21.06.2019 in Exploratory
Pacific Tongan

The issue of ethnicity and identity is valuable while discussing general national resources and perspectives. New Zealand comprises more than ten various Pacific ethnic groups or their subgroups, which constitute the major part of the entire population of the country. In Auckland, one of the largest ethnic groups is called Tongan, and it has its own language, kinship traditions, and civil rules. The paper will discuss Tongan ethnic peculiarities, values, and their impact on their daily life. Also, the work will prove that the increasing demography and weak leadership does not combat constant unemployment, prevent migration, and improve social well-being.

Tongan People: Traditionalism and Ethnic Values

According to “Demographics of New Zealand’s Pacific Population” (2010), “In 1991, 80 percent of Pacific people identified as Pacific only. By 2006 this figure had fallen to 70 percent” (p. 13). Simultaneously, there are “near the 266,000” Pacific inhabitants in New Zealand, which is a far more elevated number than before (Tanielu, Johnson, 2013, p. 14). Among them, the largest groups are Samoans (“131,000”) and Tongans (“50,000”) (Tanielu, Johnson, 2013, p. 14). The complex analysis of the statistical and institutional research of the mentality, social involvement, and well-being demonstrates the challenges facing ethnic minorities and their perspectives.

 The strategic plan of Auckland by 2050 recognizes the necessity to provide improvements for the ethnic minorities in the spheres of culture, business, social life, education, economy etc. Nevertheless, there is one more important factor that may be included into planning and expected results: traditional affiliations, which also have a valuable impact. In her book “Community development: A Tongan perspective” (2005), Tracie Mafile’o provided a deep analysis of Tongan’s interaction in the context of its religious and community cognition. She proves that Tongan group is one of few that have saved and still support the royalty and hierarchy division on chiefs, their attendants, and major commoners. “Within this stratification, kinship-based lines provide the basis of the structure for Tongan communities” (Mafile’o, 2005, p. 112). Surprisingly, Tongans were never colonized on their native territory, but they have got a large British influence on their civil life and religion. For example, “British concepts of justice and law”, Christianity popularization (“a high religious affiliation compared to the general population of New Zealand” (Mafile’o, 2005, p. 113). For this reason, the communities have many churches and high social involvement in religious life and events.


In fact, religion, spirituality, loyalty towards ancestors and focus on family values are the components of the models of mental care, which assert a positive influence on the medical policy in general. Actually, the therapy gives more compassion and better communication, which is based on development of interpersonal relationships and exchange of values. Furthermore, some of the modern technologies in medical care are not reliable due to two reasons: 1) not all of them are available in the communities in  poorer areas; 2) modern and innovational infrastructure, which is one of the reasons of migration, is not developed in some areas. Consequently, the care models in Auckland include such components as workforce, availability, cost, and quality. However, some mentioned qualities are not suitable for regular medical care outside of such overview. In the modern medicine, it is considered that feelings may prevent objective treatment, rehabilitation, and break medical confidentiality. 

Also, the institution of family is also a valuable component of Tongans’ social organization. This traditionalism and conservative Christian ceremonial definitely make an impact on the division of gender roles and complicity. Even though nowadays a lot of women especially the young and educated, try to  actively participate in social life and, consequently, have high ambitions, there are still many prejudices. For example, in 2002 election, “Seven of nine elected representatives of the people were chosen under the pro-democracy banner, with the remaining two representing “traditionalist” values” (Small, Dixon, 2004, n. p.). Considering the fact that the majority are people under age 65, it means that many of them are still not ready to sacrifice their conceptual recognition and take a risk. Probably, this is a usual thing for those who were living in controlled conditions with a strong kinship division during the period of personality development. Nevertheless, the majority of the older generation will not actively oppose the few optimizing changes of the youth if they declare an intention to make some. 

In the scientific research “Tonga: Migration and the homeland”, Cathy A. Small and David L. Dixon apply to the “MIRAB” economy in the context of Tonga characterization. It is signed by such revenue sources as the government, “remittances, foreign aid”, and migration (2004, n. p.). Being mostly an agricultural area, Tonga has a weak export activity of root crops, coffee, vanilla. Many people subsist on export of fish, which is very spread within the local area. Thus, there is no developed industry sector, so Tongans import building and agricultural tools and materials, fuel, gas, chemical supplies, some kinds of food. In addition, it is obvious that people spend more than they earn, particularly because Tongan products are cheaper and their import taxes are lower. 

Migration is one of the prerogative sectors that support the economic survival of Tonga through food, production and cash remittances of the diaspora and migrants from abroad. “At the national level, remittances are the major source of foreign exchange and accounted in FY 2002 for about 50 percent of GDP” (Small, Dixon, 2004, n. p.).

In various cultures and ethnic groups, the concept of being and survival are individual and original. Speaking about the Tongan people, they have a specific point of view about treatment and traditionalism. There is a combination of local traditionalism and spirituality on one side and Christianity on the other. This symbiosis is noticed in treatment, mentality, psychology, family hierarchy, and values. According to S. Vaka, M. W. Stewart, S. Foliaki, and M. Tu’itahi (2009), “There was in general little recognition or acceptance of the biological component of the western model” (p. 93).

Statistical Analysis

In 2013, the Statistics New Zealand Census published quantitative analysis of the Pacific ethnic groups in the Northern region. It is said that “Over half of the Northern region Pacific population were Samoan 94,653 (47.3%), followed by Tongan with 43,603 (21.8%)” (Statistics New Zealand Census, 2013, p. 2). It means that comparing Tongans to some other Pacific ethnic groups such as Niuean, Fijian, Tokelauan, and other groups, they are more populated and able to develop. Another issue is the ability of Tongans to enrich and modernize their life and comfort, because population does not necessarily mean progress prerogative. Conservatism, when comparing to the major ethnic groups and their subgroups, does not guarantee the high quality of intellectual resources.

The Statistics New Zealand Census also provided analysis of the qualification level of minorities, which may be helpful while discussing organizational peculiarities. For example, in 2005, the number of Tongans with “no education” was “32.1%”; finished only “secondary school” – 38.2%, “vocational” group was “11.8%”, and “bachelor’s degree and higher” was “4.4%” (Statistics New Zealand Census, 2013 p. 3). Nevertheless, the educated and intellectual youth actively participated in various intercultural and exchange events directed at educating conscious leaders that will be able to support traditions. Along with that, it is important to recognize the difference between ethnic identity recognition in the context of daily life in reality and in theory.

Moreover, Auckland has the lowest rate of unemployment in the Northern region – 10.8%”, and Tongans have one of the highest income rates: “20,000 or less – 44.1%”, “20,001-30,000$ – 14.5%”, “30,001-50,000$ – 17.5%”, and “50,001 and more – 4.9%” (Statistics New Zealand Census, 2013, p. 4).  Comparing it with the analysis of the Northern region, Tongans always take second or third place in the population rate and qualification level.  

High rate of unemployment caused internal problems and instability within the Tonga community, which led to decrease of the national rates. The organization called “Tongan Democracy Movement” (TDM) was founded by and for support of the middle class, business class, including start-up, and social cooperative initiative. 

Tongan Youth Trust and Local Media Control

One of the most popular organizations is called Tongan Youth Trust. Formally, it is a charitable fund that promotes Tongan cultural inheritance through the support of 13 – 24-year-old youth. The TYT has a Study Skill Centre NCEA, which has a role of the resource center: assistance in doing homework, help with books and materials etc.. Also, it is the center of social and interpersonal support as youth may ask for some advice, skills in study, or just talk. The leaders of Tongan Youth Trust are 19 – 24-year-old university students. They have a vision and experience of facilitating Tongan youth development and leading a youth movement as an element of restoration and support of traditions. Its mission is: “To help and support Tongan youth reach their goals and aspirations to become contributing members of NZ society” (Tongan Youth Trust, n. d.). Their official Facebook page contains brief information on TYT, the official contact e-mail address (tongan.youth.trust@clear.net.nz), mail address, working schedule, and 334 subscribers (the address is: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tongan-Youth-Trust-Toutupu-TongaTrust/121076521307884?sk=wall). On their page, the group administrators write regularly in the Tongan language and post photos of events. Also, there is institutional and facultative support of the Tongan culture and ethnicity in general. For example, the University of Auckland provided special courses for Tongan about career and study options. Also, it supports various scientific publications on the history, migration process, ethnicity, challenges, and future perspectives, including advocacy campaigns for support and development of the Tongans’ rights.

Such small local initiatives try to prevent the development of social challenge facing the entire Pacific youth, which in fact has one of the highest unemployment rates. The general low rate of the university or college attendance by young people, comparing to NZ’s demography scale, raises new challenges. Nowadays, every third child born in Auckland is Pacific. According to the Auckland Pacific strategic plan (2009), “These babies will grow up to represent 30 percent of new job entrants in Auckland in twenty years and by 2050 will be one of the largest consumer and voting groups in Auckland” (p. 8).  Nevertheless, there is no enough representation in the government for completion and promotion of education and employment programs on the governmental level; hence, there is weak leadership. 

Reformations and Obstacles

A helpful tool for reforming the traditional system is the media, including the Internet and press. The organization called THRDM (Tongan Human Rights and Democracy Movement) and along with the Tongan Times newspaper, promotes political and economic changes in ethnic communities. Additionally, they attempt to fight corruption, which is one of the elements of such a strong support of traditionalism. According to Cathy A. Small and David L. Dixon, in 2003, the king of Tongans forbid the edition, despite the fact that it is published in the Tongan language and read by both local citizens and migrants abroad. In October, 2003, “this legislation spurred the largest protest in Tongan history, after which, in mid-December, the king very quietly signed the newspaper ban into law” (Small, Dixon, 2004, n. p.). Yet, the representatives of THRDM are still retaining loyalty to Tongan religion and traditions.

In the future, this tendency among the younger population may decrease, but, consequently, there may be a risk of identity crisis. In this case, Tongan representatives will not be accepted as a part of ethnical majorities and lose their feeling of ethnic identity. Simultaneously, with the comparably high rate of unemployment, it may lead to decrease of motivation among the young generation to act in a more innovative way. The network activities may leave behind the real challenges future Tongan and Pacific ethnic groups may face in their cultural, economic, religious, and kinship arrangements. The strategies the state government tries to provide do not represent the fulfilled SWOT-analysis with  real risks and opportunities. Hence, there is a possibility that Tongan may become a larger population or of mixed ethnicity, but with less identity, youth support, and simplistic hybrid interpretation. 


The Pacific ethnicity groups became a major population in New Zealand, and Auckland has one of the highest numbers of Pacific inhabitants. Tongans are the second large ethnic group that has its own traditions, language, and lifestyle. Tongans are closely tightened with their archaic traditions, including kinship hierarchy, support of family values, and a strong loyalty to Christianity. There are few organizations trying to support Tongan ethnicity, for example THRDM, Tongan Youth Trust etc.. However, the tendencies the new generation faces create a risk of cultural marketing and loss of ethnic identity.

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