Tongan Culture and Traditions

I learned so much this week! Primarily about Tonga, but also several new words and about things like the Commonwealth of Nations and what a protectorate is. And I’m about to share a bunch of it with you here, you lucky dogs!

Tonga is a place I hadn’t heard of until last week. It looks small on the map but it turns out this nation is comprised of 170 islands, about a quarter of them inhabited, within the Pacific Islands and has a rich history stretching back about 3000 years. I don’t know why I’m always so surprised at the length of histories of every country I research – it’s like I don’t realize the earth has been around for a long time or something…

 Photo:  Wondermondo

Let’s start way back in 1000 B.C. Around this time the Lapita people of Southeast Asia migrated to islands throughout the now Pacific Islands, leaving their culture along the way. The Pacific Islands are now divided up into three major groups – Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia – and cover over 10,000 square kilometers (3800 square miles). These same people are thought to have visited and populated not only these islands, but also Hawaii and Easter Island. Which means they really knew their way around the water!

One of the lasting evidences of these early people is the Gate of Ha’amonga ‘a Maui. Similar to the trilithons (word of the day) that are Stonehenge, the origin of this ‘gate’ is the stuff of legends. Could it mark the entrance to an ancient kingly compound? Or is it the work of the demi-god brothers all named Maui, and whom star in myths and legends across the Pacific Islands? Until Kingdom come, we may never know!

The Kingdom of Tonga was found by the Dutch in the early 1600s. They had little contact with the locals at first but continued to explore the region and archipelago (second word of the day) over much of the century and eventually did some interacting and trading with the Tongans. In the late 1700s, British explorer James Cook visited the islands and nicknamed them the Friendly Isles based on his warm welcome there. Ironically, that warm welcome was a ruse intended to distract him and his crew while their ships were raided, a plan that was never actually carried out. The nickname, however, stuck.


Tonga remains a kingdom, and has maintained authoritarian rule for pretty much all of its history. It was first of British protectorate, meaning it surrendered some governing powers to Britain in exchange for protection. In 1970, Tonga joined the Commonwealth of Nations, which is a group of 52 independent nations that work together and support each other towards common goals.

Rich with tradition and culture, Tonga is a beautiful spot to visit for those looking for an authentic locale. The way of life is relaxed and there doesn’t really seem to be a bad time to go as far as weather goes. The Lonely Planet has great guides for planning trips to countries around the world, Tonga included.

Europeans brought Christianity to the Tongan islands in the late 1700s. Faith swept the nation and now the majority religion in the nation is Christianity, though there is freedom of religion and other groups and denominations do exist here. Even the kings of Tonga have proclaimed their Christian faith, which is pretty cool and not something you hear about often. This is reason for praise!

However, there is oversaturation of churches and various denominations and sects in Tonga. This can lead to division and confusion among believers. Pray for the truth of God from the Bible to resurge through the country and for true believers to be encouraged and strengthened. Also pray for errors in various belief systems to be exposed and for greater understanding of who God is to reach all the people of Tonga. Again, it’s cool that even their kings have proclaimed Christ! But with that pervasiveness often comes stagnation. Pray for revival amongst believers and a renewed desire and fire to spread the true gospel among natives and out to other nations!

As you might expect, this island nation has a plethora of fish dishes to choose from (I’m actually going to make one next week), but I wasn’t feeling fish this week so I picked a chicken recipe – chicken lu pulu to be exact!

According to Aly from Aloha Flavor, where I found this recipe, this dish should technically be called lu moa because the ‘pulu’ version calls for corned beef. Whatever you want to call it, this dish was easy and delicious!



Author: Aly M. Cleary; Inspired by Sam Choy's Polynesian Kitchen

PREP TIME: 10 mins      COOK TIME: 30 mins      TOTAL TIME: 40 mins      SERVES: 4


  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
  • 1½ pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 16 ounces of fresh spinach, washed and dried
  • 1 cup of light coconut milk
  • 1 cup of chicken stock
  • 1 fresh ripe small tomato, seeded and diced
  • 2 green onions, white and light green parts, sliced
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
  • Brown rice for serving


  1. In a large skillet, over medium high heat, preheat the oil until it starts to shimmer.
  2. Season the chicken with a bit of salt and pepper and add to the pan.
  3. Brown the chicken in batches as crowding the pan will steam them. Once the chicken is nicely browned, remove to a plate.
  4. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and the diced onion.
  5. Saute for a few minutes until translucent and add the minced garlic.
  6. Deglaze the pan with ¼ cup of chicken stock, making sure to scrape up any fond on the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula.
  7. Return the chicken to the pan and add the spinach.
  8. Saute until the spinach begins to wilt.
  9. Add the chicken stock and let simmer for a minute, followed by the light coconut milk.
  10. Let simmer for 20 minutes or so, over medium low heat, until the flavors come together.
  11. Serve over brown rice and enjoy!

A warm and creamy dish, this one won’t disappoint! It’s easy enough to throw together after work but different enough to spice up your weeknight routine. For more Polynesian-style recipes, check out Aloha Flavor and explore the cuisine!

Cleary, Aly M. “Easy Chicken Lu Pulu.” Aloha Flavor™, 4 Aug. 2015,

Foster, Sophie, and Sione Latukefu. “Tonga.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 18 Apr. 2017,

“Ha'amonga 'a Maui (Trilithon) and 'Esi Maka Fa'akinanga.” Ha'amonga 'a Maui (Trilithon) and 'Esi Maka Fa'akinanga | Wondermondo,

“Introducing the Commonwealth: Helping Every Voice to Be Heard.” Introducing the Commonwealth: Helping Every Voice to Be Heard | The Commonwealth,

Johnblack. “The Megalithic Gate of Ha-Amonga a Maui.” Ancient Origins, Ancient Origins, 1 Jan. 2014,

“Three Millennia of History.” The Kingdom Of Tonga,

“Tonga.” Tonga | Operation World,