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by Robert T. Alaimo, Private Investigator

(C) September 2005 - Revised 2009


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 in 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 population.

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. QUEEN SALOTE

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.


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 Salote.

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 and investors.

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 Minerva.

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 their benefit.

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 not exist.

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 going forward.

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 king.

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.



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

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
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 "deadly virus."

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 in Tonga:

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.”


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 Tonga.

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 it.
- 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 crime.
- 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 exists.

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 population.






$5.9 million

$46.2 million

$40.3 million


$8 million

$69 million

$61 million

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 comfortably.

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 families.


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 language.

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.

School System

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 nobility.


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 begins.”

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 island groups.

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 Niuas capital.

“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

Health Care

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 Alto, California.

Traditional Healers

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 psychiatrist.

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 weeks.

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 again.

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.


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 result.

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 handicrafts.

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 Beaglehole, 1938

“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: 67-8).”

“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, Helen


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 discussed later).

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 Tonga.



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 in vain.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Honor thy father and thy mother.


Thou shall not kill.

Thou shall 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.


The Mormans

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 leases.


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 20th century.

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.

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 kava.”

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 system.


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.

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 peers.

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 the world.

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.

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 is addictive.

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 moderation.”

“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 stands still.”

“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 anything.”

“What a palangi thinks is low self esteem is to a Tongan humility.”

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 treated him.

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 Tongans.”

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 of villages.

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 fact wrong.

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 violent situation.

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 the incident.

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 your punishment.

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 interview.

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.”



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: 259,566


PACIFIC ISLANDERS (Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongan, Melanesian, and Micronesian) in the United States: 365,024

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 Pacific Islanders).

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).

12,111 California Pacific Islanders

9,403 San Mateo County Pacific Islanders


2,252 East Palo Alto 7.6%

1,517 San Mateo 1.6%

1,156 San Bruno 2.9%
944 South San Francisco 1.6%

940 Daly City 0.9%


93% (8,814) of the Pacific Islander community in San Mateo County is located in three general areas of the county:

3,666 TOTAL 1,955 TOTAL 3,303 TOTAL



‘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 Tupou.



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 King.



ANCIENT HAWAII: Herb Kawainui Kane


BECOMING TONGAN: Dr. Helen Morton (Lee)

TONGANS OVERSEAS: Dr. Helen Morton Lee

LONELY PLANET TAHITI: Hilary Rogers, Jean-Bernard Carillet, Tony Wheeler

ILLNESS AND CURES IN TONGA: Siosiane Fanua Bloomfield

LONELY PLANET SAMOA: Dorinda Talbot, Michelle Bennett, Deanna Swaney

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.