Cultural Protocol in Tonga
A new country means new customs. This is especially true for Tonga, which has a rich Polynesian culture with religious customs. You will want to get it right. We go over the cultural protocols and local customs to be aware of in this easy-to-digest list of the dos and don’ts of Tonga!
1. Do Dress Respectfully in Public
While it’s acceptable to wear just about whatever you want in tourist accommodation, be mindful of how you dress in public. Respectful dress is important to Tongans, so try to avoid wearing revealing clothing, especially in villages. On a similar note, wearing all black means that you are mourning in the Tongan culture, so try to avoid wearing all black if this is not the case for you. For clothing to pack for Tonga, see What Clothes to Pack to Travel Tonga.
2. Do Wear Your Sunday Best to Church
Sunday is a sacred day in this highly religious country where going to a church service is an interesting insight into the local way of life. When going to a church service, both men and women must cover their knees and shoulders. It’s also respectful to wear more formal clothing, such as a shirt for men or a dress for women.
3. Don’t Wear a Hat to Church
On a similar note, don’t wear a hat to church, as only women who have been admitted to the congregation are allowed to wear hats.
4. Don’t Exercise on a Sunday
In relation to the Sunday day of rest, Tongans spend Sundays with family, feasting and resting. Tongan law reflects this where it is prohibited to conduct business on a Sunday, as well as to exercise or do sports on a Sunday. There is an exception to the rule in resorts, where you are allowed to use their watersports equipment and swim, for example. Otherwise, if you’re outside of a resort, do not go swimming, kayaking, running or do any other form of exercise or sports.
5. Don’t Do Chores on a Sunday
It is also prohibited to do any chores on a Sunday. While most travellers will be trying to avoid chores at all cost (who wants to do chores on a holiday?!), this means that you shouldn’t do your laundry, for example, on a Sunday if you are staying outside of a resort. For things you can do on a Sunday, see 5 Things to Do in Tonga on a Sunday.
6. Don’t Go Topless in Public
It is illegal to be topless in public in Tonga, no matter whether you are male or female. Males can be topless in resorts, but it is not customary for females to go topless even in a resort.
7. Do Engage with Locals Politely
Being polite and “keeping face” is very important in the Tongan culture, so it’s best to engage locals politely. Displaying anger or frustration is bad practice.
8. Do Tip to Show Gratuity but Don’t Feel Like You Have to
In tradition, tipping has always been a no-no in Polynesian cultures, which has been against the rules of hospitality. However, tipping is becoming more common with the growth of tourism. While tipping is not mandatory or expected in Tonga, it is very much appreciated to show gratuity. Gifts from your home country is also a good way to say thanks.
9. Do Have Patience
As with many island nations around the world, Tonga runs on island time, or what we like to call “Tonga Time”. For instance, there are no schedules for public buses and ferry schedules are rarely stuck to. Be prepared for things to slow down.
10. Don’t Haggle
While the markets are an integral part of the Tongan culture, it is not customary to haggle or barter for a lower price. Learn more about shopping in Tonga here.