History of the Kingdom of Tonga

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History of the Kingdom of Tonga

An Austronesian-speaking group linked to the archaeological construct known as the Lapita cultural complex reached and colonised Tonga around 1500–1000 BCE. Scholars continue to debate the exact dates of the initial settlement of Tonga. Not much is known about Tonga before European contact because of the lack of a writing system during prehistoric times. However, oral history has survived and been recorded after the arrival of the Europeans. The Tongan people first encountered Europeans in 1616 when the Dutch vessel Eendracht made a short visit to the islands to trade.

By the 12th century Tongans, and the Tongan paramount chief, the Tu'i Tonga, had a reputation across the central Pacific – from Niue, Samoa, Eastern Fiji, Rotuma, Wallis & Futuna, New Caledonia to Tikopia – leading some historians to speak of a 'Tongan Empire'.

In the 15th century and again in the 17th, civil war erupted. Into this situation the first European explorers arrived, beginning in 1616 with the Dutch explorers Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire (who called on the northern island of Niuatoputapu), and in 1643 with Abel Tasman (who visited Tongatapu and Ha'apai).

Later noteworthy European visitors included James Cook* (British Navy) in 1773, 1774, and 1777, Alessandro Malaspina (Spanish Navy) in 1793, the first London missionaries in 1797, and the Wesleyan Methodist Rev. Walter Lawry in 1822.

In 1845 the ambitious young warrior, strategist, and orator Taufa'ahau united Tonga into a kingdom. He held the chiefly title of Tu'i Kanokupolu, but had been baptised with the name Jiaoji ("George") in 1831. In 1875, with the help of missionary Shirley Waldemar Baker, he declared Tonga a constitutional monarchy, formally adopted the western royal style, emancipated the "serfs", enshrined a code of law, land tenure, and freedom of the press, and limited the power of the chiefs.

Tonga became a British-protected state under a Treaty of Friendship on 18 May 1900, when European settlers and rival Tongan chiefs tried to oust the second king. Within the British Empire, which posted no higher permanent representative on Tonga than a British Consul (1901–1970), Tonga formed part of the British Western Pacific Territories (under a colonial High Commissioner, residing on Fiji) from 1901 until 1952.

Although under the protection of Britain, Tonga remained the only Pacific nation never to have given up its monarchical government. The Tongan monarchy follows an uninterrupted succession of hereditary rulers from one family.

In 1918 the influenza epidemic that spread through the world caused the deaths of 1,800 people in Tonga, approximately 8% of the population.

The Treaty of Friendship and Tonga's protectorate status ended in 1970 under arrangements established by Queen Salote Tupou III prior to her death in 1965. Tonga joined the Commonwealth of Nations in 1970 and became a member of the United Nations in September 1999. While exposed to colonial pressures, Tonga has never lost indigenous governance, a fact that makes Tonga unique in the Pacific and gives Tongans much pride, as well as confidence in their monarchical system.

George Tupou V (Tongan: Siaosi Tupou V, full name: Siaosi Taufa'ahau Manumataongo Tuku'aho Tupou V) is the current King of Tonga. Tupou V was born on the 4th May 1948. He is the eldest son of the late King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV (1918 - 2006), and Queen Halaevalu Mata'aho 'Ahome'e. He was appointed Crown Prince on 4th May 1966.

In daily life, he was better known by one of his traditional chiefly titles Tupouto'a.

*James Cook in Tonga.
It is interesting to know that was James Cook himself to name Tonga as "the friendly Islands" after the royal welcome he received upon his arrival on these shores. What he could not know was that some chiefs were planning to kill him but they never agreed on the right plan so Cook managed to sail from Tonga bringing the idea of a lovely welcome till the present days. You can still visit the location where Cook's vessel was harboured.

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