About Tonga

About Tonga

The Kingdom of Tonga consists of 171 islands, 36 of which are inhabited, and is spread over 144,000 square miles (360,000 square kilometers) of ocean. The total land area is only 268 square miles (670 square kilometers), about the size of Memphis, Tennessee. About 77 percent of the total land area is arable—the highest percentage in the world. The highest point in the island groups is Tofua, which rises to over 3,300 feet (1,000 meters).

Tonga lies three degrees east of the international date line, which was bent to include Tonga in the same time zone as its neighbors. For this reason, Tonga is the first country in the  world to welcome each new day.

Tongans are very social and enjoy team sports. Rugby is the national sport, and most villages also have competitions in volleyball, basketball, table tennis, soccer, and tennis, which are almost exclusively male sports. Women play games including netball and field hockey. Movies, videos, and dances are also major forms of recreation in larger villages. Young boys play with marbles and slingshots. Men gather to drink kava root juice, converse, and sing late into the night. Families have picnics on the beach for special occasions.

Men traditionally build boats, canoes, and houses and are proficient in woodcarving. Women traditionally weave mats and baskets and make tapa (cloth made of bark), dolls, and leis. Tongan meals consist of staple foods, such as yam, taro, sweet potato, cassava, fish, pork, and canned meats. One of the most common dishes is cooked taro leaves with coconut cream. On Sundays and for special occasions, Tongan families prepare an underground oven called an umu.

Talamahu Market
Tonga's lagest fruit, vegetable and handicraft market
Tongan food is generally considered bland by American standards. Root crops are boiled, baked, or fried and served with salt at every meal. Onions, garlic, curry powder, soy sauce, and chili peppers are usually available, but are only occasionally used in food preparation.

Bread, rolls, pastries, and ice cream are readily available through commercial operations and family-run shops in the city centers, but often unavailable in outlying villages and outer islands. Noodles, flour, sugar, rice, eggs, butter, milk, canned fish, meat, fruits, and vegetables are available in most small shops on the main islands. The main meats are pork, chicken, and mutton, but shops in the capital also sell beef, hamburgers, sausages, and hot dogs. Fresh fish can be purchased from markets and local fishermen throughout Tonga. Tropical fruits grow on most islands, but availability of particular items varies by the season.