Tonga consists of 176 islands that support a population of 106,000 people. More than double this number of Tongans live overseas, mainly in the US, New Zealand and Australia, and a significant proportion of Tonga’s income comes from money sent from Tongans who have emigrated to their extended families remaining on the islands. Tourism is the second-largest source of hard currency earnings following remittances.
Tonga has a small, open, island economy with limited income coming from the export of agricultural goods, including fish and crops. The country must import a high proportion of its food, mainly from New Zealand. The country remains dependent on external aid to offset its trade deficit.
Unlike any of the other Pacific islands, Tonga never completely lost its indigenous governance. It operates as a constitutional monarchy. A direct descendant of the first monarch, King Tupou VI, his family, some powerful nobles, and a growing non-royal elite caste live in much wealth, with the rest of the country living in relative poverty. However, the Tongan rule has resulted in free primary education and health care for all, and this has resulted in a higher life expectancy and literacy rate than in the other pacific islands.