General issues: Kingdom 1886-1900, British protectorate 1900-1970, Kingdom 1970-Present
Country name on general issues: Toga, Tonga
Special issues: Regional issues Niuafo’ou 1983-Present
Currency: 1 Pound = 20 Shilling, 1 Shilling = 12 Pence 1886-1967, 1 Pa’anga = 100 Seniti
Population: 26 000 in 1901, 106 500 in 2015
Political history Tonga
Tonga is an island nation located in the southern Pacific Ocean. The population is Polynesian with Melanesian influences. A monarchical tradition existed in Tonga since the 10th century, when the first Tui’i Tonga, or supreme chief, was appointed. The first Europeans to explore Tonga were the Dutch in the 17th century. The British captain James Cook explored the islands in the 1770’s and named them the ‘Friendly Islands’. Missionaries settled on the islands in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
In mid 19th century, Tonga was, after a period of turmoil and wars, united by Taufa’ahau as supreme chief. Taufa’ahau established a constitutional monarchy in 1875, adopting the style of King George Tupou I. Although the independence of the kingdom was recognized by colonial powers through treaties signed in subsequent years, German encroachments, in the late 19th century, led to the establishment of a British protectorate in 1900. While in other kingdoms in the Pacific the native monarchy was deposed, in Tonga the monarchy remained in place until today. In 1970, the British protectorate ended and Tonga became an independent kingdom once again. As such, Tonga is a member of the British Commonwealth.
Tonga has long been governed as an absolute monarchy in which not only political but also economic power was in the hands of the royal family and a small number of nobles. Democratic movements took shape in the late 20th century. Since 2008, the monarchy has ceded some of its absolute rights, moving Tonga towards a more democratic political system.
Economically, Tonga depends largely on subsistence agriculture and fishing with a number of small cash crops including squash, coconuts, bananas and vanilla. The population is 97% Tongan. About three quarters of the population live on the main island of Tongatapu. A large part of the population lives abroad, mainly in New Zealand and the United States, and remittances from expatriots constitute an important source of income for the country.
Postal history Tonga
The first postal services were set up in Tonga in 1886. The Germans set up a postal service from Samoa. In response, New Zealand supported Tonga in the set up of its own postal service. This prevented the Germans from extending their services – only a parcel post service existed until 1893. The first stamps used in Tonga were stamps of neighboring Fiji – canceled in Fiji. The first Tongan stamps were issued in 1886 – featuring the portrait of King George Tupou I. In the classical period the stamps issued by Tonga all feature the portraits of the successive monarchs, with the exception of a set of pictorials issued in 1897. The country designation was either ‘Toga'Toga is the native designation for Tonga. or ‘Tonga’. In the modern period Tonga was one of the first countries to experiment with self adhesive stamps embossed on foil in a range of different shapes. Stamps of this type were issued between 1963 and the late 1970’s. Overall, in the modern period, Tonga has issued stamps with themes of national interest and – a significant number – with themes of interest for the thematic collectors market.
A specific chapter in world postal history is the use of tin can mail on the island of Niuafo’ou – also called Tin Can Island. Niuafo’ou is difficult to access because it has no natural harbor. Ocean going ships cannot anchor and even smaller boats have difficulty. Thus, in the late 19th century, the practice was developed to seal mail in a tin can that was carried to and from passing ships by swimmers. The practice was, from the 1930’s, commercially exploited – attracting many passing cruise ships to stop by the island so that the tourists on board could view the spectacle. Covers sent by tin can mail soon attracted the attention of collectors. The practice was a source of income for the island until discontinued in 1983, when an airstrip was built. Probably as a form of compensation for the loss of income, Niuafo’ou has, since 1983, gained the right to issue its own stamps – under the jurisdiction of the Tongan postal authorities.