Tonga, or Kingdom of Tonga, an island country in the South Pacific, about 1,200 miles (1,900 km) north-northeast of New Zealand. It consists of some 170 islands (the Tonga Islands). There are three main island groups: Tongatapu, Ha'apai, and Vava'u. Tongatapu, in the Tongatapu group, is by far the largest and most populated island. Most of the other islands are tiny and uninhabited.
Most of the islands are uplifted limestone or coral formations with few distinctive features; some are of volcanic origin. Just east of Tonga is the Tonga Trench, one of the deepest parts of the Pacific. The climate is tropical and oceanic, with warm weather and ample rainfall all year. Typhoons occasionally occur.
Plantation agriculture, producing coconuts, bananas, and vanilla beans for export, and subsistence farming are the main economic activities. Fishing, lumbering, small-scale manufacturing, and service industries are also significant. Tourism is a major source of foreign exchange. An airport near Nuku'alofa, the capital, serves international and domestic flights.
Virtually all the people are Tongans, of Polynesian ancestry. Most are Christians. Tongan and English are official languages. The country is a constitutional monarchy.
Dutch explorers visited the islands as early as 1616. Captain James Cook, who stopped here in 1773, called them the Friendly Islands because of their courteous natives. Wesleyan missionaries arrived in 1826. After a long period of civil war, King George Tupou I united the islanders in 1845. He established the present constitutional monarchy in 1875. In 1900 Tonga became a British-protected state. The kingdom declared its independence in 1970 and became a member of the British Commonwealth.
|Facts in brief about Tonga|
|Official languages: English and Tongan.|
|Official name: Kingdom of Tonga.|
|Area: 289 mi2 (748 km2).|
|Elevation: Highest—Kao, an extinct volcano in the Ha'apai Group, 3,380 ft (1,030 m) above sea level. Lowest—sea level, along the coasts.|
|Population: Current estimate—107,000; density, 370 per mi2 (143 per km2); distribution, 76 percent rural, 24 percent urban. 2003 official government estimate—101,405.|
|Chief products: bananas, copra, sweet potatoes, tapioca.|
|National anthem: "'E 'Otua Mafimafi" ("O God Almighty").|
|Flag: Tonga's flag, adopted in 1866, has a red background and a white canton in the upper-left corner. A red cross in the canton symbolized the Christian faith of the Tongans.|
|Money: Basic unit—pa'anga. The pa'anga approximately equals the Australian dollar. One hundred seniti equal one pa'anga.|