Friendly or Tonga Islands, a group in the southern Pacific ocean, lying between lat. 18° and 23° S., and Ion. 174° and 175° 3O' W. Tonga is the native name of the group. They were discovered by the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman in 1643, and visited and described in 1773 and 1777 by Cook, who gave them the name of Friendly from the apparently hospitable reception he met with from the inhabitants. It has since been ascertained that the character of the natives is no better than that of the other Polynesians, and that they were only deterred by fear from attacking Cook. They consist of about 32 greater and 150 smaller islands, about 30 of which are inhabited; pop. estimated from 25,000 to 50,000. The islands are mostly of coral formation, and are surrounded by dangerous coral reefs. A few are of volcanic origin, and in Tofooa there is an active volcano. They are divided into three groups, viz.: the Tonga at the south, the Hapai in the centre, and the Vavao at the north. The climate is healthy, but humid; much rain falls, and none of the islands are destitute of fresh water. The mean temperature during the stay of the United States exploring expedition at Tongataboo (April, 1840) was 79.25°. The trade winds are by no means constant.
Earthquakes are frequent, but not formidable; hurricanes both frequent and destructive. The natives cultivate yams, sweet potatoes, bananas, cocoanuts, breadfruit, sugar cane, shaddock, limes, and the ti (spondias dulcix); the panda-nus is one of their most useful trees, of which they make their mats; a little corn is grown, and they have the papaw apple (papaya) and watermelon. The missionaries have successfully introduced the sweet orange from Tahiti, but many other imported fruits and vegetable seeds have failed. The flora resembles that of the Feejee group. The hog, dog. and rat are the only native quadrupeds. Tongataboo, or Sacred isle, is the principal island. It is about 20 m. long and 12 broad; it is low and level, of coral formation, and rises nowhere more than 60 ft. above the sea. In pagan times it-exercised a sort of religious supremacy over the other islands. The only important article of export from the Friendly islands is cocoanut oil. Port Refuge in Vavao is the best harbor, and is much frequented by British and American whalers. The port of Bea on Tongataboo is celebrated as the place where in 1840 Capt. Croker, of II. B. M. sloop Favorite, was defeated by the pagan party.
In this engagement, undertaken in behalf of the Christian missionaries and their native partisans, Croker and many of his officers and men were slain. The Friendly islanders contrast favorably with their neighbors, the Feejceans, in appearance and disposition. The islands were formerly governed by several independent chiefs. The northern and middle groups afterward constituted the state of Vavao, under the sway of a native Protestant prince called King George, who is said to have since become the ruler of all the islands. When pagans, the natives were devoted to war; the women went nearly naked. They offered human sacrifices, and cut off their little fingers and toes as propitiatory offerings to their gods. Their mythology, like that of the other Polynesians, was a low type of polytheism. The spirits of all chiefs go to Bulotn; those of the poor people remain in this world to feed upon ants and lizards. They represent the island of Bulotu as not far distant, but do not attempt to settle its precise position.
Nearly all the people are now Christian. They were first visited in 1797 by agents of the London missionary society, but in 1827 came under the charge of the Wesleyan society of Great Britain. The group is divided into three missionary stations, viz.: Tongataboo and Hapai, commenced in 1829, and Vavao, in 1830. The smaller islands are intrusted to the supervision of native teachers, and are visited occasionally by the missionaries. A printing press has been in operation at Vavao since 1832. Many of the women can sew, and a great number of the natives have learned to read and write, both in their native tongue and in English; a few have been taught arithmetic and geography. King George is a constant preacher, and is thus described by a missionary:"In the pulpit he was dressed in a black coat, and his manner was solemn and earnest. He held in his hand a small bound manuscript book, but seldom looked at it." Later, Catholic missionaries came to these islands from France, and firmly established themselves in the southern group, where a large portion of the natives have joined the Catholic church.
Intercourse with the eastern islands of the Fee-jee group is frequent, and many Tongese have emigrated thither.
A Cromlech at Tongataboo.