local people live a traditional
subsistence lifestyle, owning small farms and serving most
of their needs from what they produce. There are 50 or so
thickly wooded islands here. These islands are the buildup
of eons of generations of coral and lime. The principal
island here is Vava’u. Tourists come here primarily from New
Zealand and Australia for kayaking, scuba diving, Blue
Marlin fishing, and yachting. The economy of this island
group comes from its coconut and vanilla bean plantations.
Neiafu is the capital of the island group, and is where the
airport is located. It is the second largest city in Tonga.
As of 2004 most streets in Neiafu were still unpaved and
their only a few streetlights.
At the north of the Kingdom of Tonga lies the two Niuas –
Niuatoputapu and Niuafo’ou. Almost 350 miles separate
Niuafo’ou from Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu; while Samoa
(200 miles) and Fiji (300 miles) are a shorter distance
away. Niuatoputapu consists of an area of 18sq km with a
population of about 1400. Far from Nuku’alofa, tradition is
still a way of life here with a conservative way of dressing
and behavior. Niuafo’ou is the northernmost island of Tonga.
Niuafo’ou is the tip of an underwater volcano, created by
sub-oceanic eruptions many years ago. In the island’s south
and west, extensive, blackish grey fields of lava bear
witness to Niuafo’ou’s volcanic history. The police station,
post office and a small cooperative store are in Hihifo, the
HEALTH & THE SUPER NATURAL
“The majority of people in Tonga today continue to believe
that most illnesses are given as punishment for wrong
doings. Only now, the Christian God is substituted for the
Tongan Gods. Even modern trained doctors often joke about
the need for Jehovah rather then penicillin when illnesses
are hard to diagnose or to cure.” Illness and Cure in Tonga,
by Siosiane Bloomfield
Tongans enjoy a generally healthy environment with few
tropical diseases. The government provides free health care
to all citizens, but a few private clinics also exist. While
each island group has a hospital, the most modern one is in
Nuku‘alofa, and this is the only one that can offer advanced
care. However, it is a 3rd world facility and the staff
relies upon donations of used and perhaps even outdated
equipment donated from other facilities from around the
world. The training of the medical personnel at these
hospitals is to standards less then what we are accustomed.
It is worthy to note that the King of Tonga obtains his
yearly health review at Stanford University Hospital in Palo
Traditional healers continue to play an important role in
primary health care and they often prescribe traditional
remedies for illness. Illnesses and disease have two
classifications; Tongan and European. European illnesses and
disease are curable by western methods, but Tongan illnesses
and diseases are only curable by Tongan methods.
Tongan illnesses and disease come from many things including
curses, the dead being disturbed or offended, bad deeds, and
inherited from parents who had performed bad deeds. Curses
and evil spirits are curable by exorcism. The practice of
prevention of evil spirits from entering ones home by
various methods is common.
There are three principal types of healers in Tonga and
outside of Tonga in Tongan communities. The first and most
widespread is the kau faito’o faka-tonga. These traditional
healers use various herbs and concoctions to cure the sick.
Included in this group are bonesetters who heal broken bones
through use of hot oils and massage.
The second largest group is the kau faito’o faka-lotu they
are the religious curers. They believe that the way to cure
many illnesses is through repentance of sins. Earnest prayer
is their prescription and then patience in waiting for God’s
will to unfold.
The smallest group is the kau faito’o faipele who are the
card readers. These healers diagnose, and prescribe cures
for those things that we might see a psychologist or
Most Tongans have not heard of mental illness and mental
retardation. It is generally not acceptable amongst Tongans
here or in Tonga that a member of their family is suffering
from either; if they do so they do so stating that the
parents of the child afflicted had caused the condition
through a bad life not adhering to anga fakatonga that is
the Tongan Way. This of course means the afflicted is of low
mana and deserving of less respect. I first hand have
observed how the mentally ill in Tonga are a source of
amusement and entertainment for a village.
"Puke fakatevolo" or possession by a spirit, is a serious
fear for Tongans. I have heard some first-hand accounts of
such possession, but have yet to witness it. So far as I can
tell there is no head-spinning, stigmata or
speaking-in-tongues involved. The afflicted person is
conscious but in an altered state, experiencing
hallucinations and delusions. Remedies include application
and drinking of some traditional medicines.”
“Tongans, like most Pacific Islanders, are very
superstitious. They fear "tevolo"s (devils, spirits, or
ghosts). Particularly in the villages as opposed to the
city, they shy away from going out at night, especially
alone. It is widely believed here that the dead, especially
dead ancestors, can haunt and affect the living. This even
includes the extreme of being possessed by a spirit or
devil.” A Description of Life in Tonga by Micah Lebson,
Peace Corps Volunteer.
In one interview of an American born woman of Tongan
parentage the woman said that upon arrival to Kapa it is
customary to pass by the village graveyard on the way to the
village. If you are a stranger, it is essential that a
person known to the dead speak to the dead on your behalf to
introduce you as a friend of the family and village. In this
way, the dead will not inflict harm upon the stranger. She
states that the dead once caused her to be sick for two
One common superstition involves the digging up of remains.
It is the Tongan belief that if roots or an improper burial
are hurting an ancestor's skeleton, that pain will be passed
down to the bodies of descendents, manifesting as shoulder
or back pain until the body is exhumed and the problem
resolved. Upon exhumation, all the bones must be cleaned,
and oiled, and all roots or debris removed. Traditional tapa
cloth is used to wrap the bones before they are buried
Sorcery is a concern as well in Tonga, and the beliefs in
concepts such as the “evil eye” exist so much so that when
the King of Tonga eats, all commoners must turn their backs
to assure that his food will not be cursed.
TRADITION, FAMILY, & CUSTOMS
The extended family is the basic social unit on Tonga, it
serves as a mini welfare state, with wealth, food, and goods
shared equally among all members. The concept of the
communal extended family is so fundamental in Tongan life
that parents have no real sense of ‘possession’ of their
children, who are frequently shifted from one household to
another, and may have several places to call home as a
The interest of the extended family comes before the
interest of the individual. Thinking, actions, and deeds
that do not contribute to the collective welfare are
discouraged if not punished. In traditional Tongan society
there is no me, only we.
Parents, children, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins
form a close-knit family unit, and help each other whenever
possible. In many cases, all family members work together to
plant, harvest, cook, and fish. When young married couples
live with the wife’s parents, the husband takes the
responsibility of providing food for the whole family.
Although families are getting smaller, they remain large by
western standards, with three or four children on average.
Children are regarded as not owned by their parents.
Children belong to the whole family. Therefore, it is not
unusual for a child over time to live in several households.
It is also not unusual for children to be given to relatives
who do not have children, as children are viewed as a
comfort and as important to ones status and ones well being.
In a traditional Tongan family, the father is considered to
be the head of the family, and the mother his subordinate.
However, brothers are subordinate to their sisters when they
are close in age. A father’s eldest sister (mehekitanga) is
the leader (fahu) of the nuclear family in the highly
organized extended family system.
Families eat their meals together whenever possible. On
outer islands, they sit on woven mats to eat, but urban
households more often have dining tables and other western
furniture. Although people traditionally ate with their
fingers, they are now more likely to use knives and forks.
Conversation is kept to a minimum while eating. When guests
are present, they usually eat with a few selected members of
the family. Children eat separately. Guests are served
first, and the person who prepared the meal usually eats
last. Standing while eating and drinking is not appropriate.
Many visits made during the week are not pre-arranged.
Unexpected guests are usually welcomed, although if a family
feels their house is not adequately furnished or cleaned,
they may be reluctant to invite a visitor inside of the
home. Visitors remove their shoes upon entering, and are
often directed to the best seats in the house. In a
traditional home, men sit cross-legged on the floor and
women sit with both legs tucked behind them to one side.
Children are kept out of the way as much as possible. Hosts
usually offer refreshments such as water, coconut, otai (a
mixture of cut fruit), or soda. A complimentary speech from
departing guests is a high honor to the family.
Tongans generally enjoy giving and receiving personal
compliments. Guests often compliment the home or family, but
should avoid admiring any one object too specifically
because it may cause the host to feel obliged to offer the
item as a gift. Tongans welcome but do not expect gifts from
guests, and gifts are not opened in front of the person
giving the gift. Honored or new guests may be given a gift
by hosts when they leave. It is a terrible insult to decline
such offers, which may include fruit, tapa cloth, or
Tongans have developed a complex family ranking system
whereby the eldest female and her descendants hold higher
rank within the family than brothers have. This seemingly
unique maternal structure intertwines with the paternal
inheritance system (eldest son receiving rights to all
property and titles). Tongans customarily call acquaintances
by their first names. People meeting for the first time
often use titles and family names to show respect.
“The Tongan mother has not the slightest hesitation in
herself picking up a stick or coconut switch and beating her
child with a thwarted fury that seems nine parts pure sadism
and one-quarter part altruistic-disciplinary. To us, as we
watch the scene, these child beatings seem to exceed all
that is reasonable and just. But, the mother flails with her
stick screaming and ranting all the time. The child wilts
under the blows with a pathetic mixture of agony and
fortitude. Then it wanders off, sobbing and groaning, with
who knows what thoughts of hate and revenge . . . The
repressed aggressiveness that is aroused by these adult
whippings seems to find an outlet in the equally sadistic
beating that goes on in the children's groups.” Power and
Personhood in Tonga, Anthropologists Ernest and Pearl
“In their study of non-Western societies, anthropologists
have often tended to ignore, trivialise, exoticise, or even
defend aspects of child care and socialization that are
negatively valued in 'the West'. Recently, however, the
effect on children of various 'normative practices' has been
brought into question (Scheper-Hughes 1987b). There has been
a surge of interest in 'the darker side of parenting'
focusing on issues such as infanticide, incest, selective
neglect, and sexual and physical abuse (e.g. Korbin 1981;
Scheper-Hughes 1987a). The 'interest and concern for the
welfare of the child' (Scheper-Hughes 1987b: 7) that is
evident in this work has emerged in the context of the
modern Western preoccupation with 'child abuse' (see Scheper-Hughes
and Stein 1987). It has also been strongly influenced by
feminist scholarship, which has recently -- albeit belatedly
-- begun to pay attention to 'the often harsh realities of
children's subordination' (Thorne 1987: 98). However, Korbin
has pointed out that despite a burgeoning international
literature dealing with child maltreatment, derived from
workers within the fields of child health and welfare as
well as social research, 'cross-cultural information on
child abuse and neglect is, unfortunately, limited' (1991:
“On the other hand, the difficulty of clearly distinguishing
between acceptable and unacceptable treatment of children
has led to a broadening of the definition of 'abuse' in
Western nations. From legal and medical perspectives, any
form of violence to children, including corporal punishment,
is increasingly opposed both in principle and in
legislation. Despite this the issue of physical punishment,
the most widely encountered form of violence toward
children, has not been fully confronted. 'Physical
punishment' and 'abuse' still tend to be treated as separate
and distinct categories, rather than as interrelated (but
see Kadushin and Martin 1981). Even the recent
anthropological literature on 'the dark side' of childhood
has tended to focus on the more dramatic and/or
life-threatening forms of maltreatment. At the level of
popular culture(s) in the West there still exists a wide
spectrum of attitudes toward physical punishment and its
relationship to 'abuse'. However, I believe that a
significant proportion of physically punitive acts toward
children as they occur in Tonga would be regarded as
maltreatment, or 'abuse', across most of this spectrum.”
Dealing with the dark side in the ethnography of childhood:
child punishment in Tonga. Oceania; 6/1/1993; Kapavalu,
King George Tupou I was the first important Christian
convert by the missionaries who arrived in 1822. Why he
converted is not recorded. It is known that he did convert
because of the missionaries helping him to defeat two enemy
tribes in war. Knowing this fact one could speculate that
King George Tupou I like King Kamehameha II of Hawaii
converted to Christianity for like reasons.
King Kamehameha II of Hawaii came to a point in time wherein
he realized that the Polynesian gods were not as powerful as
the European god. After all his gods could not cure nor
prevent the new diseases brought to Hawaii. His gods did not
gift the Hawaiians with the technology and knowledge the
Europeans had. His logic was that in order to advance his
people he and they must accept the European god. Both in
Hawaii and in Tonga after the kings began to abolish the
traditional religion and certain practices there was
resistance by the people, religious leaders, and chiefs. The
resistance in Tonga lasted into the 20th century. In some
ways, total conversion to Christianity has not yet been
accomplished there as witnessed by the practices of some
traditional healers, and the concept of mana (to be
In Tonga, some Palangi (foreigners) say that the Tongans
only know the first Five Commandments. The other five are
not practiced very well in particular number seven which is
the reason it is said why prostitution does not exist in
I am the Lord thy God.
Thou shall have no other gods before me.
Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image.
Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Honor thy father and thy mother.
Thou shall not kill.
not commit adultery.
Thou shall not steal.
Thou shall not
bear false witness against thy neighbor.
Thou shall not covet thy
neighbor’s wife or his goods.
Today nearly all Tongans are Christian. The royal family,
aristocracy, and about 30 per cent of the people belong to
the Free Wesleyan Church (Methodist), which is the official
state church. The king is the head of the church. The Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) is the second
largest church at 15%, followed by the Roman Catholic
Church, the Independent Church of Tonga, the Church of
Tonga, and others such as the Pentecostals. According to
royal edict, the rules of the Sabbath are quite strict and
widely observed in Tonga. Except for emergency facilities
and some restaurants, everything is closed on Sunday.
In regards to the Mormons, their rapid growth has been
because they have built and maintained the best secondary
schools. In order to have ones children enrolled in them one
must become Mormon. Those who enroll their children into
Mormon schools are known as “School Mormons.” Tongans unlike
Samoans in American Samoa do not have automatic migration
rights. By becoming Mormon, they have a chance for their
children to attend a Mormon University in Hawaii or Utah. In
so doing they gain a toehold for future immigration.
The most current statistics show that 15% of the population
in Tonga is Mormon. Tonga has the highest ratio of Mormons
in its population in the world. The Mormon Church is the
largest private employer in Tonga. The Mormon Church
contributes in yearly aid to its followers in Tonga more
then the United States does to Tonga as a whole. It is the
belief that the Mormons goal is to one day, make Tonga the
first country on earth, with a Mormon population majority.
This is not desirable by all Tongans.
Many Tongans feel that the Mormon Church seeks to supplant
their culture. The key to the preservation of the Tongan
culture is the concept of tauhi vaha’a, a Tongan vow to
maintain ties between family and community, helping to
preserve the culture from outside influences. The Mormon
Church teaches a different set of values that break from
many traditions. Because of this King Taufa’ahau Tupoa IV
has and is actively finding ways to evict the Mormons from
Tonga. The most common way is by not renewing their land
Mana is a concept that still is prevalent in Polynesian
cultures. Simply defined mana is intellectual power and
spirituality. Polynesian belief is that mana was first given
to the ancient Polynesians by their gods. In practice, the
concept of mana is more complex. As an example two men of
otherwise equal rank in society are measured by their
acquired mana. He of greater mana is then the superior of
the other deserving of more respect and status. This in turn
places greater responsibility upon the one of greater mana.
Great mana deserves and receives great respect. Mana is not
in equal distribution amongst the classes. The royalty
amongst the Polynesians possess more mana then any of the
lower classes. Elders have greater mana in a family.
Polynesians believe that because of these first three
factors compliance with authority of one’s elders and rulers
is the natural order of things.
Mana is inherited because of this one’s heritage (and
knowledge of it) is of extreme importance in the culture.
Mana can be gained by great deeds, heroism, and learning.
Mana is acquirable by the eating of defeated enemies in
particular if they were of high mana. Yes, cannibalism was a
Polynesian trait that lasted into the late 19th or early
Mana can be lost, by marrying one of a lower class. This
marriage also strips one of their higher ranking. In Tonga,
nobles and royalty do not marry commoners. Mana was often
preserved in royal families by sister brother marriage if
cousins were not available for marriage or others of other
royal/ noble families.
Mana resides in the head of a person. This then has great
importance in warfare, and general conflict. In a physical
conflict the head is a very important target fore damaging
(or decapitation) of one’s opponents head is a loss to their mana. Although metal was not known amongst the ancient
Polynesians and still not widespread in the 19th century
Polynesians used weapons designed from wood or whalebone
that acted as cleavers. The purpose of these weapons was to
decapitate the enemy in battle or after. Slain foes were
decapitated, as well as those prisoners that were not kept
as slaves. Humiliation of one’s enemy was another way to
destroy their mana especially if the degradation involved
their head. Among the Maori of New Zealand, it was usual for
a triumphant chief to defecate on the head of his prone
WHALEBONE CLEAVER living rival.
In summary, mana determines one’s status in a Polynesian
hierarchical society, which Tonga epitomizes.
CAVA & ALCOHOL
The consumption of cava and alcohol is a common practice of
most Tongans. Cava is the cultural drink of Tonga and is
common on social occasions, weddings, funerals, et cetera.
This is a nonalcoholic drink, with a mild narcotic effect.
Cava also known as kava is from the root of the pepper
plant, piper methysticum. It is an anesthetic and analgesic,
that is high in fiber and low in calories. It serves as a
mild tranquillizer, painkiller, a diuretic, appetite
suppressant, as well as an antibacterial and antifungal
agent. Studies in Australia about cava overindulgence are in
the below quotes from articles on cava:
“Kava has been blamed for making communities comatose”
“Many of the alcohol abusers became heavy kava users and
“the mild sedative soon became a pretty solid sedative. They
wouldn’t get up in the morning, they didn’t go to work, and
they weren’t looking after their families properly.”
“There’s usually protocol in how we drink kava in Fiji,”
Lotu says “Now when you just sit around a bucket with a Coke
bottle that’s cut half open, and just kind of everyone
dipping into the bucket to drink kava, you don’t really feel
that people are respecting the cultural significance of
In Tonga, there are cava clubs that are organized drinking
parties. They serve the legitimate purpose of being
charitable fundraisers. One pays a fee to enter the party to
drink cava and eat. The profits then go to a cause, or to
assist someone that is in need.
Hopi is home brew and it is any non-distilled alcoholic
beverage made from whatever source is available. Knowing how
to make cava or hopi, is taught father to son just as
farming and fishing is. Liquors imported from Australia and
New Zealand as well as two popular beers Steinlager (New
Zealand) and Ikali (Tonga), are also popular drinks. Tonga
does not have a drinking age, or an age that one must reach
to buy alcohol or cigarettes. It is usual for juveniles as
young as ten years old to smoke, and even drink. Some even
attend school mildly intoxicated. One of the greatest
problems currently in Tonga is that the average age of drug
and alcohol offenders is dropping. In the 1950s, the average
age of alcohol and drug abuse and related crime was 49
years. By 1970 it dropped to 40 years, a further two years
by 1990, and then to just 28 years old in 1997. In 2002, the
average age was 22. The predictions are this average will
continue to drop. The cause of this is blamed on the
influences of western culture where it is said “we create
our own rights” which break down the Tongan family value
The pre-Christian Polynesian religions were polytheistic.
The Samoan war goddess (Nafanua) had prophesied that there
would be a time when a new religion which would arrive from
the sky and end the rule of the old gods. The Samoans
believed that the first European missionaries that arrived
were the prophesy coming true. The Europeans were called
palagi, this meaning “those who break the sky.” Over time,
this term has come to mean any foreigner of European
(American) descent. The Tongan counterpart of palagi is
palangi. The pronunciation of palagi and palangi is palangi.
Polynesians seeing the Europeans greater technology felt
that the European god was greater, meaning they the palangi
inherently have higher status (mana). This in some ways is a
benefit to those who travel to Tonga. As a foreigner, one is
outside of the hierarchal system, and treated with an above
average level of respect and politesse. The dress code is
also different for the foreigner. The biggest difference is
in how women dress.
Adult Tongan women must dress modestly. Dresses are below
the knee and usually ankle length. Low cut blouses are not
permissible nor arms that are bare to the shoulder. Adult
women do not wear shorts and even if swimming they wear
dress like clothing. Foreign women are not expected to
follow these customs nor are they looked down upon because
they do not, however short shorts will earn a woman low
respect. Swimming apparel is for pools and beaches and never
should a woman wear a string/ thong style or go topless. It
is also in poor taste for a man to have a bare chest a shirt
in public except at a pool or a beach.
It is also advised that foreign women should not travel
alone, in particular at night or go to a bar/ nightclub
unescorted. These actions are seen as the actions of a woman
who is less than modest and are considered daring. This can
bring unwanted attention from the local male population.
LIKE A LADY
Fakaleiti is the Tongan term for a male homosexual or
transvestite, the translation of which is “like a lady.”
Homosexuality is a crime in Tonga but like so many other
paradoxes in Tongan and Polynesian society, male
homosexuality is accepted. Fakaleiti call their selves leiti
meaning lady. They relate only to masculine males. Some
however are married to women.
Promiscuity as a fakaleiti with men is permissible. Others
would treat women, who are equally promiscuous, with social
stigma. Displays of affection, whether they are homosexual
or heterosexual are deeply frowned upon in public.
Although the tolerance and acceptance of adult leiti’s in
Tonga is a fact it is not so for the adolescent who is a
leiti. His environment is harsh, a source of shame to his
family, and he is treated with scorn and ridicule by his
Many transgender men in Tonga see themselves as performing a
useful sexual role in society, which is to satisfy
frustrated single or married men. In a culture where an
unmarried girl’s chastity is often highly protected by her
brothers and being unfaithful with ‘real’ women is very
un-Christian, the fakaleiti provide a guilt-free, convenient
outlet for many men’s sexual needs.
Tonga Leiti’s Association yearly sponsors the international
Miss Galaxy competition attracting competitors from around
Female homosexuality is not spoken of in Tonga or elsewhere
in Polynesia. If it exists it does so deep underground and
has of yet been discovered by outsiders or researchers.
GANGS & THE BEAST
Tonga’s biggest export is people. Tongans abroad exceed the
population that remains behind in Tonga. The densest area of
Tongans outside of Tonga is in the San Mateo Peninsula
followed by the mostly Mormon Salt Lake City area.
The Salt Lake City area, despite its clean-cut reputation,
has all the ingredients to a create gang culture, according
to the National Youth Gang Center “ineffective families and
schools; kids with too much free time; limited career
opportunities; and segregated, often ghettoized,
neighborhoods”. These same conditions exist in parts of San
Mateo County because ethnic communities are like islands
unto themselves, surrounded by a sea of white suburbia.
Polynesian children on the surface do not seem to fit the
profile of a gang member. Most Pacific Islander families are
the picture of stability. Most Tongan families are the
pillar of family values and respectability. They are deeply
involved in church matters and family functions with a very
well knit hierarchy and support system. These parents find
it hard to believe that their churchgoing children are
involved in the American scourge of gang violence. Their
communities are supposed to embody everything they stand
for: family, faith and a new beginning in America.
Parents brought up and entrenched in their native culture
frequently are unaware of the difficulties of their children
in schools. The differences between family and peers in high
school can be overwhelming. Children recently migrated here
from Tongan villages rarely speak any English and become
lost in school. As one student put it, “I’d sit there and
have no clue what was going on.” Even those who were born
here, or quickly learn to speak in unaccented English find
that they still stand out. They know they are Tongans, but
they are less sure than their parents of what being Tongan
is suppose to be. Feeling isolated from their parents and
their Anglo peers, these school age children look out for
each other. Living in neighborhoods, where Latinos and
African Americans are already fighting over control of
streets and the drug trade many Pacific Islanders, Tongans
especially, whose families had moved into these dangerous
areas in the 70s and ’80s, adopt the same self-defense
tactics as their neighbors. They join gangs, and eventually
form their own. The gangster life, with its money from drugs
Tongan gangs like other Pacific Islander gangs stand out due
to their violence. Because of their intimidating physical
size, their members often serve as enforcers for other gangs
that traffic in drugs. They are renowned for their brutal
fistfights, and for shooting at their rivals. Violence is
something they have learned from childhood.
Many Tongan children tell of punishment at the hands of
their fathers or mothers. Beatings with barbells, boards,
belts, and even table legs are normal. Family violence,
combined with living in a hostile environment as well as
resentment toward other adolescents who do not receive such
treatment, fuels a deep anger that some Pacific Islanders
call “the beast.”
These are quotes and topics from interviews that I have
conducted that help to demonstrate cultural thinking and the
“The Tongan Way” known as Anga Fakatonga.
Quotes From Interviews
“The Tongan healer told my parents not to take my brother to
the hospital for his broken arm because they will just cut
it off. So for two weeks we rubbed hot oil on his arm to
mend it. I could not stand his crying anymore so when my
parents were not home I took him to Stanford Hospital.”
“My parents would tell me “Don’t cry. What’s the point of
crying, you did this.”
“I came home drunk and my parents were angry and beat me. I
laughed and said I could not feel it. They said we will wait
till you can.”
“Being called a coconut or a pineapple is the Tongan
equivalent of being called a nigger.”
“As a child our father taught us how to box. We were taught
how to stand up for each other.”
“We learned through our family and friends what the “Tongan
Way” is and what was expected of us.”
“If in a fight with family or friends you either, run
together, win together, or go down together. You never
desert your family or friends.”
“You do not come home crying. You either take care of
business or let it go.”
“I had no idea then, and I have no idea now what the fight
was about. It is not my business to know and that if he
wanted me to know he would have told me. It is not the
Tongan Way to ask prying questions.”
“In Tonga children begin the consumption of alcoholic
beverages as early as age ten. This is not and was not
unusual at all. I taught my children to drink in
“You never defy an older sibling. If there is a conflict you
take it to the person above that sibling for a resolution
then obey it.”
“It is the Tongan Way for “friends must back up friends.”
“I blame the economy on the king because he does nothing to
better the country. People go get their degree in college
and come back and don’t do anything with it.”
“They are happy and have no motivation to change.”
“I never asked my friend why the fight took place. It is not
the Tongan Way to ask.”
“Follow God and follow the will of your family.”
“If I think a friend is in danger, or has been harmed I will
jump into a fight. This is expected of a Tongan.”
“Sometimes our pastor would joke around and show us his
crooked arm that was healed by a bone mender.”
“My parents taught me to never look down on people below
you, and to never try to be higher then the people above
you, be content with your status.”
“It is very important for a Tongan to not shun family
functions of any type. The more one does so the more
disapproval they will obtain by the family and family
associates. This extends to church functions as well.”
“Beware of the ghosts of Kapa they are powerful.”
“When you leave the airport you see a sign over the road
that says: Where time begins. It should read: Where time
“As a child my mother told me “Don’t ever come home crying
to me, you better win.” And “If you can’t do it all the way
then don’t do it.”
“As a child my uncles taught us girls how to box. We were
taught if the fight gets serious always go for the head.”
“It is very important for a Tongan to give to his church and
to the king.”
“I am the black sheep of the family. I say I give my loyalty
to the President of the United States not the King of Tonga.
I live here not in Tonga.”
“Parents tell their children things on a need to know basis,
and seldom do they believe that the children need to know
“What a palangi thinks is low self esteem is to a Tongan
Proverbs of Tonga
Frequent accounting makes for lasting friendship.
Stones decay but words last.
When a mistake has been made inland, it should be rectified
at the seaside.
The man who drinks kava is still a man, but the man who
drinks liquor becomes a beast.
Topics Discussed in Interviews
HIERARCHY: One day as Siaosi (oldest brother) was preparing
to go off to work, he instructed Augustino to “Leave them
alone.” In essence, he told Augustino that he could not
punish his younger siblings if they were out of line. This
in turn eliminated his authority over them. Siaosi came home
later and discovered the young siblings were smoking and
drunk. He went to Augustino to hold him accountable.
Augustino reminded him that it was he, that removed his
authority over them and hence he was not responsible for
anything they did.
HEIRARCHY: As the only daughter, she stated that from an
early age she was responsible for the caring of and
upbringing of her brothers. She acts as their second mother
and regards herself as such.
SOCIAL STATUS (MANA): As a deportee in Tonga, he was
regarded as a lower class person and the subject of dislike
and bad reputation without anyone getting to know him. Over
time, he established himself by not allowing himself to be
ill treated and through fighting and defeating any who ill
SOCIAL STATUS (MANA): The brothers were pre-judged by most
and treated as if they were deportees. A deportee is a
native Tongan who has migrated, transgressed the law, and
sent back by court order to Tonga. Other Tongans look at
them as a lower class deserving of less respect and status.
SOCIAL STATUS (MANA): School discipline was very harsh. He
gave an example of this. One day he was in class with Semus.
Semus was acting out while the teacher was gone from the
room. Upon the teacher’s return, the teacher demanded to
know who was causing the disruption. Semus did not answer
up. Instead, another student stated that he himself was the
cause of the disruption. The teacher punched the student in
front of the class causing the student to fall to the floor.
The student was hit several more times each time the student
stood up. The reason that the student took the blame was to
save the class from group punishment. If no one had taken
responsibility for the disruption then the entire class
would have received physical punishment. The failure of
Semus to take responsibility for the disruption lowered his
status in the eyes of the other students so much so that he
soon changed schools.
INSULTS: Status in Tonga is very important, as is pride. To
tell one that they are of low status is a grave insult. She
would insult her rivals by saying things such as “Lost your
underwear?” or “You eat octopus.” Many girls her age came
from families that could not afford underwear, it is a
luxury; this made the insult doubly insulting. Octopus is a
food staple of poor families, and another insult of status.
INSULTS: He said that once or twice he did get into trouble
at school in America. The times he did, it was because by
Tongan standards his family was gravely insulted. A Tongan
does not tolerate his mother, sister, or female relatives to
be insulted. This type of an insult will result in violence.
FIGHTING: Vili told everyone to run for safety. Semus did
not. Instead, he went forward. He was assaulted by the other
boys and struck in the back of the head with a stick, and
beaten. Semus continued to fight. Seeing that Semus was in
danger Veli and the other two friends returned to the fight.
Although they were outnumbered, smaller, and not armed, they
prevailed. The older boys backed off and fled. Semus is
credited with the victory as his aggressive attitude
overwhelmed the attackers. When it was over Semus scolded
his friends for failing to stand and fight at the beginning.
Running away he told them was not the Tongan Way.
FIGHTING: Culturally he learned in Tonga that one has an
obligation to join into a fight without question or
questioning why if they see that someone they know is
fighting. This very strict obligation has repercussions if
one fails not to.
FIGHTING: One has a duty to protect others that they know
from receiving violence and even if you are at great risk of
becoming injured, you are expected to defend the other, or
join in the defense of the other.
POWER: She said that because her family had above average
means they could afford to send her to school with bread and
butter. Bread and butter was then (and now) a luxury item
for breakfast in Tonga. Other children bigger then her and
more forceful would force her at times to give her bread and
butter to them. Her mother had her learn how to box. She
became very good at it. In later years, those who once took
from her came to fear her.
RESPONSIBILITY: The father stated that it is the Tongan Way
to obey and to react to situations without hesitation. The
mother commented, “Right or wrong a Tongan must help
LOYALTY: A Tongan first identifies with his family, then
his village, and then his high school. This at times will
conflict with the loyalty to his village in that some
persons in a village will identify with other high schools
and that high schools are composed of persons from a variety
OBEDIENCE: The code of obedience is strict in Tongan
society. He stated the following: When one is told to do
something one does not question the reasoning behind it, nor
does one delay in doing it. One does it when told to. Elders
and persons in authority are strictly obeyed and any
punishment right or wrong dealt out by such a person is
accepted. If by accident or mistake one is accused of
wrongdoing, it is considered wrong to correct the elder
making the accusation. It would not be unusual to be
punished for correcting the elder even if the elder is in
OBEDIENCE: Overall, he stated that a Tongan is taught in
many ways that when there is a violent confrontation one is
expected to just do, not to question, not to think a
situation out, but rather to immediately react to the
ANGER: She stated, “When Tongans get angry there are no
boundaries.” She also stated that is was very Tongan to
forgive or seek forgiveness after being angry. This would
take place hours or days after the Tongan had time to
re-consider the event.
REPENTANCE: The concept of repentance is different in Tongan
society then here. When a Tongan states that he is sorry, it
is considered a sincere apology that carries a significant
amount of weight and value. By way of example, he stated
that if after a fight wherein one party was significantly
injured and if an apology is made most likely, the event
will be forgiven and set aside with no legal intervention.
This is not always the case in serious injuries, but it is
the general rule when minor injuries are involved. He
recalled how a board struck one of his relatives in Tonga
during a fight. The family of the assailant made a formal
apology and the relative accepted it. Nothing more became of
FORGIVENESS: Because it was family and even though no one
pressured her, she requested sentence leniency on her
brother in laws behalf. Her motivation was that his family
came to her and stated that on behalf of the family they
were sorry for his actions. To this day, she still feels
hurt because all she ever wanted from her brother in law was
an apology. Had she received that apology her husband would
have never called the police.
DENIAL: She stated that Tongans know that once you start a
lie you must stick to it. If you know you are going to get a
beating for wrongdoing then you have nothing to lose by
denying your actions. You do stand a chance of minimizing
DISCIPLINE: She was asked how she would react if she caught
one of her children drinking at a young age. She responded
by stating, “I would beat them up.” She used an angry stern
voice when she stated that. She then said, “But I have had
training now in child development and I have learned that
you should talk to your child and explain things. So now I
talk to my children and then I beat them.”
UNTOUCHABLES: Deportees she stated are the new untouchable
class in Tonga. Hundred or more years ago, the untouchables
were slaves and descendants of slaves taken in war. Now they
are Tongans deported back to Tonga for crimes committed
overseas. Deportees will do well when they return to Tonga
or they do not. Those who do not do well will end up in
prison or dead. The police only superficially investigate
the murder of a deportee, as it is said, “He is just a
deportee it does not really matter.”
SOCIAL VALUES: He stated that as a child and teen he was
taught the culture and ways of Tongans by his parents and
his relatives. Some of the things he learned that he felt
were still important are: Children must respect their
parents. There is no other way in a family. A disobedient
child gets a “good whipping.” He added it is also important
to give to the church and to the king.
MORALITY: Religion is a very serious and is a fundamental
part of life there and here. Tongans talk of the Ten
Commandments, but in fact they only regard the first five as
important and the only ones to be obeyed she told me in the
TRUST & MYTH: She stated that it is true that back in Tonga
and even here Tongan healers will tell scare stories to keep
one from seeking western style treatment and thus have you
use their services. She knew of several such myths one from
a bone mender that told of how a young girl in another
village had her arm amputated in a hospital. But now the
stump is growing as she grows and she must be sent to New
Zealand yearly to have the new growth sawed off. She said
that it was a common belief in Tonga that all bone fractures
were resolved by amputation in western hospitals. Even
though no one ever spoke of first hand experience or
knowledge of such they knew it had to be true because
another Tongan told them so. Tongans trust in things told to
them without question or verification.
GHOSTS: She stated that as a child she has been to Eau the
island that her mother is from, and recalls the teachings of
her mother. Her mother told her that the family cemetery has
powerful spirits that will do evil to any who do not respect
the cemetery or its vicinity. She was taught that when in or
near the cemetery to never eat, drink, litter, talk, or
laugh. You do nothing to disturb the dead or they will do
evil to you. Only the relatives of the dead could cut wood
near the cemetery.
COURTSHIP: He met his wife when her family moved back to his
home island. His father and her father had always been best
friends. His courtship was conducted properly: when visiting
the wife’s family with his family Mele would serve him cava.
If he wanted to visit Mele he would gain the parents
permission, and the visit was chaperoned. He one day then
asked her parents for permission to marry her. Since their
marriage, they have had ten children.
GANGS: He said that in Tonga, gangs do not exist, but the
term is used. In Tonga, a gang is a group of friends, not a
criminal organization, or a group with a criminal purpose.
TATTOOS: In several interviews of teen age and adult males,
I saw tattoos that they wear proudly. They were coat of arms
of schools, school names, and school initials such as “T.
C.” which is Tupua College. One older man joked how one day
a police officer asked him if he was a Tongan Crip. He asked
them, what school is that?
Welcome to Tonga
Upon arrival at my hotel room, in Nuku’alofa in Tonga, I
decided to call home to announce my safe arrival.
Misunderstanding the directions, I made an error whilst
dialing the number. As expected I received a recorded
message, it was a female voice with a Tongan accent. The
recorded message was “You are bad for dialing this number.”
UNITED STATES CENSUS DATA
NOTE: Not all Pacific Islanders are Polynesian. The term
includes Melanesians and Micronesians. The data listed here
varies in format and detail because the sources that were
available, at the time of this research, were not consistent
in detail and format.
PACIFIC ISLANDERS (Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongan, Melanesian, and
Micronesian) in the United States:
PACIFIC ISLANDERS (Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongan, Melanesian, and
Micronesian) in the United States:
Between 1980 and 1990, the Tongan population in the United
States swelled by 146% making Tongans the largest growing
group of Pacific Islanders. As of 1990 86% of the total
Pacific Islander population resided in the Western States
and 75% of the total Pacific Islander population was
concentrated in Hawaii and California.
80% of Hawaiians (highest) had a high school diploma
compared to Tongans at 64% (lowest).
12% of Hawaiians (highest) had a college degree compared to
Tongans at 6% (lowest).
Tongans had the highest percentage of linguistically
isolated adults (do not speak English).
Tongans are more likely to work in service occupations and
less likely to be managers or professionals (based on all
Average Pacific Islander per capita income was $10,342
compared to $14,143 for the national average in 1990 and
$6,144 for Tongans (lowest).
Samoans had a poverty rate of 26% (lowest) compared to
Tongans at 23% (next lowest).
2000 CENSUS: CALIFORNIA & SAN MATEO COUNTY
12,111 California Pacific Islanders
9,403 San Mateo County
TOP 5 CITIES BY POPULATION IN SAN MATEO, COUNTY
EXPRESSED AS PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL CITY POPULATION:
2,252 East Palo Alto 7.6%
1,517 San Mateo 1.6%
944 South San Francisco 1.6%
940 Daly City 0.9%
HIGHEST DENSITY AREAS
93% (8,814) of the Pacific Islander community in San Mateo
County is located in three general areas of the county:
2,252 EAST PALO ALTO
1,517 SAN MATEO
1,156 SAN BRUNO
663 REDWOOD CITY
167 FOSTER CITY
994 S. SAN FRANCISCO
389 MENLO PARK
940 DALY CITY
110 SAN CARLOS
NATIONAL ANTHEM OF THE ROYAL KINGDOM OF TONGA
LYRICS in TONGAN
‘E ‘Otua Mafimafi,Ko ho mau ‘Eiki Koe,Ko
Koe Koe fa la la ‘anga,Mo ia ‘ofa ki Tonga;‘Afio hifo ‘emau
lotu,‘Aia ‘oku mau fai ni,Mo Ke tali homau loto,‘O mala’I ‘a
Oh Almighty God
above,Thou art our Lord and sure defense,In our goodness we
do trust TheeAnd our Tonga Thou dose love;Hear our prayer,
for though unseenWe know that Thou hast blessed our
land;Grant our earnest supplication,Guard and save Tupou our
TONGA-SAMOA HANDBOOK: David Stanley
ANCIENT HAWAII: Herb Kawainui Kane
LONELY PLANET TONGA: Matt Fletcher
BECOMING TONGAN: Dr. Helen Morton (Lee)
TONGANS OVERSEAS: Dr. Helen Morton Lee
LONELY PLANET TAHITI: Hilary Rogers, Jean-Bernard Carillet,
ILLNESS AND CURES IN TONGA: Siosiane Fanua Bloomfield
LONELY PLANET SAMOA: Dorinda Talbot, Michelle Bennett,
THE TONGAN PAST: Patricia Ledyard
THE TRIAL OF THE CANNIBAL DOG: Anne Salmond (Captain Cook’s
explorations in the South Pacific)
TONGAN ISLANDS: John Martin MD: The true story of William
Mariner’s life among the Tongans from 1806 to 1810.
JOURNEYS THROUGH TIME: OCEANIAN MYTH: Time Life Books.