Tonga - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Prior to the establishment of a market economy, Tongans were subsistence farmers and fishers who had adapted to the environment of their relatively small groups of islands. Because of the relatively low population density of the islands in traditional times, Tongans were essentially self-sufficient horticulturalists and fishers who traded for foodstuffs and material goods among themselves. In the late 1980s, earnings from the Tourism industry, accompanied by funds received from Tongans living abroad, accounted for the majority of all personal income in the Kingdom of Tonga. In traditional Tonga, tropical products such as yams, breadfruit, taro, and coconuts were all cultivated on small farms. Tongans fished the surrounding waters by spear fishing, by net fishing, and by hand. In recent years the pressures of population growth and tourism have forced Tongans to import much of their foodstuffs, including canned meats and fish.

Industrial Arts. Contemporary Tongans are small-scale handicraft manufacturers for the tourist industry and there are still independent artisans, manufacturers of basketry and wood carvings, on the islands. In traditional times, Tongans carved small statues and bowls and manufactured other items, such as baskets, mats, and sails, from tropical materials.

Trade. Evidence indicates that, in traditional times, Tongans had large double-hulled canoes called kalia that could carry provisions for up to 200 people, and in them Tongans made extensive trading voyages between Fiji and Samoa.

Division of Labor. Young males in traditional Tonga followed their father's occupation, with the eldest son receiving the title to the trade. Hereditary occupations included canoe building, fishing, and cooking; some trades could be hereditary or not, such as tattooing and barbering. Both men and women could be priests, and women also gathered reef fishes and fished with nets in the lagoon. Women manufactured valuable items ( koloa ), such as basketry, mats, and tapa, and women prepared kava. Kava, the nonnarcotic drink made from the roots of the Piper methysticum plant, continues to be an important social and ceremonial drink and elaborate Rituals involving kava drinking exist for various ceremonial occasions such as marriages and funerals. Tapa, a clothlike Material made from the bark of the paper mulberry tree ( Broussonetia papyrifera), is still widely manufactured today for sale to tourists. Mats in traditional Tonga, woven for floors and walls, could also be worn as waist garments ( ta'ovala ) or used as sails for canoes. With a cash economy and increased sales of female-produced items for the tourist market, certain women now make more money than men, and tensions between the sexes have increased in Contemporary Tonga.

Land Tenure. Current Tongan law guarantees that every male over the age of 16 should receive an allotment of land: an 'api of 3.3 hectares for agricultural purposes and 0.16 of a hectare as a site for a home. Because of population growth and limited natural resources, however, thousands of Tongan males are landless today. Prior to the Tongan constitution, established in 1875 by King George Tupou I (1797-1893), land rights in Tonga were vested with an extended kinship group, the ha'a, a corporate landholding and propertysharing descent group. The leadership of the ha'a distributed resources to members. In 1875, however, all land was acquired by the Crown for redistribution to a newly created class of hereditary nobles ( nopele ) for eventual redistribution to the people.

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