World Facts

What Do the Colors and Symbols of the Flag of Tonga Mean?

The national flag of Tonga was first adopted in 4 November 1875.

Tonga is a sovereign nation in the Pacific Ocean. It is an archipelago of 169 islands scattered over an area of more than 700,000 square km, although only 36 of these islands are inhabited.

Brief History of Tonga

British explorer Captain James Cook first visited the islands in 1773, and according to historical accounts, Cook received a warm welcome from the indigenous population of the islands during his visit. Cook visited the islands two more times between 1773 and 1777, and Tonga gradually become influenced by the British. About 50 years later, Christian missionaries began converting Tongans to Christianity. In 1831, the leader or paramount chief of the islands also became a Christian and was named King George Tupou I in 1845. From 1900 to 1970, the archipelago held the status of a British protected state, after the signing of the Treaty of Friendship. During this period, the United Kingdom managed Tonga’s foreign affairs. However, unlike most nations in the region, Tonga never fully gave up its sovereignty, and became a constitutional monarchy in 2010.

History of the Flag

The first national flag of Tonga was adopted sometime during the 1840s under the reign of King George Tupou I. This flag featured a white field with a red or blue cross in each of the four corners. Additionally, the letters "A" and "M" in red and blue, respectively, were included in the center of the flag, which symbolized the king. However, this flag was only used briefly. The king soon sought the help of British missionary Shirley Waldemar Baker to help design a new national flag. The king wanted a flag that would represent Christianity, and the new flag was similar to the British Red Ensign. Three-quarters of the flag was red in color, while the upper corner of the hoist-side of the flag featured a distinctive canton. This flag was first used in 1866. Tonga's current flag was adopted on November 4, 1875, and according to Article 47 of the country’s Constitution, this flag can never be altered ever.

Design of the Flag of Tonga

The current flag of Tonga features a red field with a white rectangle in the top hoist-side corner. The white rectangle includes a red Greek cross in the center.

Symbolism of the Flag of Tonga

Christianity is the predominant religion in Tonga and is practiced by nearly 97% of the population. Therefore, the colors and symbols featured on Tonga's flag have religious symbolism. The red color represents religion and the sacrifice of the Blood of Christ, which was shed during his Crucifixion. The white color represents purity.

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