Tonga’s 400th Anniversary of European Contact

Radio New Zealand recently posted an interview with Dr. Malakai Koloamatangi, an academic from New Zealand’s Massey University, about Tonga’s first encounter with Dutch explorers.  Koloamatangi says that the explorers only stayed for four days, in which time they managed to both trade and fight with the locals. Dr Koloamatangi, who was in Tonga to mark the event with the Dutch Ambassador to New Zealand Rob Zaagman, told Jamie Tahana that despite the brief visit, they left a lasting legacy.

Click here to read the transcript and listen to the interview.

Tonga is situated east of the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific. It consists of about 150 islands, of which 36 are inhabited. Most of the islands contain active volcanic craters while others are coral atolls. Polynesians have lived on Tonga for at least 3,000 years. The Dutch were the first to explore the islands, landing on Tafahi in 1616. British explorer James Cook landed on islands in 1773 and 1777 and dubbed them the Friendly Islands.


Tonga is unique among the Pacific nations as it never completely lost its indigenous governance. The archipelagos of “The Friendly Islands” were united into a Polynesian kingdom in 1845. Tonga became a constitutional monarchy in 1875 and a British protectorate in 1900. It withdrew from the protectorate and joined the Commonwealth of Nations in 1970. Tonga remains the only monarchy in the Pacific.

The government is largely controlled by the king, his nominees, and a small group of hereditary nobles. In the 1990s a movement began aimed at curtailing the powers of the monarchy, and the Tongan Pro-Democracy Movement (TPDM) has continued to gain in popular support. In 1999, Tonga gained UN membership.

Today the Tongan culture is known for its friendly hospitality and its rich cultural inheritance showcased through Tongan dance, music, art and food passed down through many generations.


About islandculturearchivalsupport

Island Culture Archival Support (ICAS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of records pertaining to the cultural identity of island peoples in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia whose national and public archives, libraries, cultural centers, and business organizations are underprivileged, underfunded, and understaffed. The specific purpose for which this nonprofit corporation was formed is to support the needs of these South Pacific cultural heritage institutions by helping to preserve and make accessible records created for business, accountability or cultural purposes. The organization will endeavor to add value by providing resources or volunteers to advise, train, and work among island residents to support their efforts in building their future and preserving their collective memory through the use of modern archival techniques.
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