|General background: The archipelago of "The
Friendly Islands" was united into a Polynesian
kingdom in 1845. It became a constitutional monarchy
in 1875 and a British protectorate in 1900. Tonga acquired
its independence in 1970 and became a member of the
Commonwealth of Nations. It remains the only monarchy
in the Pacific.
Area comparative: Four
times the size of Washington, DC.
Tropical; modified by trade winds; warm season (December
to May), cool season (May to December)
Most islands have limestone base formed from uplifted
coral formation; others have limestone overlying volcanic
Population: 106,137 (July 2002 est.)
Ethnic groups: Polynesian, Europeans about
Language: Tongan, English
Government type: Hereditary constitutional
Legal system: Based on English law.
Economic overview: Tonga has a small, open
economy with a narrow export base in agricultural
goods. 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.
Tourism is the second largest source of hard currency
earnings following remittances. The country remains
dependent on external aid and remittances from Tongan
communities overseas to offset its trade deficit.
The government is emphasizing the development of the
private sector, especially the encouragement of investment,
and is committing increased funds for health and education.
Tonga has a reasonable basic infrastructure and well-developed
Communication/Telephone system: Not available.
Places of interest: Bordered by unbelievable
beaches, surrounded by coral reefs, basking under
a tropical sun. That's hard to beat. But there's a
more active side to island life, with possibilities
for hiking through Pacific rainforest to crater lakes
and to the lips of active volcanoes, diving to shipwrecks
and underwater canyons, abseiling down seaside cliffs
or watching the local rugby team go through its paces.