Most of Tonga’s people are Polynesians; only 2 percent consists of members of other ethnic groups. English and Tongan are the official languages. Tongan is preferred for everyday communication. English, which is taught as a second language in schools, is used mainly for business.
Tonga’s population has been almost entirely Christian for more than 100 years. The vast majority are Protestants, belonging to one of four branches of Methodism. The Free Wesleyan Church, the largest, is headed by Tonga’s monarch. Mormonism, Catholicism, and other Christian denominations are minority religions.
Education is free and compulsory for children from the ages of 6 to 14. Most primary schools are operated by the government, while most secondary schools are sponsored by churches. At 99.6 percent, Tonga’s literacy rate is among the highest in the Pacific. The University of the South Pacific Extension Center and ‘Atenisi Institute (1971), a private Tongan institution that offers several degree programs, are located in Nuku’Alofa.
Tonga has retained much of its Polynesian culture. There is respect for traditional authority and customs, and the lifestyle is conservative. Christianity has been thoroughly integrated into Tongan society. All commerce and recreation are prohibited on Sundays, the Christian day of rest, and much of Tongan social life is structured around the church. Western-style houses, usually constructed from wood and topped with corrugated tin roofs, are common in urban areas. Housing in rural areas is a combination of Western-style dwellings and fales, traditional Tongan homes constructed of woven coconut leaves. Western-style clothing is common for everyday use. Women typically wear dresses and men are required by law to wear shirts in public places. Urban Tongans rely on imported foods. People in rural areas are largely self-sufficient, relying on foods from their gardens and fish caught from the ocean. Everyone is expected to contribute to the well-being of the extended family, which typically includes parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Men head the extended family, while women typically play supportive roles.
Competitive sports such as soccer and rugby are popular. The Tongan National Center, located in Nuku’Alofa, displays and promotes Tongan culture and art, including tapa, a decorative bark cloth made by Tongan women. Tongan artisans also create weavings and wood carvings.
Sundays are marvelous. By a tradition introduced long ago by missionaries, everything in Tonga slows down (or shuts down altogether). Acapella singing resonates out of several churches and fills the morning air. Tourists are welcome at any and all worship services and the singing is so beautiful you forget there's even a language barrier.
A finely woven leaf mat worn over a dress with a wraparound skirt for women, and a skirt or kilt called a " tupenu " for men. Wearing the Ta’ovala is a sign of respect, and the most appropriate way to dress for formal occassions. The most prized " ta’ovala " are the old family heirlooms handed down from generation to generation. Legends has it that the custom of wearing Ta’ovala originated from Polynesian sailors returning from long voyages who cut their mat sails off their canoes and used them to cover themselves as a sign of respect before seeing the King.
Feasts are native tradition that goes back to antiquity. You'll be treated to native food (barbequed pig and fish), song, and often Kava-Kava. Kava is a native brew made from a root that has produces a slight high. It's an integral part of native ceremonies and if you're invited to partake, it's all part of the experience. Your hotel or charter company can help you arrange to attend a feast.