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Culture and Customs in the Kingdom of Tonga

When you move to Tonga you will enter a completely new world and it will make your life a lot easier if you know a little bit about the culture and customs of Tonga. Life in Tonga is pretty much the same as it has been for hundreds of years, even though now you will find cars, flushing toilets and the internet on the main islands, but people still as you will see coming to the Kingdom is like stepping back in time especially in the outer islands like ‘Eua island or Ha’apai.


The Archipelago of Tonga has been inhabited for about 3000 years and during that time the inhabitants have had contact with people of different continents like European explorers in the late 1600s and early 1700s or western traders and missionaries in the 1800s. Nowadays many Tongans live and work overseas and adapted to Western lifestyles, but once back in Tonga they just as easily switch back to their own cultural believes and customs.


Rank is very important in Tonga, Members of the royalty are the highest ranked, nobles are the next highest and the commoners are the lowest ranked of the three tiered class system. Men are ranked higher than woman, but within the family the sisters are ranked higher than the brothers. And the older you are the higher you are ranked.

In Tongan culture land is owned only by the king who then may grant one or more estates to nobles and titular chiefs to become their hereditary estate.. Tongans who live on land owned by the King or the nobility pay no tax for the land but will give goods to the land owner in times on funerals, weddings, birthdays and such. The ownership of the said estate is passed only to the male members of the family or clan. Every male over 16 years old is entitled to 8.25 acres of agricultural land and a small allotment to build his house. Foreigners may lease land for up to 99 years, subject to the approval of the Cabinet. Estate holders are allowed to lease only five percent of the total area of their estate. It is not permitted to sell any land.


Possessions in the Tongan culture are shared, the thought of this is mine and that is yours is non existent in the minds of a Tongan. For example you my walk up to a Tongan and say quite innocently, I like the hat you are wearing today and nine times out of ten the Tongan will just insist that you have it.


Tonga has it’s own approach to time. Today may mean tomorrow and half an hour maybe more like two hours or in some cases two days or even a week. So if you are living in Tonga just do as the locals do and try to relax and take your time. A party will certainly not start at 7:00 pm as announced, if you arrive at 8:30 you still will be one of the first ones to arrive.


Sunday law in Tonga is a result of Christianity and has it’s own twist. It is against the law to play, work, swim, garden and do your washing on a Sunday unless you are a tourist or in a tourist establishment.

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