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Snapshot of Tonga – Tongan and English are the two official languages of the Kingdom of Tonga. Most of Tonga’s inhabitants live on the island Tongatapu. About 98% of Tonga’s population is Christian, with the largest denominations being the Free Wesleyans, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Roman Catholic church, and the Free Church of Tonga. Much of modern Tongan culture is influenced by both Christianity and Polynesian traditions. Businesses and entertainment venues are closed on Sundays by law. Though Western-style jobs have grown more common, some people still make their livelihood from fishing and farming. Women hold a higher social status than men in traditional culture. Rank and status also play a large role in Tongan culture—people are born into their rank, and Tongan culture has a social hierarchy involving chiefs and commoners. The king and high chiefs (or nobles) have the highest rank and status.Traditional crafts include mat-weaving, including the ta’ovala, a traditional mat worn around the waist at formal occasions by both men and women. Tupenu, a skirt cloth, is worn in regular daily life. Wood carving and canoe building are also traditional crafts. Concerts called koniseti are sometimes performed in villages as fundraisers for local sports teams or church congregations. Rugby is the most popular sport in Tonga. Eating is a popular part of Tongan culture, and large bodies are traditionally revered. Meat dishes, such as corned beef, lamb, and chicken are quite popular. Pigs are traditionally cooked for special social occasions. Western influences have made food items such as bread and soda popular. Another Tongan dish is topai, a type of dough ball topped with a syrup made from coconut milk and sugar. Several tropical fruits are commonly eaten or used in other ways, such as to make the drink ‘otai, which is made using watermelons and coconut milk.
There are 60,680 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Tonga in 166 congregations—with one temple!
(The above statistics are found at mormonnewsroom.org)
Liahona High School in Tongatapu: In 1926, the Makeke school was established to help educate the people of Tonga. It later expanded into the Liahona High School. It has not only helped build the Church, but also it has helped in the progress of the nation as a whole.
Tropical fruits (mango, passion fruit, bananas)
Sea food (fish, octopus, mussels)
Meat (pigs, chicken, and lamb)
The most common crime in Tonga is petty theft, so be aware at all times of valuables you are carrying with you.
Use common sense and be aware of odd behavior in another individual.
Avoid untreated tap water and ice.
Thoroughly wash vegetables.
Drink at least 3 liters of water per day to avoid heat exhaustion.
*For more information, visit: lonelyplanet.com
Women in Tonga have a higher social status than men.
Family members will greet one another with a “sniff-kiss.” This is when a person puts their nose next to someone’s face and breathes in deeply.
In Tongan culture, to be large is beautiful.
A child’s first birthday is an important milestone. The family celebrates by throwing a huge feast and exchanging koloa (textiles).
Women make a type of cloth called tapa, or ngatu, out of mulberry tree bark. They pound the bark together, and then paint traditional geometric designs.
Mālō e lelei – Hello
‘Alu a – Goodbye
Fēfē hake? – How are you?
Sai pē – I’m fine
Mālō – Thank you
Ko e hā ‘a e le‘a faka-Tonga ki he ____? – How do you say ______ in Tongan?
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Here’s what some returned missionaries had to say about their experience in Tonga:
“My personal favorite food was lu sipi, which is lamb and coconut milk cooked in taro leaves eaten with a side of manoke.”
“You will eat pretty much everything that is on the island: roots, taro, tapioka, green bananas, Lu (taro leaf), canned corned beef, noodles, but mostly seafood and everything from the sea. Pig, chicken, horse, dog, turtle. Pretty much anything that is on the island is eatable. It’s like the Wonka Factory—if you wanna eat it you can.”
*What’s something special about the Tonga Nuku’alofa mission?
“You live with families and you fall in love with the families, everyone knows God, and everyone of any religious background will respect you for serving. They may not like you, but they will respect you.”
*What advice would you give to a missionary headed to Tonga?
“The biggest advice I could give to someone who just received their mission call to Tonga would be to love the people and know when to roll with it, meaning taking Proverbs 3: 5-6 and trusting in the Lord.”
*What are some of the local customs you observed?
“No privacy. Everything is everyone’s; your stuff will get ‘borrowed’, but you learn to get over it. Every material possession is replaceable. You will never be alone and you will always have kids running in on you whilst using the rest rooms.”
“The food is particularly important for missionaries to know about because Tongans love to feed the missionaries. I personally gained 40 lbs at my peak weight, but have since lost it all being home.”
“There are three F’s that the Tongan society revolves around: first, family. Family is the bedrock of Tongan society, it is the most important thing in the Tongans lives. This is just one of the reasons why the LDS church has had great success in Tonga, because of the emphasis on the family in the doctrine of the church. Nearly everyone in Tonga is family with each other, or at least it feels like that to us palangis. And they are close to their families, usually under one roof you find 2 or 3 or more families living together. The second F is Faith. Tonga is the most faithful country on earth. It is the only country in the world that legally keeps the Sabbath day holy, which is written in the constitution as law. The people are full of faith and know where all their blessings flow from. The very first king of Tonga gave the most famous speech in their history called “Tuku Fonua” in which he gave Tonga to God. The final F is Food. Tongans love their food.”
*What did you do on P-day?
“Internet and volleyball… all day!”
What was the main mode of transportation?
“Walking, busing (has loud reggae music) or riding on the back of pick-up trucks.”
*What do you wish you had known before serving?
“I wished to have known that companions are not always going to choose the right. They will not always love you and want to work with you but they will teach you lessons on how to turn your own weaknesses into strengths and turn your strengths stronger.”
*What was surprising about the culture?
“How fast you will fall in love with the people and how fast they will love you in return.”
“You will meet some of the most inspirational people while serving. Mine was an 11-year-old girl called Betty who has taught me that although she came from broken home and was only a child, with fasting and faith ANY question can be answered, ANY family can brought together, and ANY person ANYWHERE is known by God.”
“Tonga is different than any of the other Polynesian islands. It doesn’t have the beaches of Tahiti, the mountains of Samoa, or the resorts of Fiji, but none of those places has the people of Tonga. They are nicknamed the friendly islands for a reason because the people are so full of love and charity.”