Tonga Flag

Tonga Travel Guide

The Formation of a Nation

European contact led to a decline in population, as warring chiefs turned newly acquired muskets and cannons on each other. The new armaments also allowed Tongan warriors to conquer the Lau Group of Fiji about this time. Members of the London Missionary Society arrived in 1797, in the middle of these civil wars, but were unable to attract a following, and by 1804 all had left.

A British Wesleyan (Methodist) missionary, Rev. William Lawry, arrived in 1822. He and his associates built the first school in Tonga in 1829, and in 1831 printed the first book, the Bible of course.

Their most noteworthy convert (in 1831) was Taufa'ahau, chief of Ha'apai, who defeated two rival dynasties with the missionaries' help and in 1845 became King George Tupou I, ruler of a united Tonga. In 1862, he freed the Tongan people from forced labor on the estates of the chiefs while making hereditary nobles of the chiefs. Tupou I decreed that each of his subjects be allotted a tax'api consisting of a town lot and 3.34 hectares of farmland for a small annual rental. At the same time, the king established constitutional government, with a Privy Council of his choice and representation for both nobles and commoners in a Legislative Assembly.

This system, institutionalized in the Tongan Constitution of November 4, 1875, remains in force today. A year later, Germany concluded a Treaty of Friendship, which recognized Tongan independence and the sovereignty of the king. Similar treaties were signed with England (1879) and the United States (1888). The king's closest adviser in all of this was a Wesleyan missionary, Rev. Shirley Baker, who served as premier during the 1880s. Tupou I died in 1893 at 97 years of age, the creator of a unified Christian Tonga and one of the most remarkable men of the 19th century. The pervasive influence of the missionaries, who dominated Tonga from the early 19th century onward, can still be experienced any Sunday.

This system, institutionalized in the Tongan Constitution of November 4, 1875, remains in force today. A year later, Germany concluded a Treaty of Friendship, which recognized Tongan independence and the sovereignty of the king. Similar treaties were signed with England (1879) and the United States (1888). The king's closest adviser in all of this was a Wesleyan missionary, Rev. Shirley Baker, who served as premier during the 1880s. Tupou I died in 1893 at 97 years of age, the creator of a unified Christian Tonga and one of the most remarkable men of the 19th century. The pervasive influence of the missionaries, who dominated Tonga from the early 19th century onward, can still be experienced any Sunday.

Rev. Shirley Baker
A bronze statue of Rev. Shirley Baker stands at the north edge of Pangai village, Lifuka, Ha'apai.

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