The Kingdom of Tonga, History
The Kingdom of Tonga (Tongan for “south”) is an independent archipelago in the southern Pacific Ocean. It lies about a third of the way between New Zealand and Hawaii, south of Samoa and east of Fiji. The islands are also known as the Friendly Islands, the name given by Captain Cook because of the friendly reception he received. He happened to arrive at the time of ʻinasi festival, the yearly donation of the first fruits to the Tuʻi Tonga and was invited to the festivities. According to the writer William Mariner, in reality the chiefs had wanted to kill Cook during the gathering, but had been unable to agree on a plan.Archaeological evidence shows that the first settlers in Tonga sailed from the Santa Cruz Islands, as part of the original Austronesian-speakers’ (Lapita) migration which originated out of S.E. Asia some 6000 years ago. Archaeological dating places Tonga as the oldest known site in Polynesia for the distinctive Lapita ceramic ware, at 2800–2750 years ago. The “Lapita” people lived and sailed, traded, warred, and intermarried in the islands now known as Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji for 1000 years, before more explorers set off to the east to discover the Marquesas, Tahiti, and eventually the rest of the Pacific Ocean islands. For this reason, Tonga, Samoa and Fiji are described by anthropologists as the cradle of Polynesian culture and civilization. By the 12th century, Tongans, and the Tongan paramount chief, the Tuʻi Tonga, were known across the Pacific, from Niue to Tikopia, sparking some historians to refer to a ‘Tongan Empire’. A network of interacting navigators, chiefs, and adventurers might be a better term although the empire did have its own dynasties. In the 15th century and again in the 17th, civil war erupted. It was in this context that the first Europeans arrived, beginning with Dutch explorers Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire in 1616, who called on the northern island of Niuatoputapu, and Abel Tasman, who visited Tongatapu and Haʻapai in 1643. Later noteworthy European visits were by Captain Cook in 1773, 1774, and 1777, the first London missionaries in 1797, and the Wesleyan Methodist Walter Lawry Buller in 1822. Tonga was united into a Polynesian kingdom in 1845 by the ambitious young warrior, strategist, and orator Tāufaʻāhau. He held the chiefly title of Tuʻi Kanokupolu, but was baptised with the name King George. In 1875, with the help of missionary Shirley 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), it was part of the British Western Pacific Territories (under a colonial High Commissioner, then residing on Fiji) from 1901 until 1952. The Treaty of Friendship and Tonga’s protectorate status ended in 1970 under arrangements established prior to her death by Queen Salote Tupou III. Tonga joined the Commonwealth of Nations in 1970 (atypically as an autochthonous monarchy, that is one with its own hereditary monarch rather than Elizabeth II), and the United Nations in September 1999. While exposed to colonial forces, 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. As part of cost cutting measures across the British Foreign Service, the British Government closed the British High Commission in Nukuʻalofa in March 2006, transferring representation of British interests in Tonga to the UK High Commissioner in Fiji. The last resident British High Commissioner was His Excellency Mr. Paul Nessling.
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