Tonga is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, immediately south of Samoa and about two-thirds of the way between Hawaii and New Zealand. Its 169 islands, 36 of which are inhabited, are grouped into three major groupings – Vava’u, Ha’apai, and Tongatapu – and stretch for 800 kilometers (500 miles) north to south.
Tongatapu, the biggest island and home to the capital city of Nukualofa, is 257 square kilometers in size (99 sq mi). The Tongan islands are divided into two kinds geologically: those with a limestone foundation created by uplifted coral formations, and those with a limestone atop a volcanic substrate.
The climate is tropical, with a distinct warm season (December–April), when temperatures exceed 32 °C (89.6 °F), and a colder season (May–November), when temperatures seldom exceed 27 °C (80.6 °F). As one travels from Tongatapu in the south to the more northerly islands closer to the Equator, the temperature rises from 23 to 27 °C (73.4 to 80.6 °F) and the yearly rainfall rises from 1,700 to 2,970 millimetres (66.9 to 116.9 inches). The wettest month on average is March, with 263 mm of rain (10.4 in). The average daily humidity is 80%.
The tropical cyclone season presently spans from 1 November to 30 April, but tropical cyclones may develop and impact Tonga at any time.
Tongatapu, the largest island, is home to more than 70% of the country’s 101,991 residents. Despite the fact that a growing number of Tongans have migrated to Nukualofa, the nation’s sole urban and commercial center, where European and indigenous cultural and lifestyle patterns have merged, village life and family connections remain important across the country. Despite emigration, Tonga’s population increased from about 32,000 in the 1930s to over 90,000 by 1976.
Tongans, who are Polynesian by ancestry with a Melanesian admixture, account for more than 98 percent of the population, according to the official site. The remainder are European (the majority being British), mixed European, and other Pacific Islanders, with 1.5 percent being mixed Tongans. In 2001, there were about 3,000 to 4,000 Chinese in Tonga, accounting for 3 to 4% of the Tongan population. The Nukualofa riots in 2006 mostly targeted Chinese-owned companies, resulting in the departure of several hundred Chinese, leaving just around 300.
The state’s official religion is the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga. It is the world’s only state church of the Methodist Protestant tradition, but barely one-third of the island’s population attends. The Free Wesleyan Faith was founded as the official religion of Tonga in 1928 by Queen Salote Tupou III, who was a member of the church. The Free Wesleyan Church’s head pastor represents the people of Tonga and the Church during the coronation of a King or Queen of Tonga, when he anoints and crowns the Monarch. In 1928, the Church of Tonga seceded from the Free Wesleyan Church in protest to the formation of the Free Wesleyan Church as a state religion.
Everyday life is strongly affected by Polynesian customs, particularly the Christian religion; for example, on Sunday, all business and entertainment activities stop from the start of the day at midnight until the conclusion of the day at midnight. The Sabbath is declared holy by the constitution for all time. As of 2006, little more than a third of Tongans identified as Methodist, with Catholic and Mormon numbers accounting for the remaining third. The Free Church of Tonga has a small number of adherents, as does the Seventh-day Adventist Church of Tonga. According to the most recent government census, 90 percent of the population is connected with a Christian church or sect, with the four main church affiliations in the kingdom being as follows:
- Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga (36,592 or 36%)
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) (18,554 or 18%)
- Roman Catholics (15,441 or 15%)
- Free Church of Tonga (11,863 or 12%)
Tonga’s economy is distinguished by a sizable non-monetary sector and a significant reliance on remittances from the country’s half-expat population (chiefly in Australia, New Zealand and the United States). The royal family and the nobility control and dominate the economy’s monetary sector, especially telecommunications and satellite services. In 2008, Forbes magazine ranked Tonga as the world’s sixth most corrupt nation.
In the March 2011 Euromoney Country Risk rankings, Tonga was rated as the 165th safest investment location in the world.
Handicrafts and a few other small-scale businesses make up the manufacturing sector, which contributes just around 3% of GDP. Commercial business operations are likewise unobtrusive, and are controlled to a great degree by the same big trade corporations present across the South Pacific. The Bank of Tonga, the country’s first commercial trade bank, established in September 1974.
Tonga’s development goals include a rising private sector, increased agricultural production, revitalization of the squash and vanilla bean industries, tourist development, and improved communications and transportation. Significant progress has been achieved, but there is still more work to be done. In response to the influx of assistance funds and remittances from Tongans living overseas, a modest but expanding building industry is emerging. In acknowledgment of such an important contribution, the current administration has established a new department inside the Prime Minister’s Office solely dedicated to meeting the needs of Tongans residing overseas. In addition, the Tongan Parliament changed citizenship rules in 2007 to enable Tongans to have dual citizenship.
The tourist sector is still in its infancy; nevertheless, the government recognizes that tourism can play a significant role in economic growth, and efforts are being made to expand this source of income. Cruise ships often call at Vavau, which is known for its whale viewing, game fishing, surfing, and beaches, and is quickly becoming a significant participant in the South Pacific tourist industry.
Philatelists from around the globe collect Tonga’s postal stamps, which offer colorful and sometimes unique patterns (such as heart-shaped and banana-shaped stamps).
The nation became eligible to join the World Trade Organization in 2005. Tonga became a full member of the WTO on July 27, 2007, after a voluntary delay.
The Tonga Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TCCI), founded in 1996, works to represent the interests of its members, private-sector companies, and to promote economic development in the Kingdom.
Tonga has a population of 106,000 people, although more than twice that amount lives abroad, mostly in the United States, New Zealand, and Australia. Since the start of the 2008 global economic crisis, remittances from the abroad population have been decreasing. The tourism sector is growing, although it is still small, with less than 90,000 visitors each year.