what makes tonga different?
The Importance of Family
Tongan society is guided by four core values, all of which combine to ensure a genuine welcome to visitors to the Kingdom. The four core values are Fefaka’apa’apa’aki (mutual respect), Feveitokai’aki (sharing, cooperating and fulfilment of mutual obligations), Lototoo (humility and generosity) and Tauhi vaha’a (loyalty and commitment).
Family is the central unit of Tongan life. Older people command the most respect and each family member knows their role. A typical family unit may consist of adopted children, cousins and other distant relatives, alongside siblings and grandparents. Their respect for family is a reflection of the people’s love of the Tongan Royal Family.
The two biggest occasions for Tongan families are weddings and funerals where traditional tapa cloths and woven mats are gifted. Today, many Tongans still live in villages, and traditional village life has not changed greatly from earlier days. Many traditional practices are still an integral part of village life, making Tonga one of the most authentic traveller destinations in the South Pacific.
A Nation Entwined With Christianity
Visiting a church on Sunday is a treasured memory for many travellers to the Kingdom of Tonga. Sundays are devoted to church, family and rest. Beautifully clear harmonies, the ringing of church bells, and the rhythmic beat of the Lali (wooden drums), are all familiar sounds drifting on the tropical breezes.
From the days of the early missionaries until modern times, Christianity has been a vital and influential aspect of Tongan life, second only to the respect for family.
Modest dress is necessary for both Tongans and visitors. It is expected that visitors respect Sunday as a day of rest. Businesses and shops are closed by law allowing Tongan families to spend the day attending church for a relaxed day of worship and feasting.
No flights are scheduled, and business contracts signed on a Sunday are legally void. It is a very respectful day and sports activities are not permitted, even in rugby-mad Tonga (visitors are permitted to enjoy all of the relaxing holiday activities provided by the resorts).
Like tapa making, mat weaving is an everyday part of Tongan life. Women gather in small groups to weave, sing or talk together. Mats are the most treasured possessions in Tongan households and are traditionally presented at births, weddings, funerals and other special occasions.
Tongans also wear mats known as the ‘ta’ovala’ around the waist as a respectful form of dress in the Kingdom. This custom originated in ancient times when men returning after long voyages at sea, would cut the mast sails of their canoes and cover their naked bodies prior to appearing before their chief.
Finely woven mats – ‘ta’ovala’ are particularly treasured, and are handed down from generation to generation, some dating back hundreds of years.
Food & Feasting
Expect to be well fed on your travels. Traditional Tongan favourites to try include ‘ota ‘ika (raw fish marinated in lemon and coconut cream), and lu pulu (corned beef and coconut milk wrapped in taro leaves). Food and feasting are an integral part of Tongan society, and the feasts of the Kingdom are renowned throughout the Pacific for their size and diversity.
In a Tongan feast, up to 30 different dishes are served on a pola, a long tray made from plaited coconut leaves. Traditional food growing and the gathering of seafood is still an important way of Tongan life. Delicious meat and seafood may include spit-roasted suckling pig or steamed fish, chicken, beef, octopus and the freshest of local vegetables including yam, taro, sweet potatoes and cassava.
Starchy fruits like plantain and breadfruit are also eaten like vegetables, often boiled with delicate coconut cream and a popular local custom is to wrap vegetables in banana leaves for cooking or for serving. A special memory for many visitors is to experience a traditional underground oven or umu. Food cooked slowly and carefully in an umu retains its flavour and also develops a delicious smokiness.
Not everyone goes back for a second helping of this murky and spicy liquid, but drinking it at least once is an essential experience for visitors to Tonga.
Usually drunk from a coconut shell, kava quickly relaxes the body and makes your tongue and lips go numb.
The ceremonial drinking of kava is an ancient custom undertaken across all of Polynesia and is still an integral part of life in the Kingdom of Tonga. The homegrown product is renowned across the Pacific, with the finest Kava in Tonga reputedly being produced from the fertile soils of the volcanic islands of Tofua in the Ha’apai group and Tafahi in Niuatoputapu.
Most Tongan villages have at least one kava club (kava kulupu) and they’re popular venues after dark for local men. Kava is also drunk before and after church on a Sunday, during the conferment of nobility and at village meetings. It’s definitely worth trying and if a few sips makes you slightly too relaxed, a shady beachside hammock is never far away.
Make sure you pack plenty of memory for your camera. A vibrant and colourful experience for many visitors to Tonga is the dignified and graceful dancing of the Kingdom. Dance movements visually enhance subtle melodies of sung poetry, culminating in a style of dance that is uniquely Tongan.
Tongan dance is also a spectacle that demands the involvement of spectators, and a gift of appreciation or fakapale is a local tradition to reward a dancer. Once these gifts were tapa and mats, but in modern society money is now more common.
Tonga’s traditional dances include the Me’etu’upaki, ‘Otuhaka, Ma’ulu’ulu, Ula, Tau’olunga, Kailao and Soke. A well known traditional dance is the Lakalaka, a dance practised throughout the Kingdom. Expressing stories of Tongan history and legends, the Lakalaka is performed by both men and women, sometimes in spectacular groups of up to several hundred. Dancers step their feet and move their arms in intricate gestures and decoration includes beautiful bracelets, neck garlands and the tekiteki (a feather headpiece). Wearing of the tekiteki enhances the dancers’ head movements and is considered one of the most important actions in the Lakalaka, a graceful Tongan art form that’s been recognised by the United Nations as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.
It is easy to find a wide range of interesting and authentic handicrafts in the Kingdom of Tonga. Traditional art and handicrafts including intricate bone carving, woodcarving, fine weaving and basket making are available at markets and specialised stores.
The Kingdom’s two most important handicrafts are tapa making and the weaving of mats and Tongan womens’ pride, skill, patience and sense of design are all showcased in these two ancient crafts. The stunning work on display is often sold directly by the craftspersons responsible, so shoppers are also taking home a personal connection to these beautiful South Pacific islands.
Tapa Making and Painting
Made from the bark of the mulberry tree, known locally as hiapo, tapa cloth is of great cultural significance in the Kingdom of Tonga.
It’s a very important traditional gift where every piece of tapa is uniquely different, making for an extremely authentic souvenir.
All tapa is still proudly handmade, and the sound of wooden mallets beating out lengths of tapa cloth is one of the Kingdom’s most familiar sounds. From early morning until sunset, women gather in their homes or at the fale kautaha (the village’s communal tapa house) to assist each other in tapa making.
Look up cultural activities:
Become acquainted with our fascinating Tongan Culture and Tradition on this half day tour. Stops included are Captain Cook Landing , Langi – Ancient Royal Tombs , ‘Anahulu Cave and ʻAnahulu Cave Ancient Tonga Cultural Centre as the main highlight where a variety of interesting exhibits provide an insight into the local culture. Prebooking essential. We welcome More Info »
Small Group Luxury Cruising. Whale Swim Safaris welcomes only a few guests on board for an adventure of a lifetime. Our safaris run for 6 days and incorporate whale swimming, scuba diving, snorkelling, Tongan feasts etc. Departing from Nuku’alofa, we cruise around the islands group of Tongatapu on board our vessel “Spirit of Adventure”.
Malo ‘e Lelei! Welcome to Ancient Tonga, our small humble village in Fangaloto. Enjoy an informative tour through the village of our traditional communication devices before mobile phones and radios. View our traditional Fale Tonga, our traditional clothing and Tongan Medicine Learn how the old Tongans would live in their village from food preparation to More Info »
Kalia Tattoo Tonga is a revival of what was once a cultural practice throughout the Kingdom. The use of patterns and cultural designs to tell the stories and journeys of one’s life is what the art of Tongan Ta Tatau (Tattoo) is all about. Tattooing was no longer practiced in Tonga after the missionaries arrived More Info »
The name ‘Oholei comes from Oho, the Tongan word for food for a journey, and lei the Hawaiian word for necklace of flowers. You can easily find both on this lovely beach resort and Hina cave. Set among the caves and cliffs of the Lavengatonga beach on Tongatapu, ‘Oholei offers a variety of things to More Info »
Vakaloa Beach Resort is a small but grand resort featuring luxurious self-contained units, large and inviting indoor and outdoor areas, an on-site restaurant and bar, weekly buffet dinner and floorshow, and other special nights and attractions. Buffet dinner and floorshow Wednesday is our Aloha night buffet with Vakaloa entertainment. Friday is our Island night buffet with More Info »
Peseti, your host, welcomes you with a Malo e Lelei to Liku’alofa Resort. This Tongan style, Tongan owned resort offers a comfortable, all-inclusive holiday destination with affordable rates. Enjoy delicious Tongan meals and experience exciting Tongan entertainment. The friendly staff and owners go out of their way to ensure you enjoy your stay. “Our family is More Info »
The Langafonua Gallery and Handicrafts Centre is located in the heart of Nuku’alofa, and stocks the best range of traditional Tongan handicrafts and fine arts. Available are a range of unique handmade items such as traditional tapa cloth and tapa crafts, woven crafts, Tongan jewellery, shopping bags and baskets, tablemats, trays, kiekie, diaries, fans, coasters, More Info »
Booking and travel services Vavau.to and Tongamazing.com: the original no cost booking agent for the Kingdom since 2004. Our services are absolutely free to you. We cover Tongatapu, Ha’apai, Eua and Vava’u; we can do all the organising at no cost to you! Accommodation, tours and activities. Take the opportunity to explore Tonga. Swim with More Info »
Welcome to Vava’u and Riki Tiki Tonga. Riki Tiki Tonga is the perfect way to compliment your Vava’u vacation by joining us for Scuba Diving and Snorkeling, by taking Diving Lessons or by chartering our Folk Boat Yacht. We are a small company offering extremely personalized service for singles and small groups up to six More Info »
Taste of Tonga is a unique business. With a goal of zero waste we aim to use every component of a coconut. Our primary products are cold pressed Virgin Coconut Oil and Cured Vanilla. We conduct 1 hour tours of our facility and explain the benefits of coconut oil and the complexity of making vanilla. More Info »
The Beach House & Coral Cottage are absolute beach front serviced homes based on Fofoa – the perfect place to stay for your holiday in Tonga. Each eco-home has – Individual blue lagoon access – Luxury bedding – Complete kitchen including fridge/freezer – Organic Tongan coffee, tea & fresh, drinkable rainwater free of charge More Info »
Experience the true beauty of the South Pacific! Join us on one of our expertly guided tours of Tonga’s only botanical garden, which has been developed since 1972. Nestled at the beautiful ‘Ene’io Beach, the 22 acre garden is the lifetime commitment of the founder Haniteli Fa’anunu to preserve different plant cultivars, save endangered More Info »
Discover the hidden treasures of Ha’apai… Take an authentic island tour and discover the real Tonga. For a long time Ha’apai has been thought of as ‘Tonga’s best kept secret’… Let me show you around! From the tip of Lifuka to the tip of Foa with plenty of local knowledge and photo opportunities en-route. Explore beautiful Ha’apai and discover about the history and culture More Info »
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