Our History & People

Uncover more about our people and our history. As modern Pacific people, high-spirited Tongans are a multiracial blend of western influence and ancient Polynesian heritage. Like any true blooded Tongan, we enjoy pomp, splendour and big ceremonies with traditional customs and much feasting. Hospitality, smiles and a warm welcome come naturally.

Tonga has an interesting and colourful history of kings, colonisation, tribes and encounters from the other side of the world. To commemorate some of these key points in Tonga’s history, plaques and memorials can be found in historically significant places across the islands of Tongatapu and Ha’apai, while strange megaliths and ancient tombs also stand as historical places of interest. Check out some of the historical sites in Tonga that you can visit.

Our People

Nearly the entire population is of Polynesian ancestry. Tongans are closely related to Samoans and other Polynesians in culture and language as well as in genetic heritage. There is also a small amount of Melanesian influence through contact with Fiji. Intermarriage with Europeans has become more common, especially as a result of the increasing out-migration of Tongans since the 1970s.Religion is an important aspect of Tongan society, and most Tongan families are members of a Christian church. About one-third of Tongans belong to the Free Wesleyan (Methodist) Church, nearly one-fifth are Mormons, and there are smaller but significant proportions of Roman Catholics and members of the Free Church of Tonga. The remainder belong to smaller, mostly Protestant, denominations. The Tongan language is taught in primary schools and is the official language, in addition to English, which is studied as a second language. Most of the Tongan population lives in the three major island groups, and nearly three-fourths live on Tongatapu Island. The urban population has been steadily growing and now accounts for about one-third of the total population.

Our History & People

Our History

The Kingdom of Tonga’s history stretches back over 3000 years, beginning with the migration of the Lapita people from the mainland and islands of Southeast Asia. Tongan culture and customs began with these earliest of Polynesians, and many ancient traditions have continued respectfully through to the present day. The arrival of European explorers and navigators from the 17th century saw the introduction of Christianity, now an integral part of the modern Kingdom of Tonga. Experiencing the beautiful harmonies filling Tongan churches every Sunday is an essential experience for all visitors to the Kingdom. Across the ensuing centuries, Tonga’s authentic culture has continued to be respected and maintained across the pristine islands of this Polynesian archipelago. 

Around 3,000 years ago, the Lapita people from Southeast Asia migrated west via the Malay peninsula and the remote islands of the East Indies to settle in the scattered and pristine islands of the South Pacific. In Tonga, these original ancestors of today’s Polynesian people founded settlements at Toloa – near the present day location of Fua’amotu International Airport – and at Heketa, on the northeastern edge of Tongatapu. Three millennia later, reminders of these ancient times are dotted throughout the islands. The fascinating Ha’amonga a Maui trilithon still stands as an imposing legacy of early Tongan ingenuity. Eventually settling in the far-flung island groups of the Kingdom’s archipelago, these early ancestors also developed a distinctive culture that still underpins traditional Tongan life in more contemporary times.

Captain James Cook

In 1773, the British explorer and navigator Captain James Cook visited Tonga’s southern islands of Tongatapu and ‘Eua. He returned in 1777 and spent two months exploring and charting the Tongan archipelago, with his legendary skill as a cartographer producing accurate charts still in regular use until recent times. During this voyage, a lavish feast for Cook and his men was presented by Chief Finau in the village of Lifuka in the Ha’apai island group. Cook was so impressed by Tongan hospitality he dubbed Tonga the ‘Friendly Isles’, not realising the amiable and social nature of the locals actually concealed a plan to raid his boats and kill Cook and his crew. The conspiracy was only foiled at the eleventh hour after a dispute between Finau and other village nobles, and Cook sailed away oblivious of his intended fate. Ironically his positive and complementary name for the Kingdom of Tonga remains in common use.