Culture and identity
Tonga has a complex social structure broken into three tiers: the king, the nobles, and the commoners. Each group has obligations and responsibilities to the other groups. Status and rank play a powerful role in personal and political relationships, even within families.
The extended family is the basic social unit on Tonga, and wealth, food and goods are shared among all members. The traditional economy was based on subsistence farming and many Tongans retain some aspects of the traditional lifestyle.
Dance in Tonga has traditionally been an important art form. This visual form reflects oral histories and folk tales honouring gods, chiefs, places and people. Handcrafts include beautiful baskets and mats woven from pandanus leaves.
Tonga has one of the highest living standards in the Pacific region. Life expectancy is 76 years (74 for males and 77 for females). There is good access to healthcare with either a hospital or a health centre on each of the main islands. Control of communicable diseases has improved and the immunisation program is reducing vaccine preventable diseases. However, non-communicable diseases have increased and are now a major health challenge for Tonga, putting significant strain on the health system.
Religion and beliefs
Christian missionaries arrived in the mid-1800s and the faith quickly spread. The constitution declares Sunday to be sacred forever and this is strictly observed. There are no shops open, no flights in or out of the country, and no dockings of large vessels or sport on Sundays.
Food and shelter
Tongan food consists mostly of coconut products, fresh fruit, pork, chicken, corned beef, fish, shellfish and root vegetables such as tapioca, taro and sweet potato. The traditional Tongan feast is cooked in an umu, an underground oven that is common throughout Polynesia. Kava, a mild intoxicant made from the roots of a plant in the pepper family, is widely used in ceremonial and social situations.
Homes in Tonga vary from the traditional coconut-leaf and timber ones in the villages, to the frame or cement-block ones in towns. Many modern homes are built to be cyclone-resistant.