Tonga - History and Cultural Relations

Through the use of carbon-14 dating techniques, a date of 1140 B . C . is the given date for the beginning of human occupation of Tongatapu. The first Europeans to visit the Tongan Islands were Dutch navigators in 1616 (Willem Schouten and Jacob LeMaire) and additional contacts occurred as other Europeans explored the Pacific throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Contacts between Europeans and Tongans lasted for periods of a few days to several weeks. Publications by Europeans about Pacific Islanders placed Tonga firmly on the map of the world. These published accounts, coupled with the great evangelical revival that swept Europe in the nineteenth century, caused Organizations to send individuals to convert the peoples of the Pacific. Tonga, along with the South Pacific islands of Tahiti, was one of the first island groups to receive European missionaries specifically for the purpose of converting the native inhabitants to Christianity. After European missionaries landed in Tahiti in 1797, additional missionaries continued on to Tongatapu. Other missionaries also arrived in Tonga in 1822 and in 1826 two Tahitians who had converted to Christianity in their native islands arrived on Tongatapu while en route to Fiji and began their Christian work among the Tongan natives. There is no indication that Tongans had extensive trading voyages with other Polynesian island groups. Modern Tonga, an ethnically homogeneous Polynesian Kingdom, is attempting to find its way into the twenty-first Century. Tongans in the islands are extremely dependent upon relatives living overseas who send money back to family Members. In recent years, funds sent back to Tonga from relatives living abroad amounted to ten times the amount of income the kingdom generated from the export of agricultural Products such as copra, vanilla, and bananas. Attempts at solving the inherent economic problems of the kingdom have included oil exploration since the 1960s, foreign aid, and increased tourism ventures. As of this publication, however, no oil has been discovered, foreign aid continues, and the Tourism industry is much too fragile and dependent upon variables beyond the control of Tongans. Late in 1989, individuals in Tonga began discussing the possibility of a casino for tourists that would be open only to foreign-passport holders in the kingdom.

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