The first Europeans to land in Tonga
were the Dutch in 1616, then the Dutch again arrived
in 1643 when Abel Tasman arrived. Despite these early arrivals, they made no effort
to settle the islands or colonize them. It wasn't until the 1770s when James
Cook of the United Kingdom arrived that the culture
and people truly began to change.
These stops by James Cook led to a vast influx of Christian missionaries and by
the mid-1800s almost all of the people had converted to some form of Christianity.
These missionaries gave the people new reason to live as their morals and priorities
changed with the new religions. It also forced the people to abandon their past
religion as their culture and lifestyle began to change dramatically.
In the political realm from the 1770s to the mid-1800s, the internal conflicts had
continued as they had prior to European arrival. Since no
true foreign government had taken control of the islands during this time, and the
local people were divided, the only outside influence came from the missionaries
who were slowly, but successfully converting the people. The end of the warring
and the successful conversion of the people coincided as both essentially ended
in 1845 when the local chief Taufa'ahau was baptized and proclaimed King George
King George Tupou I made significant changes to the country and its people as he
shifted his government to reflect that of the United Kingdom,
while following Christian ideologies. He essentially mandated and legalized (or
illegalized) various aspects of the past that put the people's lifestyle and
their culture more in alignment with that of Christian beliefs. He also created
a constitutional monarchy modeled after the British government.
King George Tupou I's changes vastly altered the culture as they became more
and more Christian in name, in practice, and in belief. His rule also ended the
violence of civil war and established a fairly stable country allied with the United Kingdom. This was done in part through religion
as the people were unified under this new religion as opposed to remaining divided
based upon political or economic issues.
Despite King George Tupou I's successes, this government didn't last long
and in 1900 the new king's power was in jeopardy, leading to a Treaty of Friendship
between Tonga and the United Kingdom.
This treaty essentially guaranteed the king's power in exchange for a loss of
political and economic power to the United Kingdom. This again stabilized the country
and the government, but kept power in the hands of the local kings and chiefs as
the British slowly gained more influence from these chiefs or via these chiefs as
they became allies.
Due to stability and, perhaps more importantly, the relationship Tonga
held with the United Kingdom from the mid-1800s,
the culture became fairly westernized. However, the economy has never been extraordinarily
strong so purchasing power has remained weak. Despite this, the access to new technologies,
advanced communication, and transportation have made Tonga, in many ways, a reflection
of the west. Traditional housing and food still exists, but this time period truly
westernized the country.
After years of stability, British rule ended in 1970
as Tonga became an independent country. Little changed with
this political transition as the British had allowed the Tongan kings to rule the
islands for years. In fact, the British never directly controlled Tonga and today
this long-term voluntary relationship between the two countries continues.
Despite the smooth transition and stability over the years, Tonga
has recently faced economic hardships. Depending on current farming and trade, the
country's economy is heavily susceptible to changes in demand as well as the
local weather. This inconsistency has led to a slight alteration in the power structure
of Tonga. In 2008 the king, King George Tupou V, called for a more democratic process
and handed many parts of the government, in particular the day to day details, to
the elected government. This move has stabilized the government, although the economy
is still inconsistent.