A Quick Guide to the Tonga 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 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 “fakatonga”. Learn more about the language of Tonga here.
The Population of Tonga
As of 2019, the population of Tonga is 103,197. The ethnic makeup of Tonga, according to the 2016 Census, is made up of the following ethnic groups:
- Tongan – 98%
- Part-Tongan – 1.5%
- Other – 0.5%.
Tonga used to have a more significant population of Chinese, approximately 3,000 to 4,000 people. However, many Chinese businesses fell victim to the 2006 riots in Nuku’alofa, resulting in a mass emigration of Chinese leaving around 300 remaining.
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 Chinese, European, American and Indian, reside on the islands mainly due to immigration.
Who are the Tongans?
Tongans are of Polynesian ancestry, closely related to Samoans and sharing 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.
Where Does the Tongan Population Live?
Tonga consists of around 170 islands, 36 to 45 of which are inhabited. Around 70% of the population live on what is considered the main island of Tonga, Tongatapu.
While the population of Tonga’s urban centres is steadily growing, around 25,500 people live in Nuku’alofa, most of the population live in villages across the Kingdom.
Many Tongans migrate overseas, particularly to New Zealand, Australia and the US. With that, there are many second and third-generation Tongans living overseas.
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 Tonga 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.
Learn more about the culture of Tonga in The Guide to the Tongan Culture for Travellers.