Archaeological evidence shows that the first settlers in Tonga arrived as part of the Lapita migration which originated from South East Asia some 6,000 years ago. Tonga, as well as Samoa and Fiji, are described by anthropologists as the cradle of Polynesian culture and civilization.
The first Europeans arrived, beginning with Dutch explorers Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire, in 1616. Abel Tasman visited Tonga in 1643 followed by Captain Cook in 1773. The first missionaries arrived shortly thereafter.
In 1845, a Polynesian kingdom was established by an ambitious young warrior, who was baptized with the name King George Tupou I. In 1875, he declared Tonga a constitutional monarchy. In 1900, Tonga became a British protected state and later a part of the British Western Pacific Territories. Tonga’s protectorate status ended in 1970. Although exposed to colonial forces, Tonga has never lost indigenous governance, a fact that makes it unique among the islands of the South Pacific.
Tonga’s traditional culture and its people are as unique as its history. Tongans represent more than 98% of the inhabitants. The rest are European, mixed European, and other Pacific Islanders. There also are several hundred Chinese residents.
Everyday life in Tonga is heavily influenced by Polynesian traditions and Tongans are particular welcoming and relaxed. In Tongan life, the family is of utmost importance, while religion closely follows the family in importance. Almost all Tongans are churchgoers and Sunday is a day of rest across the nation.
Village life and kinship ties continue to be important throughout the country, although more and more people move to the capital Nuku’alofa, where European and indigenous cultural and living patterns have blended.
The largest annual festival is Heilala (usually held around last week of June until first week of July to celebrate His Majesty’s birthday) when Nuku’alofa celebrates weeks of dance, beauty, and sporting competitions, parades, concerts, regattas, and parties.