Tonga is made up of more than 170 South Pacific islands that cover an area about the size of Japan. It is the last Polynesian monarchy. Tonga is also unique in that it was never formally colonized and always maintained its indigenous governance. Tonga became a constitutional monarchy in 1875 and a British protectorate in 1900. It left the protectorate and joined the Commonwealth of Nations in 1970.
A conservative Christian country, Tonga is currently ruled by King George Tupou V. There has been a call for a democratic constitution with direct elections, though the monarchy would still be in place. The supporters of democratic reforms are mostly younger, western-educated Tongans. As the demand for democracy has grown, Tongans have taken to street protests. There was a public sector strike in 2005, and riots erupted in the capital in 2006, resulting in deaths of eight people. The king took tentative steps towards reform in 2005 by appointing elected MPs to the cabinet for the first time. Until then, the king used to handpick cabinet members from outside the parliament.
Tonga’s economy is mostly dependent on agriculture, fishing and the money sent home by citizens living abroad, many of them in New Zealand. The country has no important mineral resources but is developing its tourism industry. Unemployment is high, especially among the youth.
Tongans are mostly Polynesian, and the country has not seen any significant immigration. This makes it an ideal population for genetic research into the causes of common diseases.
Sources: BBC, International Crisis Group, CIA World Factbook.
Kingdom of Tonga
Form of Government:
Year of Independence:
1970 (from British protectorate)
Christian (Free Wesleyan Church claims over 30,000 adherents)
748 sq km (289 sq miles)
68 years (men), 73 years (women) (2009 est.)
1 pa'anga = 100 seniti
Squash, pumpkins, fish, vanilla beans, root crops, coconut products
GDP - Per Capita (PPP):
$4,600 (2008 est.)
International Dialing Code: