About The Kingdom
tonga’s rich cultural background
Despite embracing many elements of the contemporary world, Tongans still proudly retain their authentic culture and traditions. Couple this with a Polynesian monarchy that dates back many centuries, and you have a country that remains as close to the ‘true’ Polynesia as you’re likely to find.
Many Tongans still live in village communities following traditional customs, especially on the outer islands. The distinctive traditional dress ‘ta’ovala’ – woven waist mats – are commonly worn. Meat and vegetables are still cooked in an underground oven called the ‘Umu’. The ceremonial tradition of kava drinking, the traditional Polynesian drink, is very much a part of the Tongan lifestyle.
Tonga has remained true to its ancestral roots, partly because it is the only Pacific Island nation never colonised by a foreign power, and uniquely because it has also never lost its indigenous governance. After 1000 years of rule, Today’s monarchy and its structure still remain the most powerful and influential entity in Tonga. Tongatapu’s stone trillithon, gateway Ha’amoga ‘A Maui, dating back many centuries, stands as a powerful reminder of the legacy of this ancient and proud royal culture.
In more recent times, Tonga has also been strongly influenced by Christianity and now probably boasts more churches per head of population than anywhere else on earth. The islands resonate with hymns and harmonies every Sunday, a day of rest by law on the islands, and visitors are welcome to attend the services. Many do and leave with special memories of the experience.
Tongan arts and handicrafts, including bone carving, wood carving, basket making and fine weaving are made using techniques passed down through generations of Tongan craftspeople, are displayed everywhere too. Readily available at stalls and markets all over the islands, they make beautiful keepsakes to remind travellers of time spent here. One of the most famous local craft is the making of Tapa, a decorative bark cloth painted with traditional symbols and designs. Tapa is usually offered as a gift of respect at weddings, births and funerals.
Another vibrant and colourful experience for many visitors to Tonga is the graceful and dignified dancing of the Kingdom. Dancers step their feet and move their arms gracefully (women) and vigorously (men), complemented by traditional wear, beautiful bracelets, neck garlands and the tekiteki (a feather headpiece), creating another memorable expression of local culture and tradition.