The Tongan Islands

Doctrines The creation stories of Tonga tell of a class of sky gods called Tangaloa who, after viewing the boundless primal sea, created the first of the islands which then became the home of one of them. Tangaloa is now regarded as creator of the earth and patron of foreigners and carpenters. Another influential deity was Hikule'o, regarded as either male or female, who presided over the other-worldly region, Putolu, where the souls of chiefs went after death. These deities, and the spirits of natural elements and creatures, made their will known through temporary embodiment of priests or sometimes commonfolk, the deity inspiring the medium's speech to make statements or answer questions.

History Regarded as the cradle of Polynesia, ther present Kingdom of Tonga is made up of around 150 islands, of which about 40 are inhabited. Settlement occured around 1500 before the Common Era, and from Tonga and Samoa spread to the rest of Polynesia.
Despite the name "The Friendly Islands" which was given by the English explorer James Cook, the early Christian missions from the late 1700s had a difficult time becoming established. However, following failed attempts, the murder of some of their number, and even wars against islanders determined to rid their conuntry of their presence, the missionaries prevailed, and Tonga became one of the strongest Christian countries in Polynesia. This success was largely due to an early convert, Taufa'ahau, who taught the new message among his people and physically destroyed the images of the deities. He later became King Tupou I.
In more recent times indigenous Christian churches broke away from the Wesleyan Mission, to form groups such as Siasi Tonga Tau'ataina (The Free Church of Tonga), and Siasi 'o Tonga (Church of Tonga). There are now many Christian denominations, and social life is ordered around churches and church activities. One's social status is largely reckoned on the basis of one's position and involvement in the church and its various institutions. The unity of the wider local community is preserved by tolerance between the different sects.

Symbols Religious ritual did not develop in this early area of settlement to the degree it did in the rest of Polynesia. What elsewhere is sacred space, the malae was used in Tonga for more secular gatherings and sport. Emphasis was on reverence for the High Chief, or Tui Tonga, who claimed descent from Tangaloa and as the high priest of Hikule'o acted as intermediary between the human and divine realms - his semi-divine nature demanding total honour and loyalty of the people. Human sacrifice on occasions of illness of illness of the chief was later replaced by the sacrifice of a finger - a common occurrence. The line of Tui Tonga retained sacred power till the mid 1800s. Other chiefs held secular power. Huge tombs, stepped stone structures (langi) were constructed for family chiefs.

Adherents The Tongans are almost entirely Christian. The following churches have members in Tonga: the Anglican Church; the Roman Catholic Church; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (21,000 members); Church of Tonga (6,912 members); Free Church of Tonga (15,001 members); Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga (36,500 members); Tokaikolo Christian Fellowship (5,000 members). (Europa Publications Ltd 1995, II 3012)

Main Centre
 Information on religion in Tonga can be acquired from Kosilio'ae Ngaahi Siasi 'i Tonga (Tonga National Council of Churches), POB 1205, Nuku'alofa.