Tonga, formally known as the Kingdom of Tonga, is a Polynesian sovereign state and archipelago consisting of 169 islands, 36 of which are inhabited. The entire surface area is about 750 square kilometers (290 square miles) spread across 700,000 square kilometers (270,000 square miles) of the southern Pacific Ocean. It has a population of 103,000 people, 70% of whom live on the main island of Tongatapu.
Tonga spans about 800 kilometers (500 miles) in a north-south direction. It is bounded to the northwest by Fiji and Wallis and Futuna (France), to the northeast by Samoa, to the east by Niue, to the southwest by Kermadec (part of New Zealand), and to the west by New Caledonia (France) and Vanuatu.
Because of the warm welcome given to Captain James Cook on his first visit in 1773, Tonga became known as the Friendly Islands in the West. He came during the inasi festival, an annual gift of the First Fruits to the Tui Tonga (the islands’ supreme leader), and was therefore invited to the celebrations. According to author William Mariner, the chiefs intended to assassinate Cook at the meeting but couldn’t come up with a plot.
Tonga was a British protected state from 1900 to 1970, with the United Kingdom handling its foreign affairs under a Treaty of Friendship. The nation has never ceded its sovereignty to a foreign power. Tonga made a significant step toward becoming a constitutional monarchy rather than a traditional absolute monarchy in 2010, when legislative changes set the stage for the first partly representative elections.