Click here for its Wikipedia article.

Table of Contents


Population Growth

Brief History

Banking and Economy

Collapse of Royal Tonga Airlines 2004.
In 2013, a new domestic airline REALTonga opened, with CEO and owner, New Zealander Tevita Palu

Riots on November 16, 2006

History of Nuku'alofa the capital city of Tonga. It includes the background to the Free Church of Tonga in 1885, and the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga in 1924.

Nuku'alofa in 2019


Tonga's Distance to Niue (pronounced Nyoo-ay) 600 kms East North East, to Samoa 880 kms North North East, to Wallis and Futuna 825 kms North North West, to Fiji 800kms West North West.


To Auckland 2,000 kms South, to Brisbane 3,280 kms West, to Hawaii 5,000 kms North North East, to Mexico City 9,400 kms East North East.

Population Growth

1870 17½ thousand   1921 25,000   1938 34,000   1952 50,000   1968 80,000   1976 90,000   1995 100,000. Since 1995 there has been little change in the population, it remains at 100,000, but there are apparently more than double that living overseas, with 57,000 (2010 census) living in the US, 50,000 (2006 census) living in New Zealand. In the 2011 census in Australia, 25,000 claim Tongan ancestry with 10,000 born there. Many send financial support back to Tonga, to help out older relatives there.

Brief History of Tonga

Tonga is a Constitutional Monarchy, and the King along with his Privy Council exercises considerable authority. For example, the Sunday Sabbath is enforced, at a level that is pretty much unique throughout the world.

Click here for the current King, Tupou VI.

In 1900, Tonga became a British Protectorate under a Treaty of Friendship, with a local British Consul.

In 1942, Tonga supported the Western Allies in the war against Japan, working with New Zealand and the US and Fiji, and sending 2,000 troops to assist the US on the Solomon Islands. Fiji, incidentally, was under threat from Japan after their bombing of Hawaii in December 1941, but nothing came of it. They were stopped and driven back from the Solomons in 1942.

In 1970, Tonga joined the (British) Commonwealth of Nations as a sovereign nation.

In 1999, it joined the United Nations.

Banking and Economy

Note, despite the use of western currency for 100 years, there were no private banks in Tonga until 1974.

The Tongan pound, at par with the Australian pound ($2.00) was the currency of Tonga until 1967. It was subdivided into 20 shillings, each of 12 pence.

Initially, British currency circulated. This was supplemented, from 1921, by banknotes issued by the Tongan government. The notes were marked as sterling and included the rather unusual 4 shillings denomination. When the Australian pound devalued relative to the pound sterling at the beginning of the Great depression, this caused considerable confusion on the smaller islands of the British Western Pacific. In the mid-1930s people in these islands were asking whether or not their sterling accounts were to be considered as the United Kingdom unit, or the Australian unit. Clarification was sought. In 1936, the Tongan pound was devalued to sixteen shillings sterling, or £1 5s = 1 pound sterling, thus setting the Tongan pound equal to the Australian pound. Later issues of banknotes had the word "sterling" crossed out, then removed altogether. In 1967, the pound was replaced by the pa'anga, at par with the Australian dollar, at a rate of 1 pound = 2 pa'anga.

In 1974, The Bank of Tonga became its first bank. In 2008, it was fully owned by Westpac, who in 2015 sold it to Bank South Pacific, with its headquarters in Port Moresby.

In 2019, the annual GDP is $500 million.

According to the CIA World Factbook,

“The Tongan economy's base is agriculture, which contributes 30% to GDP. Squash, coconuts, bananas, and vanilla beans are the main crops, and agricultural exports make up two-thirds of total exports. The country must import a high proportion of its food, mainly from New Zealand. The industrial sector accounts for only 10% of GDP. Tourism is the primary source of hard currency earnings. The country remains dependent on sizable external aid and remittances to offset its trade deficit. The government is emphasizing the development of the private sector, especially the encouragement of investment.”

Exports total $62 million (2010)
Main Export goods
Squash, fish, vanilla beans, root crops, domain names
Main export partners
 South Korea 17.8%
 United States 16.4%
 New Zealand 15.1%
 Fiji 10.9%
 Japan 9.2%
 Samoa 9.1%
 American Samoa 5.8%
 Australia 5.0%

Imports	$92 million
Import goods
Foodstuffs, machinery and transport equipment, fuels, chemicals
Main import partners
 Fiji 38.0%
 New Zealand 23.5%
 United States 10.1%
 China 9.9%

Tonga has a small and underdeveloped financial sector. There are three registered commercial banks: ANZ, Bank South Pacific, and MBf. ANZ is an Australian multinational, Bank South Pacific is based in Papua New Guinea, whilst MBf is Malaysian owned.

Bank South Pacific began as the Bank of Tonga in 1974, becoming a fully owned subsidiary of Westpac Banking Corporation in 2008, before being sold in 2015 to Bank South Pacific with its headquarters in Port Moresby.

ANZ and the MBf Banking Group have operated in Tonga since 1993 and they all provide full commercial banking facilities. There is a government-owned developmental financial institution, Tonga Development Bank, which lends money to key sectors of the business community including agriculture, manufacturing and tourism. It also provides savings accounts.

Regarding MBf Finance Bhd, MB=Merchant Bank. Built by tycoon Tan Sri Loy Hean Heong, who died in 1997. In 2002 it merged with AmBank Group previously the Arab-Malaysian Banking Group.

The pa'anga (box bean) currency was introduced on 3 April 1967. It replaced the pound at a rate of 1 pound = 2 pa'anga. Until 11 February 1991, the pa'anga was pegged to the Australian dollar at par. Since that time, a basket of currencies is taken and the pa'anga has continuously declined. Since 2006, one needs about T$1.60 to get 1 Australian dollar. Official exchange rates are released daily by the National Reserve Bank, established 1 July 1989, but rather towards the end of the day than early in the morning.

In 1992, the National Reserve Bank of Tonga took over production of paper money.

In 1967, notes (bearing the portrait of Queen Salote Tupou III) were introduced by the government in denominations of ½, 1, 2, 5 and 10 pa'anga. From 1974, the portrait of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV appeared on the notes. ½ pa'anga notes were issued until 1983, with 20 pa'anga notes introduced in 1985, followed by 50 pa'anga in 1988.

Collapse of Royal Tonga Airlines 2004

Royal Tongan Airlines was the national airline of Tonga between 1985 until liquidation in 2004. It was a government agency and operated inter-island services and international routes. By December 2004, it was reported that creditors had lodged claims of US$8.5 million from the liquidators, but had recovered only US$1.13 million from the sale of assets. PricewaterCoopers also noted that only 106 of 206 former employees of the airline had thus far lodged claims. The Twin Otter was sold in January 2005 for US$850,000, and the sale of assets from the airline's offices in Nuku'alofa and abroad netted US$71,000 and US$8,000 respectively.

Riots in 2006

Tonga Riots November 16 2006. 6 people died in a city-wide fire – all thought to have been looters. Over the following two weeks, 570 were arrested. The state of emergency that had been declared the following day was not lifted  until January 2011.
Click here for more info.

In 2008 and 2010, two loans worth around $AU160 million were made from China's Export Import Bank to repair the central business district. Click here for a recent article in 2018, a reprieve on the repayment.

History of Nuku'alofa, capital city of Tonga

First western records of Nuku'alofa
On 10 June 1777, British captain James Cook wrote of his arrival at their anchorage place. His description of the place confirmed, with his map, that this was the bay of Nuku'alofa.

"At length, about two in the afternoon, we arrived at our intended station. It was a very snug place, formed by the shore of Tongataboo on the South East, and two small islands on the East and North East. Here we anchored in ten fathoms water, over a bottom of oozy sand; distant from the shore one-third of a mile [500 m]."

Cook never used the name Nukualofa or any other spelling for the reports of this voyage, but he mentioned the island of Pangaimodoo (Pangaimotu) which was to the east of his anchorage position. Captain Cook also wrote that he travelled by canoes to visit Mooa (Mu'a) where Paulaho and other great men lived. The house that Paulaho provided was on the beach 500 metres (1⁄3 mi) from the ship. Reference to his map shows that he must have landed and stayed in the Siesia area, the eastern part of modern Nuku'alofa. Cook also drafted the first map of the bay of Nuku'alofa.

The first written record for Nuku'alofa is stated in the first dedicated book for Tonga by George Vason which was published in 1810. George Vason was an English missionary from the London Missionary Society, who arrived in Tonga in 1797. George Vason wrote of their arrival that:

"Before we could well come to an anchor, the ship was surrounded by the natives, who flocked to us from every adjacent Island. The place, before which we anchored, was called Noogollefa: it was near an Island, named Bonghy-moddoo; on which former navigators pitched their tents, as a convenient spot, on account of its separation from the main Island, to preserve themselves from being too much incommoded by the natives."

That was the first mention of Nuku'alofa, spelled as Noogoollefa. Vason's unusual spelling of Nuku'alofa and Pangaimotu (as "Bongy-Moddoo") was because the standard Tongan alphabet would not be developed until 1826-27.

On 1 December 1806 Tongans attacked the passing ship Port-au-Prince in order to take it over. They failed, as the crew sank the vessel. The chief of Ha'apai, Fīnau 'Ulukālala, resorted to the next plan, to plunder whatever was worthwhile. On his inspection tour, he found the ship's cash. Not knowing what money was, he considered the coins as pa'anga. Finally, not seeing anything of value, he ordered the remains of the ship to be burned. It was much later that William Mariner, the only survivor of this attack, told him that those pieces of metal were of great value and not merely playing stones.

When Tonga introduced decimal currency, it decided not to call the main unit the dollar because the native word, tola, translated into a pig's snout, the soft end of a coconut, or, in vulgar language, a mouth. Pa'anga, on the other hand, translated into money.

Mariner also passed down the following statement of the chief:
"If money were made of iron and could be converted into knives, axes and chisels there would be some sense in placing a value on it; but as it is, I see none. If a man has more yams than he wants, let him exchange some of them away for pork. [...] Certainly money is much handier and more convenient but then, as it will not spoil by being kept, people will store it up instead of sharing it out as a chief ought to do, and thus become selfish. [...] I understand now very well what it is that makes the papālangi [white men] so selfish – it is this money!

The second oldest book dedicated to Tonga was by this William Mariner, who became the adopted son of the chief. It was published in 1817. Mariner described his experiences during these years (1806–1810). He described his experience of the civil war (it lasted nearly 50 years 1799-1845) and the siege of the Fort of Nuku'alofa in 1807 which fell to the chief and his warriors.

Tahitian Missionaries arrive

At the beginning of 1826, another missionary from the London Missionary Society, John Davies, chose two church members from Papara in Tahiti, Hape and Tafeta to be the first teachers to Lakeba in Fiji and to prepare the way for others. With the assistance of two other men, Takai and Langi, Davies compiled a Fijian spelling book which Hape and Tafeta used to gain initial familiarity with the language.

In March 1826 the four men sailed from Tahiti, intending to disembark at Fiji. But at Nuku'alofa, King Aleamotu'a disrupted their plans. Takai informed Aleamotu'a that the Tahitians had found the true God and the word of life and the two Tahitians were going to teach the Fijians the way to heaven. Aleamotu'a answered Takai and said,

It will not be so. If the word of life was a good word as he spoke, it must not go to the tail first but must begin at the head. You and the two Tahitian teachers must stop here with me and teach me and my people that good word and perhaps we may embrace it too, and when I and my people have embraced the word you speak of, let it be taken to the Fegees.
LMS records show that Aleamotu'a was ready to accept Christianity (though he did waver, a year later, under opposition from the other chiefs). But in 1826 with Aleamotu'a's assistance, Hape and Tafeta started building a chapel and school and started teaching classes and conducting worship in Nuku'alofa. About three hundred people worshipped in Nuku'alofa. Other Methodist missionaries, John Thomas and John Hutchinson arrived in Nuku'alofa in 1827 reinforcing the Christian faith. The persecution suffered by Christians in Hihifo and Hahake (part of Vava'u), forced a lot of people to seek refuge in Nuku'alofa. Thanks to the encouragement of Aleamotu, this was the beginning of the expanding of Nuku'alofa to become the major center of Christianity in Tonga. In 1830 he was baptized with the name of Sosaia (Josiah). In 1840, the US Exploring Expedition met with King Josiah (Aleamotu'a). In 1842 the Roman Catholic Father Chevron, or Patele Sevelo was welcomed by Aleamotu'a, to the displeasure of John Thomas. In 1845 Aleamotu'a died, and was succeeded by his great nephew, George Taufa'ahau Tupou I who had been baptised in 1831, declaring himself King George of Tonga at the time (after King George III of England). The Declaration of the Constitution of Tonga formalised Nuku'alofa as the Capital of Tonga. George Tupou issued the Constitution on 4 November 1875, in Nuku'alofa. It stated (Article 38) that the Parliament will meet in Nuku'alofa except in time of war. With the help of Wesleyan Methodist missionary Shirley Waldemar Baker, he declared Tonga a constitutional monarchy, formally adopted the western royal style, emancipated the "serfs", enshrined a code of law, land tenure, and freedom of the press, and limited the power of the chiefs. In 1885, Shirley Waldemar Baker formed the Free Church of Tonga, separating from the Methodist Church in Australasia (with Tonga having its own control over properties and assets). King George Tupou I lived to be 95, outliving both his principal wife, and all his children and grandchildren. His great grandson, via Tupou I's son by an earlier wife, became King Tupou II at the age of 18 in 1893. When he died 25 years later in 1918, his 18 year old daughter became Queen Salote Tupou III. In 1924, there was an attempted re-unification in 1924 by the Wesleyan Mission and Her Majesty Queen Salote after marrying Prince Consort Viliami Tungī Mailefihi (a Methodist follower), to unite Free Church of Tonga with the Methodist church. An emergency church conference that had been called by Queen Salote at the Royal chapels in the palace grounds in Nuku'alofa to join the two congregations together was unsuccessful, ending with a "walkout" by the then-president of the Free Church of Tonga. This left all the properties and assets to the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga (as it was later named), as the new "state church".

Nuku'alofa in 2019

The national government is based in Nuku'alofa. The parliament of Tonga meets there, and the Royal Palace is located near the city.

Nuku'alofa is the economic hub of the country.
Peau Vava'u, an airline, had its head office in the Pacific Royale Hotel in Nuku'alofa. The former Royal Tongan Airlines had its head office in the Royco Building in Nuku'alofa.

The city has markets and a central business district. Much of the central business district was destroyed in the riot on November 16 2006, but it has been rebuilt.

The city has a number of tourist hotels.

Nuku'alofa is also the central hub for transport in Tonga.

Buses arrive and depart from the central bus station along Vuna Road close to the centre of town. Bus services are privately operated, and their drivers are free to set their own schedules. Fares are fixed by the government, with reduced rates for school children. The buses are usually filled to capacity. In addition, some schools and large hotels provide their own buses.

There are numerous taxis, also privately owned. Many people who own a car earn extra money by providing taxi services in their spare time. Taxi fares are also set by the government. Most families have their own car; few residents ride bicycles. There are no operational railways or trams in Tonga, although there was once a narrow-gauge railway from the lagoon to the wharf, which gave its name to Railway Road.

Nuku'alofa harbour is the only deep-water harbour of the island, which determined its selection as the site for the capital. For many years Vuna Wharf was the international harbour until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1977. A new, much larger wharf was built towards Ma'ufanga, named after Queen Sālote. Between these two wharves is the wharf numbered '42', used by fishermen and inter-island ferries. It is the central hub for boats to the outer islands. There are usually two boats to 'Eua each day and two to Ha'apai and Vava'u each week. In addition to these regular services by shipping companies, private boat owners provide less regular services to smaller islands such as Nomuka and 'Eueiki.

Air transport is provided by Fua'amotu International Airport on the south side of Tongatapu, 35 kilometres from Nuku'alofa. Although named after the nearby village of Fua'amotu, which is on Tungī's (the king's) estate, in reality the airfield is located on the Tu'i Pelehake's estate, closer to the village of Pelehake (which did not yet exist as a village during the early aviation days).

The air field was constructed by Seabees of the 1st Construction Battalion with assistance and labor of the U. S. Army 147th Infantry Regiment. It was intended as a World War II heavy bomber field, and had three coral-surfaced runways. In the late 1970s, it was expanded to permit jet aircraft to use the runways. Fua'amotu is now suitable for up to Boeing 767 size aircraft, but remains closed to larger jets (e.g., 747s).

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** End of Report