Tonga has it’s own currency, the pa’anga, usually represented with a dollar sign and denoted by the ISO code TOP. There are branches of Westpac and ANZ in Nuku’alofa and there are ATM machines located at these banks. Westpac near the Parliament building in Nuku’alofa has a reliable ATM.
One Tongan pa’anga can be divided into 100 seniti. There are 7 pa’anga banknotes – 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 and 6 coins – 1,2,5,10,20 and 50.
Currency exchange facilities are available at Fua’amotu airport
Rates correct as of the 29/10/10
€1 = TOP$2.64
NZ$1 = TOP$1.45
AUS$1 = TOP$1.86
US$ = TOP$1.89
¥100 = TOP$2.35
The flag of the Kingdom of Tonga is red with a corner square of white bearing a red cross. The cross represents Tonga’s faith in God and Christianity, the white represents purity and the red background represents the blood shed by Jesus on the cross and reminds Tongans that he died to save them. There is a clause in the 1875 constitution of Tonga stating that ‘The flag of Tonga shall never be altered and shall always be the flag of the Kingdom.
Mata Maka Beer is the closest thing you’ll come to a local brew on Tonga. While you can only buy Mata Maka in Tonga, the beer is actually brewed and bottled in Auckland, New Zealand! There was a brewery on Tongatapu in the past but this went broke and closed down. Now Tongans have to ship their beer from New Zealand, over 2000km away!
The beer itself is fine but not hugely flavoursome.
Whilst English is widely spoken in Tonga, the country does have its own Polynesian language which is closely related to Samoan, Hawaiian, Tahitian and Maori. The official name for the Tongan language is lea fakatonga. In the Tongan alphabet there are only 16 letters as opposed to the 26 used in English. Below are some common Tongan words. Using a few of these will go down well with the Tongan locals. Even learning the words for ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ will be appreciated.
Hello – Malo e leilei
Thank you – Malo
You’re welcome – ‘lo Malo
Please – Faka molemole
Excuse me – Kataki
Goodbye (to someone staying) – Nofo a
Goodbye (to someone leaving) – ‘Alu a
If you are lucky enough to be granted an audience with the King don't try to use normal Tongan. Members of royal family speak a different dialect of Tongan which children in Tongan schools also have to learn in case they ever meet members of the Royal Family!!!!
Like the woven mats, tapa cloth is another traditional Tonga craft. When someone is married or gives birth to a child in Tonga, or indeed are involved in any important occasion, they are presented with metres of tapa cloth.
Tapa or ngatu is made by hand from the bark of the mulberry tree. After two years of care the tree is cut down and its bark stripped. The hard outer part of the bark is removed and the soft white inner lining removed, dried and then rehydrated by soaking in water overnight. Next the bark or ‘tutu’ is hammered repeatedly with a mallet called an ike until it reaches the right thickness and texture. The cloth can then be painted in a skilful process, Coconut leaves are sewn to the underside of the cloth in the desired pattern while a brown dye called koka is rubbed on front marking out the pattern from the leaves. This dye is made by squeezing the juice from the bark of the koka and tongo trees.
In Tonga fakaleiti are male children who decide, of their families decide, to behave and dress in a feminine manner. This is also pretty common in other pacific islands such as Samoa and Fiji. It is more common in larger families where the mother has had many sons and needs a ‘daughter’ figure to help around the house and so therefore brings up one of the boys as a girl. In Tonga, fakaleiti are an accepted part of society put can be subjected to intense mockery and contempt by mainstream males who consider themselves ‘real’ men as opposed to fakaleiti, who they see as weak. The term fakaleiti comes from the tongan word faka – meaning ‘to have the way of’ and the the tongan word for lady.
Tongan cemeteries are a unique sight in themselves. Usually set in a copse of frangipani trees, Tongan graves look like smaller version of the stepped royal tombs or langi in which kings were buried. These burial mounds are usually marked with flags and banners and surrounded with seashells, flowers, volcanic rocks and more strangely...inverted beer bottles.
Religion plays a huge part in Tongan life. On Sundays the island grinds to a halt and it can be difficult to find any shops or businesses open. Transport options are severely limited on Sundays and sport is forbidden. Sundays as a day of rest are so important in Tonga that contracts signed or business deals agreed on Sundays are void. Nearly all Tongans attend church on Sundays and even the smallest villages will have at least one and probably several churches. A huge number of denominations are represented on Tonga with the Free Wesleyan Church being the most popular, closely followed by Seventh-Day Adventists, Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, Catholics, Anglicans, Mormons and many many other smaller religious groups. You can openly see Tongans devotion to church on Sundays and as you drive around the islands you can see churches everywhere. Tongan religious celebrations last a lot longer than they do in the ‘West’ and are joyous celebrations with music, song and clapping being an integral part. If you are interested in partaking, you will be warmly welcomed into most churches.
Mat weaving is a traditional art in Tonga usually carried out by groups of women who weave the mats by hand. These hand woven mats are used in homes and as coverings for tables and furniture but they are also worn by Tongan men around their waist. When used in this way, the mats are called ‘ta’ovala’ and are used as a sign of respect. This is especially evident on Sundays when men wear their finest ta’ovala to church. This custom supposedly comes from the tradition of returning seamen to cut the sails of their boats to wrap around their waist to cover their naked genitals so as not to appear before their king naked. Women can also wear a shorter mat known as a ‘kiekie’.
Drinking Kava is a custom common in many Pacific islands but the Tongans take it even more seriously than many of their Polynesian cousins. Kava is a pepper plant grown on Pacific islands. When it is three years old it is cut and dried before it is ground into a powder, mixed with water and strained into a large kava bowl called a ‘kumete’ ready to be consumed. While not an alcoholic drink, Kava can have a similar if milder effect if drank in large amounts. It didn’t taste particularly pleasing to out unaccustomed palates but it did have relaxing effects as well as numbing our mouths slightly!
There is important etiquette surrounding the drinking of Kava. Women are usually not allowed to drink Kava, except on their wedding day. It is usually performed with the participants sitting cross-legged in a circle around the kumete containing the Kava. The kava is poured into a coconut bowl called an ipu and passed hand to hand to the person seated furthest away from the kumete. More ipu’s are filled and passed around in this fashion until the person sitting closest has received their kava. When everyone has drunk their kava which should be drank in one go, they shake out the remaining drops and hand their ipu back to the server. There is then some conversation and song-singing before the next ‘round’ is poured out. Kava ceremonies can last up to eight hours and sometimes even longer. Alcohol is not allowed to be drunk during the kava ceremony. In Tonga kava drinking is particularly popular on Wednesday and Saturday nights.
There is a strange but popular legend surrounding the Kava plant and you may hear it during your visit to Tonga.
Many years ago the then King of Tonga (Tu’i Tonga) was out fishing when he became hungry and thirsty. He instructed his men to land on a small island so that he could get something to eat. While his men went to look for some food and drink, the king rested under a shady plant.
The kings men found Fevanga and Fefaffa, two poor peasants who lived on the island and asked them for some food for the king. The couple ran down to harvest their only remaining food...a solitary kape plant (a type of root). There had been a famine on the island and the Kape plant was their only remaining piece of food. To their dismay they found the king sleeping under the shady leaves of the kape plant. Not wanting to wake the king they returned to their hut. The couple began to panic as they did not have any food for the king and this would be perceived as a great insult to their king. In despair, the couple sacrificed their only daughter to offer the king. When the king was told what had happened he was greatly moved and upset by the couple’s loyalty and ordered the daughter to be buried.
After a while two plants grew from the burial site of the girl. A mouse nibbled one of the plants and soon ran off staggering and swaying. It returned later and nibbled the other plant which had a remedying effect. The King heard of this and ordered the plants to be brought to him. Tasting the two plants he found one to have a bitter taste and numbing effect while the other tasted sweet. He named the bitter tasting plant ‘kava’ and the sweet plant ‘to’ now commonly known as sugarcane.
Being a vigorously religious nation, Tongan stores and cafes promptly shut at midnight on Saturday night and (some) reopen at midnight on Sunday - most commercal outlets are not open on Sundays, as it is the holy day of rest.
It is recommended that you sort out all your material needs before the Sunday arrives.
There is also the option of an off-shore resort - Pangaimotu!
It has a boat that travels to the island resort every half hour/quarter hour or so and takes roughly 10 minutes from the mainland. The boat on Sundays runs from approximately 10 in the morning till 6 at night - though be aware of Tongan time, relax and be patient.
Meet plenty of other tourists and islanders up for a good time!
Accomodation also available, Pangaimotu is also a great place for a daily adventure. Meals and drinks available - it is generally a non BYO island, everything is able to be purchased.
Snorkling and island tours can also be provided. Also, volleyball is often played, fishing competiions had, kayaking and snorklegear hire - as well as a shipwreck just offshore of the isalnd (about 30 metres) for those adventurous ones amongst us.
Rock up and sign your name onto a coconut husk to be nailed on the roof - you'll never be forgotten!
Island is open 7 days a week :)
Tonga is a very Christian place and every Sunday most commercial businesses are closed (shops, banks, some restaurants)...so it might be a good idea to plan on making Sundays a leisurely day and do necessary shopping and banking before then..
Many of the people in Tonga still where the heavy waist mats which are there traditional dress. The mat is called a ta‘ovala and men wear them around their waist and tie it with a kafa, a Tongan traditional string made from coconut fibre. They wear a shirt with a collar. To a funeral they wear old mats and black clothes.
Women wear a dress and tunpenu with a ta‘ovala around their waist that goes down to their knees. Tongan women wear these kind of clothes to church and other occasions like parties or weddings.
We noticed the school children also had a uniform fashioned from these mats.
Tablecloths are pounded out of bark until a silky smooth cloth is produced . These can be bought for hundreds of dollars but they are traditionaly given as a sort of dowery by the brides family to the husbands family. They take hours of hard and hot work to make.
The gravesites in Tonga are a tribute to the deceased person's life . Its almost like they are still here on earth . We saw huge quilts strung over the graves inscribed with MOTHER. Sometimes personal articles are left at the gravesites for the deceased loved one.They are truly gone but not forgotten
Utungake, PO Box 104, Neiafu, Neiafu, Tonga
Good for: Families
PO Box 1444, Fafa Island, Tonga
Good for: Solo
Eua'Iki Island, Vava'U, Neiafu, TO
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Business
More Regions in Tonga