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Tongatapu, the main island of the Kingdom of Tonga, showing the capital Nuku’alofa. Photo: Edvard Hviding


almost 2 years ago
Written by Edvard Hviding, Institutt for sosialantropologi, UiB
Ports > Tonga


almost 2 years agoPorts
Written by Edvard Hviding, Institutt for sosialantropologi, UiB
Tongatapu, the main island of the Kingdom of Tonga, showing the capital Nuku’alofa. Photo: Edvard Hviding

Statsraad Lehmkuhl visits Tonga July 13-15 2022.

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On July 13 we got the following message from Statsraad Lehmkuhl:

- It has long been uncertain whether Statsraad Lehmkuhl would be the first commercial ship to call at Tonga, after the great challenges the island state has had to deal with over a long period of time, with both covid and a very demanding situation in the wake of the dramatic tsunami, which hit the country January 15. A fantastic effort has been made by all the people involved to obtain the necessary permits, including solid efforts from our embassy in Canberra. Unfortunately, we lack the latest approval from the authorities in Tonga and can't wait any longer at sea if we are to return to Suva (Fiji) on time. We have thus made a U-turn and are now heading for Suva, where important events are planned on board. We really hope to return to Tonga sometime in the future and also take this opportunity to congratulate the King of Tonga on his birthday today.


Tonga is a constitutional kingdom in the tropical South Pacific, with a population of slightly more than 100,000. It is known as the only Pacific Islands country never to have been colonised, although it was a British protectorate until 1970 under a contested “Treaty of Friendship” with the United Kingdom.

There has been an unbroken hereditary succession of
Tongan monarchs for six generations, with the present king Tupou VI being the seventh in line.

Tonga consists of more than 150 islands of which 36 are inhabited – they spread out in three main groups (Tongatapu, Ha’apai and Vava’u) across an 800km line from south to north. It is noteworthy that Tonga has a total land area of 747km 2 but an Exclusive Economic (200-mile) Zone of 660,000km 2.

Tonga is truly a “big ocean state” with 96% of its territory being sea. The largest island is Tongatapu to the south, a flat, raised coral island with more
than 70% of the country’s population, the capital Nuku’alofa, and the international airport.

Tonga is known as an active volcanic area, and in January 2022 experienced a massive eruption of the undersea Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano 65kms north of the capital. Much of the archipelago including Tongatapu was hit by an eruption-driven tsunami and blanketed in volcanic ash, and this disaster added to the already strained economy under pandemic lockdown.

Kings, nobles, and commoners

Tonga’s history of human settlement is on record from about 3,000 years ago, when seafaring peoples arrived from the north and west and with similar settlements in Fiji and Samoa built a regional culture that formed the foundations for what later became the vast region of Polynesia.

From about 1100, Tongan kings were leading a military and political expansion
with huge ocean-going double hull sailing canoes across large parts of the southwestern Pacific, an era often referred to as one of the “Tongan maritime empire”. At home, a Tongan society developed that is notable in the Pacific region for its social hierarchy, in which kings, nobles, and commoners have their hereditary places in society.

All land in Tonga is vested in the King, and nobles have a prescribed proportion of the seats in Parliament (while the rest are allocated to commoners through election). Commoners – who constitute a large majority o the population – are allocated long-term land leases by the nobles. Cross-cutting these hierarchies is gender – in that senior women (sisters) of any kinship group, noble or commoner, hold particular positions of authority. For example, Queen Salote reigned over the kingdom from 1918 to her death in 1965 and left a strong national legacy of cultural heritage.

The 20th century saw mass migrations of Tongans to New Zealand and other Pacific Rim destinations.

The Royal Palace in Nuku’alofa. Photo: Edvard Hviding
The Royal Palace in Nuku’alofa. Photo: Edvard Hviding

Island economy, island life

The kingdom’s economy relies on agricultural crops, fisheries, and on money sent home as remittances from the large number of Tongans who live abroad, mainly in New Zealand, but also in the United States and Australia. Tourism has been on the rise but has experienced serious setbacks during the pandemic lockdown and the 2022 volcanic eruption.

Of particular interest to tourists has been the regular migrations of humpback whales from Antarctic waters into the northern parts of Tonga, where the whales have their breeding grounds in the clear tropical waters.

From the perspective of everyday life in Tonga, those who do not live on the densely settled Tongatapu make their homes in villages elsewhere in the kingdom’s islands, leading lives that are dominated by subsistence fishing and agriculture.

Story-telling and dance continue to play major roles in Tongan life, and are also taught and practiced in the schools and among students. In the 21 st century the kingdom of Tonga and its people are balancing between the ancient ways of the anga fakatonga (the traditional Tongan way) and anga fakapalagi (the Western way), and between Tongans residing in Tonga and a large Tongan diaspora.

A tau’olunga dance performance by students at St. Andrews High School, Nuku’alofa, Tonga. Photo: Edvard Hviding
A tau’olunga dance performance by students at St. Andrews High School, Nuku’alofa, Tonga. Photo: Edvard Hviding

Normal maximum temperature in July: 25 ℃
Normal precipitation in July: 100 mm

Next port: Palau
Previous port: Fiji

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The One Ocean Expedition is a circumnavigation by the Norwegian tall ship Statsraad Lehmkuhl. We aim to to share knowledge about the crucial role of the ocean for a sustainable development in a global perspective.

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