Tonga - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Tongan society was and is Hierarchical in nature. There is an administrative class consisting of the agreed-upon titleholders or rulers, currently personified by the nobles (nopele) and the reigning monarch. Experts in traditions or spokespersons ( matapule ) are next, followed by the bulk of the populace, the commoners. Before the Europeans arrived in Tonga, the embodiment of all that was sacred and secular (and leader of all Tongans) was the individual designated as the "Tu'i Tonga." In approximately the fifteenth century, as Tongan society expanded in size, a division was made between the sacred and secular aspects of managing the islands. An individual who was the brother of the Tu'i Tonga was designated the "Tu'i Ha'a Takalaua," the administrator of the secular aspects of Tongan society. Approximately 200 years later, the Tu'i Ha'a Takalaua delegated some of his secular authority to his son and created the Lineage known as the "Tu'i Kanokupolu." In traditional times, the fourth major Tongan individual was the sister of the Tu'i Tonga, designated the "Tu'i Tonga Fefine," given the title of "Tamaha." All Tongans, including the reigning monarch of the modern Kingdom of Tonga, theoretically trace their Kinship affiliations, and hence their rank relative to one another, from these four chiefly titleholders. In traditional Tonga, succession to a title and chieftainship depended upon a variety of factors, especially the decision of the corporate landholding and property-sharing descent group. Any individual who had a position of authority in traditional Tongan society and had a title as evidence of rank did not have the title Because of any inherent rights but only because he or she had the consensus of the governed group. The titleholder operated within a system of checks and balances that ensured that the governed were willing to be influenced and led by these individuals.

Political Organization. Tongan culture began to change in the seventeenth century, when the first European explorers landed in the islands. The culmination of these changes took place in 1875 when the Tongan constitution was introduced. By the nineteenth century, a traditional and flexible system of titles and inheritance, which had been in operation for hundreds of years, passed out of existence. In 1875, a rigid fatherto-son inheritance system was instituted and the inherent consensus and flexibility concerning the rights of leadership or chieftainship passed out of existence.

Social Control. Informal social control could take the form of gossip when there was inadequate social reciprocity on various occasions. Tonga operates under a constitutional monarchy and in addition to the current reigning monarch there is an executive branch (consisting of the prime minister and a cabinet appointed by the king) as well as the legislative and judicial branches. The twenty-nine-member Legislative Assembly or parliament consists of the governors of Ha'apai and Yava'u, nine cabinet ministers, nine nobles, and nine commoners. Tonga also maintains the Tonga Defense School of 400 individuals, charged with maintaining public order, patrolling coastal waters, and engaging in various Kingdom of Tonga projects.

Conflict. Although Tongan oral histories report some traditional conflicts relating to political situations, Tongans were essentially peaceful islanders prior to the coming of European missionaries. In early nineteenth-century Tonga, the Christian missionaries made numerous efforts to convert the chiefs to the new religion, since if the chiefs converted, their people would follow. As word of missionary successes in the islands spread, other missionaries arrived and religious wars of intense fury began in 1826. Although it may not have been a deliberate nineteenth-century missionary plan, a divideand-conquer policy saw non-Christian Tongans fighting against Christian Tongans, and there were additional conflicts in 1837, 1840, and 1852. With the aid of missionaries, three Tongan law codes were introduced to Tongans in 1839, 1850, and 1862. The culmination of all missionary involvement was the Tongan constitution of 1875. Tonga continues to have problems: its economy remains unsound and the lack of serious planning for its improvement may lead to political unrest in the future.

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