Identification. The Kingdom of Tonga, located in the South Pacific Ocean, was under the protection of Great Britain from 1900 to 1970. Tongans have had a constitutional monarchy since 1875 and in 1970 Tonga became an independent country, joining the British Commonwealth of Nations. The islands of Tonga (known to eighteenth-century Europeans as the "Friendly Islands" because of the friendly reception given to explorers) have a total area of approximately 646 square kilometers. The word tonga means "south" in many Polynesian languages.
Location. In 1887, the territorial boundaries of the Kingdom were established to encompass an ocean area from 15° to 23° S by 173° to 177° W. The islands fall within a rectangle some 959 kilometers from north to south and 425 kilometers from east to west. The three principal island groups, from north to south, are: the Tongatapu group ( tapu means "sacred"); the Ha'apai group; and the Yava'u group. Tongatapu Island, the largest island in the kingdom, is the seat of Tongan government. The Tongan Islands are the low coral type, with some volcanic formations. The highest point in the Kingdom of Tonga is 1,030 meters on the uninhabited volcanic island of Kao. Tongatapu Island has a maximum elevation of 82 meters along the southern coast and the island of Yava'u reaches to the height of 305 meters. Average temperature in the Kingdom of Tonga in the winter months of June-July is 16-21° C and in the summer months of December-January it is about 27° C. The island chain of Tonga is classified as semitropical even though in the northern islands there is a true tropical climate and rainfall on Yava'u can be as much as 221 centimeters per year. Rainfall on Tongatapu averages 160 centimeters per year, with November to March being the local hurricane season. Because of the destructive powers of hurricanes striking mainly in the northern Tongan Islands, the southern island of Tongatapu became the place where Tongan culture was established with relative permanency.
Demography. It has been estimated that in the year 1800 there were approximately 15,000 to 20,000 Tongans residing throughout the islands. In 1989 the resident population of the Kingdom of Tonga was estimated to be 108,000, with Tongans comprising 98 percent of the population and the remainder being other islanders or foreign nationals. The Capital and principal city of the kingdom is Nuku'alofa, with an estimated population of 30,000, located on Tongatapu Island. Tongatapu Island itself has an estimated island population of 64,000. There are 48,000 Tongans who are ages of 0-14 (45 percent); 54,000 ages 15-59 (50 percent); and 6,000 (5 percent) over the age of 60. There are also approximately 40,000 to 50,000 Tongan nationals residing in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States of America.
linguistic Affiliation. The Tongan language is derived from a proto-Fijian-Polynesian language originally spoken by Fiji islanders about 1500 B . C . Linguistic and archaeological evidence points to the migration of people into Tonga from locations north and west of the islands.