1902 Encyclopedia > Friendly Islands (Tonga)

Friendly Islands
(also known as: Tonga)




FRIENDLY ISLANDS. The group thus named by Captain Cook, and otherwise called after the name of its chief island Tonga, was discovered by Tasman in 1643. It lies in the South Pacific, on the S.W. limits of the area occupied by the Polynesian race, about 350 miles S.S.W. from Samoa, and 250 E.S.E. from Fiji. The long chain of islands, numbering about 150, though with a collective area hardly exceeding 400 square miles, extends from 18° 5' to 22° 29' S. lat., and 173° 52' to 176° 10' W. long., and is broken into three groups, viz., the Tonga to the S., Habai (which again is divided into three clusters) in the centre, and Haafulahao or Vavau, to the N. Along the W. side of the N. half of this chain is a line of volcanic action, where the islands (of which three are active volcanoes) are high and wooded, one peak rising over 5000 feet. But the great majority of the islands are level, averaging 40 feet high, with hills rising to 600 feet ; their sides are generally steep; they are formed of coral limestone, in some places a compact white rock, and in Vavau occasionally crystalline, and containing stalactitic caves of great beauty. The surface is covered, which is unusual in coral islands, with a deep rich mould, mixed towards the sea with sand, and having a substratum of red or blue clay. The soil is thus very productive, although water is scarce and bad. Run-ning streams are very rare, but streams and basins of clear water occur in the limestone rock below the surface.

Reefs.—Barrier reefs are rare ; fringing reefs are numer-ous, except on the E. side, which is nearly free, and there are many small isolated reefs and volcanic banks among the islands. If the reefs impede navigation they form some good harbours. The best is on the S.W. side of Vavau; another is on the N. of Tonga at Bangaimotu.

Islands.—The most considerable island is Tonga, or Tonga-tabu (the Sacred Tonga), in the S. group, about 21 by 12 miles, and 128 square miles in area, which contains the capital, Nukualofa. The vegetation is rich and beauti-ful, but the scenery tame, the land seldom rising above 60 feet. Eoa, 9 miles to the S.E. and nearly 12 by 5 miles, is 600 feet high, and much more picturesque, diversified by rocks and woods. Vavau, in the N. group, is next to Tonga in size, 42 miles in circumference and 300 feet high. Next to these come Nomuka and Lefuka in the Habai group, about 19 miles in circumference; Tofita, 2846 feet, Late, 1820 feet, and Kao, 5080 feet high, which are volcanic, and smaller. Vavau and the neighbouring islands are higher and more varied in contour than those to the S. The islands of the central group are numerous and very fertile. Earthquakes are frequent; from 1845 to 1857 volcanic eruptions were very violent, and islands once fertile were devastated and nearly destroyed. A new island rose from the sea, and was at once named "Wesley," but disappeared again.

Climate.—The climate is enervating; it is darnp, with heavy dews and frequent alternations of temperature, which averages 75°-77° F., though considerably higher in Vavau. Cool S.E. trade winds blow, sometimes with great violence, from April to December. During the rest of the year the winds blow from W.N.W. and N., with rain and occasional destructive hurricanes.

Flora.—The vegetation is similar to that of Fiji, but more definitely Indo-Malayan in character; it embraces all the plants of the groups to the E., with many that are absent there. Ferns abound, some of them peculiar, and tree ferns on the higher islands. There are 4 palms, among them the Kentia of Fiji. For the rest, Gramineae, Rubi-aceae, Ficoideae, Myrtaceae, Euphorbiae, Malvaceae, and Leguminosoae predominate. All the usual fruit trees and cultivated plants of the Pacific are found. The most valuable timber trees are the tamanu (Calophyllum Bur-manni), milo (Thespesia populnea), futu (Barringtonia speciosa), mohemohe, tavaki, and Casuarina or iron-wood.

Fauna.—The only indigenous land niammalia area small rat, and a few curious species of bats. The dog and the pig were no doubt introduced by man. Sheep and cattle imported of late years by Europeans do not multiply, owing to insufficient space and pasture. Of birds some 30 kinds are known, an owl being the only bird of prey; parrots, pigeons, kingfishers, honey-stickers, rails, ducks, and other water birds are numerous. There are snakes and small lizards, but no frogs or toads. Of insects there are rela-tively few kinds; but ants, beetles, and musquitoes abound. The fishes, of an Indo-Malay type, are varied and numerous. Turtle and sea-snakes abound, as do mollusea, of which a few are peculiar, and zoophytes.

People.—The inhabitants are, intellectually, perhaps the most advanced of the Polynesian race, and exercise an influence over distant neighbours, especially in Fiji, quite out of proportion to their numbers, which do not exceed 20,000 or 25,0010. Their conquests have extended as far as Niue, or Savage Island, 200 miles to the E., and to various other islands to the N. In Cook’s time Poulaho, the principal chief, considered Samoa to be within his dominions. This pre-eminence may perhaps be due to an early infusion of Fijian blood: Pritchard (Polynesian Reminiscences) observed such crosses to be always more vigorous than the pure races in these islands; and this influence seems also traceable in the Tongan dialect, and appears to have been partially transmitted thence to the Samoan. Various customs, traditions, and names of places point to a former relation with Fiji, but Fijian influence in Tonga is insignificant compared with that of Tonga in Fiji (see Fiji). Their prior conversion to Christianity gave the people material as well as moral advantages over their neighbours, and King George, a very remarkable man, and far in advance of his people, has, during a long reign, made the most of these.





Until recently there were, as in Japan, two sovereigns; the higher of these, called Tui Tonga (Chief of Tonga), was greatly reverenced, but for at least the last 200 years has enjoyed little power. The real ruler, and the chief officers of the state, were members of the Toubo family, from which also the wife of the Tui Tonga was always chosen, whose descendants through the female line had, under the title of "tamaba," special honours and privileges, recalling the "vasu" of Fiji.1 Below these came the Eiki or chiefs, and next to them the class called Matabulé. These were the hereditary counsellors and companions of the chiefs, and conveyed to the people the decisions formed at their assem-blies. They also directed the national ceremonies, and preserved the popular traditions. During the long civil wars in the early part of this century, the institution of Tui Tonga lapsed, and various chiefs became independent, but they were gradually subdued, and the whole group united by King George. He commuted for a money payment the service due from the common people to their chiefs, whom he assembles in a sort of parliament, having in 1862 esta-blisbed a "constitutional government." Taxation is heavy: a poll tax of 4 dollars is levied and strictly enforced.

The limited extent and resources of the islands tend to minimize foreign settlement and interference, bat missionary influence is, directly or indirectly, supreme. The régime is accordingly somewhat strained and severe, and restless spirits have to seek a vent for their energies in Fiji or elsewhere. Crime, however, is infrequent, and morality, always above the Polynesian average, is improving; nearly every one can read, and there is a general appearance of order and comfort. The people have strict notions of etiquette and gradations of rank ; their natural independence and self-esteem is perhaps fostered by their frequent employment as the teachers of others, for which, however, they show much aptitude; other. wise they are amiable and (especially in the upper ranks) courteous. They are arrogant, lively, inquisitive, and inclined to stea,—their attacks, in earlier days, on Europeans, when not caused by misunderstandings, being due probably to their desire to obtain property which to them was of immense value. They are brave and not devoid of energy, though the soft climate and the abundance of food are against sustained exertion or great industrial progress. They value children, and seldom practise infanticide, and cannibalism only in exceptional cases. Their women are kindly treated, and only do the lighter work. Agriculture, which is well understood, is the chief industry. They are bold and skilful sailors and fishermen ; other trades, as boat and house building, carving, cooking, net and mat making, are usually hereditary. Their houses are slightly built, but the surrounding ground and roads are laid out with great care and taste.

There are some ancient stone remains here, as in the Caroline Islands, burial places (feitoka) built with great blocks, and a remarkable monument consisting of two large blocks with a transverse one, containing a circular basin in the centre.

The principal diseases are leprosy and elepbantiasis, tona (the thoko of Fiji), influenza, ulcers, scrofula, consumption, and oplithalmia. Owing to the absence of swamps, fever of severe type is rare.

The chief articles of export are cocoa-nut oil and copra; little sugar, cotton, and coffee, the cultivation of which is encouraged by the king; and fresh provisions for ships, as yams, pigs, and poultry. The chief imports are cloth, cotton prints, hardware, mirrors, &c., but there are not on the increase. Whale fishing (once extensive) is still carried on among the islands by European and American vessels.

See Cook’s Voyages; Mariner’s Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands; Dumont d’Urville’s Voyage de l’"Astrolabe"; West’s Ten Years in South Central Polynesia; Brenchley’s Jottings during Cruise of H.M.S. "Curaçoa," 1865; Meinicke, Die Inseln des Stillen Oceans; WaIdegrave in R. G. S. Journal, 1850.


FOOTNOTE (page 779)

1 A similar institution ("tamasa") exists at Samoa.







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