Tonga was first visited by settlers around 3,000 years ago, although exact dates are difficult to establish. The Lapita people are thought to have arrived around 900 B.C. and established a permanent presence.
There is very little written history available until the first Europeans arrived when Dutch explorers Jacob Le Maire and Willem Schouten first visited in April 1616; the Tongans were mostly friendly.
These early explorers were followed in 1643 by Dutchman Abel Tasman and then in the 1700s by Captain James Cook who made three voyages into the Pacific and more particularly Tonga in 1773, 1774 and 1777.
Tuku’aho the 14th Tu’I Kanokupolu of Tonga ruled Tonga for six years before he was assassinated by a group of high chiefs in 1799 causing a civil war which was to last for nearly fifty years until the islands were united once more in 1845 under King George Tupou I. The king declared Tonga to be a constitutional monarchy in 1875 and on 18th May 1900 Tonga became a British protected state under a Treaty of Friendship.
That Treaty of friendship was to last until 1970 when Tonga became part of the Commonwealth of Nations. In the intervening period Tonga has never lost its own governance with a long line of Kings to the present day.
King George Tupou I had introduced a Legislative Assembly in 1862 which met every four years and consisted of nobles and people’s representatives in equal measure. Nevertheless change has been slow to take hold in Tonga and it wasn’t until after a series of riots in 2006 in the capital Nukuʻalofa that the grip of the monarchy started to ease. By that time the Legislative Assembly had become top heavy with nobles and only nine of the 26 seats were allocated for people’s representatives.
Taking note of the riots, in July 2008, the future King George Tupou V announced that he would give up most of his powers. The changes were made after a constitutional review in 2009 and in April 2010 the Legislative Assembly was altered to allow for 17 of the 26 seats to be elected by the people.
In the first elections held under the new constitution on 25th November 2010 the recently formed Democratic Party of the Friendly Islands won 12 seats and Independents won the other five seats. Despite winning so many seats the Democratic Party was only offered two seats in the Cabinet with most positions held by nobles. This caused a split in the party but the two seats were eventually taken up.
King George Tupou VI is Head of State.
The unicameral Legislative Assembly (Fale Alea) has 26 members of which 17 are elected by the people and nine Noble representatives elected for 5 year terms.