Tonga is 176 islands scattered over a huge number of sea kilometres, hanging around the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and New Zealand. Only 36 of the islands are inhabited, thank heavens, or you’d be going a heck of a way for a cup of sugar. There are about 100,000 Tongans on the islands plus many more off island, who kindly support the economy by sending money home.
A lot of money home.
This is a good thing, because:
a. They have a monarchy to support,
b. Their economy is based on yams and fish and such, also available elsewhere from other tiny island nations,
c. It has a bit of a history of government corruption,
and d. their tourism industry is still small. Why, I don’t know. The place is gorgeous, and there are all these uninhabited islands just perfect for those crazy folks who want to really, truly get away from it all. And then go back to Tongatapu Island and email all their wonderful photographs to the entire world to engender envy.
Things aren’t all challenging – I like the way the Tongeans put women above men in the social scale (huzzah!), how they provide free education to all students to high school, and offer hugely supported college education. They have universal health care and universal suffrage as of 21. And they are the only country in the area to avoid colonization, always being independent (with treaties) from the larger first world countries who wished to take them over. The last British Ambassador left long ago. The last tourist was cooked in 1806. When Captain Cook came to visit, they couldn’t decide how best to cook him, so they left him alone and he, in turn, called Tonga “the Friendly Islands”. He also gave the then-leader a turtle in thanks. The turtle, Tu’i Malila, was made a chief and ran around the palace on his own for several years. There are no reports of whether or not he was eventually made into soup.
God love ’em, they even sent a few troops to support the Americans in their coalition of the willing in Iraq. Wrong-headed, but it shows a desire to play big on the world stage.
And then there’s the Rugby. They are currently 11th in world standings which is pretty darn impressive, given how few folks they have to draw upon. I have a terrible weakness for rugby, and rugby players, muscly and tough as they are, heavy drinking and yet the sweetest fellahs you’d ever want to meet (unlike footballers who either whine a lot (soccer) or prance around in tight pants and then go home and beat their wives (American Football)). Rugby players just play, fall down, get up and play more.
I still remember my dear son calling from the rugby field to let me know that in practice, someone had “apparently torn my ear partly off. Can you come get me?” He was smiling ear to damaged ear when I got him, and the entire ER was impressed.
Anyway, you can see their ranking info here. The Ikale Tahe (Sea Eagles) do pretty well, all in all.