Who are the People of Tonga?(c) Tonga Ministry of Tourism
Who are the People of Tonga?

Who are the People of Tonga? Ethnicity, Population & More

(c) Tonga Ministry of Tourism

A Quick Guide to Tonga’s People

In the Pacific’s only kingdom, Tonga and its people proudly showcase a sense of the “true South Pacific”. Almost the entire population of the 170-island nation is Tongan, a group of people of Polynesian ancestry. Learn more about the people of Tonga in this guide.

Before we begin this guide to the people of Tonga, be sure to also bookmark The Guide to the Tongan Culture for Travellers for a deep-dive into the traditions and customs.

What Do You Call People From Tonga?

Quite simply, a person from Tonga and/or a citizen of Tonga is called a “Tongan”. The language of Tonga is of the same name, but is also locally known as “Lea Faka-Tonga”. Learn more about the language of Tonga in our guide, What is the Tonga Language?

Who are the People of Tonga?(c) Tonga Ministry of Tourism

The Population of Tonga

As of 2021, the population of Tonga is 100,179. The ethnic makeup of Tonga, according to the 2021 Census, is made up of the following ethnic groups:

  • Tongan – 98%
  • European – >1%
  • Fijian – >1%
  • Samoan – >1%
  • Indian – >1%
  • Chinese – >1%
  • Other Pacific Islander – >1%
  • Other – >1%.

See the “Where Do Tongans Live?” section below to see how the population is dispersed across the country.

Who are the People of Tonga?(c) Tonga Ministry of Tourism

Tonga’s Main Ethnic Groups

Tonga’s population is made up of one main ethnic group, Tongans. The small minority of other ethnic groups in Tonga, such as European, Other Pacific Islander, Indian and Chinese, reside on the islands mainly due to immigration.

What Ethnicity is Tongan?

Tongans are of Polynesian ancestry, closely related to Samoans and share a small portion of Melanesian influence from neighbours Fiji. Their settlement in Tonga dates back to the Lapita time, some 3,000 years ago.

Learn more about the history of Tonga and the shaping of the culture we see today in A Brief History of Tonga.

Who are the People of Tonga?(c) Tonga Ministry of Tourism

Where Do Tongans Live?

Tonga consists of around 170 islands, 36 to 45 of which are inhabited. Tongans live across Tonga, as well as overseas, particularly in New Zealand and Australia where Tonga has close ties, and the United States.

Tonga’s Population Per Island Group

Tonga consists of five island groups. Around 74% of the population lives on what is considered the main island of Tonga, Tongatapu, where the nation’s capital is located. The rest who reside in Tonga are scattered across the other islands, including Tongatapu, and in order of population:

Tonga’s Town Populations

Most people in Tonga live in the nation’s capital, Nuku’alofa, with a population of around 34,140; approximately one-fifth of the population. After that, Tonga’s population is scattered across the country’s many villages, in the order of Lapaha (4,230), Neiafu (3,900), Vaini (3,320), Nukunuku (2,100), etc. Learn more about the most populated in The 5 Biggest Towns & Villages in Tonga.

Tongans Overseas

A significant number of Tongans live outside of Tonga, particularly in New Zealand with the New Zealand 2018 census stating 82,389 identifying as being Tongan. There are also around 33,000 Tongans living in Australia, while ethnic Tongans also reside in the United States (27,713).

For more interesting facts about the people of Tonga, check out the 20 Fun Facts About Tonga.

Who are the People of Tonga?(c) Tonga Ministry of Tourism

The Tongan Lifestyle

To oversimplify, the Tongan lifestyle is orientated around family and church. Around 99% of the population are Christians. Sunday is a day for church and rest, which Tongan laws reflect, as no business or sport can be conducted on a Sunday. Learn more about the religion and the different Christian denominations worshipped in The Guide to the Religions in Tonga.

Tongans have a distinct culture surrounding family, where family units include immediate family, such as parents and children, as well as extras like cousins, adopted children, grandparents, etc. Families share things communally and each member plays a role with elders commanding respect. Traditionally, if a Tongan family has too many sons, one would be brought up as a female to help with women’s work. This is known as “fakaleiti” (faka – in the manner of, and leiti – lady), which today is also a lifestyle choice.

Of course, there’s a lot more to the Tongan lifestyle and psyche, so take a look a The Guide to the Tongan Culture for Travellers to learn more.

Who are the People of Tonga? Ethnicity, Population & More© Tonga Tourism Authority

Frequently Asked Questions About the People of Tonga

What are the questions most people have about the people of Tonga? See if your own question is answered here!

Where are the Tonga People Originally From?

Tongans are thought to have originated from early Melanesians, known as the Lapita, who came from the Malay Peninsula and the East Indies. The Polynesian ethnicity which Tongans identify with today is thought to have developed from the early Lapita settlers, which is why Tonga is known as the “Cradle of Polynesia”.

Who are the Indigenous People of Tonga?

The indigenous people of Tonga are Tongans, an ethnicity of Polynesian descent.

What are the Demographics of Tonga?

The main demographic of Tonga is Tongan, an ethnicity of Polynesian descent.

Who are the Native People of Tonga?

The native people of Tonga are Tongans, an ethnicity of Polynesian descent thought to have first settled in the islands around 888 BC.

Are Tongans and Maori Similar?

Tongans and Maori are similar in that both cultures are of Polynesian descent.

Who Came First Tonga or Samoa?

It is believed that Tonga was settled before Samoa due to archaeological evidence on the island of Tongatapu dating back to 888 BC, while Samoa’s early settlers are believed to have arrived around 1,000 BC. Therefore, in terms of human settlement, Tonga came first before Samoa.

More About the People of Tonga

That’s it for our guide to the people of Tonga, including the ethnicity and population. For more about the Tongan people, check out more of our insightful articles:

Finally, if there’s anything we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in The Guide to the Tongan Culture for Travellers.


Robin (Lopini) C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of Tonga Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before settling in the South Pacific, so he knows a thing or two about planning the perfect trip in this corner of the world. Robin works and consults regularly with the Ministry of Tourism of Tonga. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides and is a regular host of webinars with the South Pacific Tourism Organisation.

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