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Tonga is a large island group in the South Pacific some 3000 miles (5000 km) southwest of Pearl Harbor. There are 170 islands in the group, mostly uninhabited, with a total land area of about 250 square miles (650 km2), with a population of about 35,000 persons, almost half in the Southern Group that includes Tongatabu. Most of the inhabitants were native Polynesians with about 1300 Europeans, Chinese, and others. The name Tonga means "South", reflecting the fact that the original Tongans migrated south from Samoa.
The islands are far enough south to have a
pleasant climate with distinct warm and cool seasons. However, the
islands are vulnerable to typhoons
from October to April.
Tonga was a British protectorate and the only constitutional democracy in all Polynesia, with a dynasty going back 1,000 years. The Tongans were a peaceful people until contact with Fiji in the late 18th century taught them the art of war. These skills were used against Christian missionaries in 1797, but the missionaries returned in 1818 and by the mid-1800s the population had largely converted to Christianity. In 1942 Tonga was ruled by Queen Salote Tupou, who declared war on Germany and then Japan at the advice of the British. She also took the precaution of hiding all the young women when Fletcher's Task Force 17 (Yorktown) visited in late April 1942. There was a good port and airfield at Nuku'Alofa on the island of Tongatabu, where the U.S. Navy began development of an advance fleet base in early 1942. The British raised a brigade group from among the native population.
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