The Tongan Islands were probably settled from Fiji about 3000 years ago. Tonga developed as a highly stratified society with social classes and paramount chiefs. Warfare was common as chiefs competed to expand their respective domains.
The first Europeans to visit Tonga, the Dutch explorers Le Maire and Schouten, in 1616. The first Englishman sailing in the area, Samuel Wallis in 1767 visited the same island far north of the Vava’u group visited by the Dutch explorers Le Maire and Schouten in 1616.
The most important early Europeans exploration of the South Seas was by the famous Englishman, Captain James Cook. On his second voyage he visited Tonga twice, in 1773 and 1774. According to reports, Cook was impressed with the hospitality of the Tongans, so he named all country the Friendly Islands.
The best-known ship in history of Tonga is the Bounty. Captain Bligh met his fate with the mutiny in the Ha’apai Island Group of Tonga. One visit to this lovely island group and one can better understand how easy the decision might be to mutiny, trading returning to the Northern Hemisphere for living in paradise. Since, many more sailors have, this writer being one of them.
The Port au Prince is another historic vessel, classed as a whaler but crewed by pirates. Late in 1806 the well-stocked ship reached Tonga and anchored in the Ha’apai group. The captain and the crew were made most welcome by Finau Ulukalala II. Finau, a high chief from Vava’u, which was not known to the visiting pirates, who were thoroughly enjoying of Tongan hospitality. Meanwhile, Finau had taken notice of the many valuables aboard the Port au Prince, particularly nails. On December 1, 1806 Finau and his warriors attacked the vessel. They massacred almost the entire crew sparing only the captain’s clerk William Mariner and a few others. Mariner made it to Vava’u in time and during his time in Vava’u he learned of a hidden cave reached only by diving down 6 feet to an entrance passage. After swimming about 20 feet along this underwater corridor the secret cavern was reached. It is said this cave was accidentally discovered by young Tongan chief in the early 1800s when he was searching for the turtles. Now it’s the world famous Mariner’s cave where people come from all over to experience it.
A few years before the arrival of Port au Prince, during the reign of the Finau. According to Mariner, this young chief incurred the extreme displeasure of Finau, who threatened the death of his wife to be. Her life was saved when she was hiding for two month in the little-known cave. Every night the young chief would swim to his lover taking her a supply of food. There is a happy ending to the story as the couple, with the help of friends, were able to escape by canoe to Fiji where it is presumed they lived happily ever after.
It was agreed Mariner could leave Tonga with promise to return some time to escort Finau to England. However, he settled down in London and reunited with his father. Mariner died in 1858, he was buried near London.
Wesleyan Methodist missionaries arrived from England in the 1820s and began a successful conversion of the islanders. The missionaries converted paramount chief Taufa’ahau Tupou in the 1830s and he persuaded others to follow. Tupou, who became known as George Tupou I, consolidated three chiefly lines and founded the monarchy in 1875. Upon his death, he was succeeded by his grandson, George Tupou II. Owing to internal strife on the islands, Tonga and the United Kingdom negotiated a Treaty of Friendship and Protection in 1900, establishing Tonga as a British Protected State. Great Britain had great influence over the kingdom for the next seven decades, but the country was never formally colonized. When Tupou II died in 1918, his daughter Queen Salote Tupou III succeeded to the throne. She in turn was succeeded by her son, King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV. On June 4, 1970, Tonga became completely independent of the United Kingdom.