The flag of Tonga.
The red cross of the flag indicates Christianity, approximately 97 % of Tongans are Christian, the white is for purity and the red field is in memory of Christ’s blood shed at His crucifixion.
The Kingdom of Tonga consists of 176 islands and the largest is Tongatapu and the capital Nuk’alofa is located on this island.
It is 36 years since I last visited Tonga and how things have changed. When I visited, I had to fly to Fiji for a connection to Tonga.
I stayed at the International Dateline Hotel; from memory it was the only (international style) hotel in town. It was a grey concrete hotel with little to encourage anyone to visit. When I was there it had 24 rooms, but I believe they have since expanded the number of rooms. The swimming pool was always empty, and it was a depressing hotel.
At that time TV had not arrived in Tonga and satellite TV was in the future. Fortunately, I was seldom without a book.
The Dateline Hotel today – what a change!
I was met by our agent and the ride into town from the airport to the hotel took about 40 minutes. Our agent was the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand. They also handled for Air New Zealand, Pacific Forum Line (shipping company), tour buses & hotel bookings, for tourists. Our agent had three offices in the high street, all interconnected but each ‘selling’ a different product.
The main street, which is Taufa’ahau Road early 1980’s, had not changed much when I visited in 1986.
There was one main street (sealed road) leading to the harbour, the picture above was taken in 1980 and the scene was as I remembered in 1986.
Being the agent for Air New Zealand meant that Union Steam Ship had tarmac access, so we had the fastest clearance and delivery of any courier company. The agent had one delivery person because the customers who used our services took the package to the office, so that saved costs!
The sign over the shop on the left is the Air New Zealand logo.
At that time the Tongan economy was based on exporting bananas and other fruits to New Zealand. Tourism was growing and the revenue from tourism and remittances from Tongans working overseas produced more than twice the revenue of Tonga’s export earnings.
From a western aspect they were a poor country, but I never heard any complaints and everyone I met were optimistic and happy – Captain Cook was correct when he referred to Tonga as the Friendly Is.
Captain Cook visited Tonga three times between 1773 and 1777.
About 1827 the Wesleyan Methodists missionaries arrived and began converting the Tongans to Christianity.
In 1833 they converted the main chief of the islands Taufa’ahau Tupou, (this is his picture) who became King George Tupou 1st in 1845, and he reigned until his death in 1893, when he was 95 years old.
Shirley Waldemar Baker, 1836-1903
Shirley Waldemar Baker was an Englishman who was born in London in 1836. He stowed away on an Australia bound ship to get to Melbourne to take part in the gold rush.
After working in the goldfields, he became a teacher at a Wesleyan school, and later became ordained as a Wesleyan minister and was sent to Tonga as a missionary.
He became involved with the councils to King George Tupou, who later made Baker Prime Minister in 1880.
Under Baker’s influence Tonga became a constitutional monarchy in 1875 and remains so today.
When King George Tupou died the Tongan people had a problem because their King had outlived his children, so the crown passed to his great grandson.
The above is King George Tupou II, taken in 1895, he was the great grandson of George Tupou – he was 19 when he came to the throne in 1893.
In 1900 Tonga became a British protected State, which meant that Britain would protect Tonga, and block any interference by other powers, but Britain would not interfere with the domestic running of the country.
The Kingdom of Tong was never colonised, and this relationship between Britain and Tong lasted until 1970, when Tonga joined the Commonwealth.
George Tupou II died in 1918 and his daughter became Queen –
Queen Sālote (which mean Charlette in English) 1900-1965.
In September 1939 after the German invasion of Poland, Tonga was one of the first countries to declare war on Germany.
The people of Tonga funded two Spitfire aircraft for the RAF.
Queen Sālote inspecting some of her troops – you might think that her troops were small in height, but Queen Sālote was 6ft 3 inches (191 cm) tall which made many men look small.
A few days after the attack on Pearl Harbour, Tonga declared war on Japan.
Tongan troops took part in the Guadalcanal campaign as well as the Solomon Island campaign.
Queen Elizabeth’s coronation took place in 1953, and at that time I was nine and can remember the coronation and our house was full of neighbours who did not have a TV.
Dad had hired a TV so that we could watch the ‘show’ – the neighbours were extra.
Black and white only, and a single station, the BBC.
Those of us who viewed the Coronation will remember Queen Sālote of Tonga riding through London in an open topped carriage.
During the procession it began to rain and those in open carriages pulled awnings over to keep dry. Not Queen Sālote, she sat in her open carriage in the rain waving to the crowds. She was not going to hide from the people.
The roar of the crowd for her staying uncovered in the rain was only beaten by the cheers for the Queen and Churchill.
When Queen Sālote returned to Tonga, and she travelled through the streets of the capital the people were silent. Tongans considered it impolite to cheer and wave at dignitaries.
Queen Sālote had enjoyed the experience of the crowds in London and encouraged her people to do likewise.
In December of the Coronation year (1953) Queen Elizabeth visited Tonga as the guest of Queen Sālote and the photograph shows the Royal Tongan tortoise, Tu’i Malila being introduced to Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh.
It is said that the tortoise was a present from Captain Cook in 1777 (his last visit to Tonga) and the tortoise always lived in the palace.
The tortoise died in 1966 and I think it is preserved in the Tongan National Centre in Nuka’alofa.
Tongan Royal Palace.
In the evening of the 2nd of June (Coronation Day) I asked my dad where Tonga was – he dragged the atlas out and we studied it to see how far it was from England. I never dreamt that one day I would visit Tonga – the friendly islands.
I walked the short distance to the harbour and I can remember seeing small cargo ships anchored off shore, similar to these below waiting to be unloaded, or perhaps just waiting and waiting. . .perhaps for their end.
When I saw the ships the movie Lord Jim came to mind.
Last year I booked a cruise to visit Tonga and Samoa in early 2022 to show Maureen places of interest, but thanks to Covid the best laid plans . . . . I wonder if the old cargo ships are still waiting.