The Tongan archipelago, located in Polynesia, extends to about 300 kilometers and includes from 150 to 200 islands. The largest islands within the group are Tongatapu, ‘Eua, and Vava'u. Only three other islands are inhabited; Eva, Niuafo'ou, and Niuatoputapu (Goldman 1970: 281).Tonga is on the western side of the international date line. Radioactive carbon dating of a Tongan specimen gave us a date going back to about the 5th century B.C. This date is the oldest of all of Polynesia (Lieb 1972: 79).
Among the Polynesian chiefdoms, Tonga is unique because of its level of political development and extensive travel and exchange (Kirch 1984: 217). The entire archipelago was controlled by a pair of sacred and secular paramount chiefs. The placing of the islands in a south- west to north-east position made traveling easy. During the trade-wind season traveling up and down the chain of islands was easy (Kirch 1984: 219).
Despite the lost coral islets and atolls, the islands have extremely fertile soil. However, certain conditions do affect development. The islands are small with fixed boundaries and are occupied by tens of thousands of people. Irrigation is not possible, limiting their agricultural capabilities to dryland field systems. Being in the middle of the ocean leaves them susceptible to natural disasters such as cyclones and droughts (Kirch 1984: 221).
The rainfall is about 1500 mm to 1800 mm a year which made the islands flourish. Animal husbandry was well developed as was agriculture. The Tongans used swidden agriculture raise yams, aroids, and bananas. Although the land was not allowed to lay fallow for very long, it was kept fertile through mulching. There was also an emphasis on land division. The intensity of Tongan agriculture is well documented by European explorers as being a fertile flourishing land (Kirch 1984: 221).
Tonga is the most stratified form of the western Polynesian status system (Goldman 280). It is also one of the oldest. The archeological evidence for political hierarchy first appeared in AD 1000. In pre-contact Tonga people were ranked personally and collectively. Everyone was ranked separately and no person had the same status (Gailey 1987: 49). Despite the different ranks, all people had mana which was given to them by the gods. Of course, the higher in rank you were, the more mana you had ( Goldman 289). The higher ranks were therefor able to control the labor and products of the lower class (Gailey 1987: 49). Tongan people were ranked according to their closeness to a common ancestor. Through mythical tales, Tongans saw themselves as descended from the gods (Goldman 1970: 282).
Status in Tonga was not static. Marriages did occur across ranks but the highest ranks were not allowed to marry the commoners. (Gailey 1987: 57). When a child was born, it took the rank of the mother. Power could also change if a lineage was conquered, reducing chiefs to...