Tonga - History & Language

Tongatapu Island © Tonga Visitors BureauTonga is the only Pacific nation never to have been controlled by foreign powers, and is the last remaining Polynesian monarchy. Polynesians are thought to have arrived in Tonga more than 3000 years ago and the first of the hereditary rulers, known as the Tu’I Tonga, governed from about 960AD. The ruling royal family of Tonga can be traced back more than 1000 years. The 170+ island group was first visited by Dutch travellers in the early 1600s, although it was the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman who became the first European to set foot on Tongatapu and Ha’apai in 1643. The British seafarer Captain Cook, dubbed the archipelago the ‘Friendly Islands’ in 1773 and visited again in 1774 and 1777.

The adoption of Christianity by the ruling family (which followed the arrival of Methodist missionaries in the 1820s) and an overall policy of accommodation with the British meant that the islands were never formally colonised. King George Tupou I, the great-great-great grandfather of the present ruler and the first chief to rule over all of Tonga, was the founder of the present dynasty. Tupou I took power in 1831. He introduced representative government to the islands during his reign. A Treaty of Friendship was signed with the British in 1879 which afforded Tonga the unique status of a ‘Protected State’ (as distinct from a Protectorate, which allowed for less autonomy in government). However, the islands were subsequently made a protectorate in 1900.

Tongan is the main language, however English is widely spoken.

Handy Words
  • Hello = malo e lelei (mah-loh-eh-leh-leh-e)
  • Goodbye = alu a (aluh-ah)
  • Thank you = malo (mah-loh)
  • Tonga Visitor GuidePlease = kataki (kah-tah-kih)
  • Yes = ’io (yeoh)
  • No = ’ikai (i-kah-ih)
  • Maybe = mahalo (mah-hah-loh)
  • Tomorrow = apongipongi (ah-poh-gi-poh-gi)
  • Goodnight = mohea (moh-he-ah)
  • How are you? = Fefe hake? (Feh-feh-hak-eh)
  • I am hungry = fiekaia (feah-guy-ah)

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