Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder in the Peace Corps

Pacific Kingdom

Map of South Pacific, showing Tonga
Map of South Pacific, showing Tonga

Tonga lies nearly due south of Samoa, and its name means "south" in Polynesian languages.

Tonga bobs in the South Pacific some 3,000 miles southwest of Hawaii. Fiji is 750 miles due west, and Auckland, New Zealand, is 1,250 miles to the southwest.

The nation is comprised of an archipelago of 169 coral and volcanic islands, nearly half of them unoccupied, that stretches 500 miles along the International Dateline.

Most of the islands are tiny. Added together, the land mass of the Tongan islands would fit snugly inside the borders of the city of Los Angeles.

Western explorers first visited there nearly 400 years ago. It became a British protectorate in 1900 and gained independence in 1970, just five years before Gardner arrived there. The archipelago had been known for many years by its English name, the Friendly Islands.

Tonga is the Pacific's last monarchy. King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, who has reigned since 1965, has been the only ruler under independence.

King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV
King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV

Nearly two-thirds of the kingdom's 110,000 people live on Tonga's main island, Tongatapu, and more than half of those live in the capital city, Nuku'alofa.

It is a land of a handful of haves and a multitude of have nots.

For decades, the king, his appointees and their relatives and cronies have lived royal lifestyles while common citizens have scraped by. The prime minister and most of the 16 cabinet members are appointed for life by the king. The all-powerful ruling body is the Privy Council, made up of the king and his cabinet.

Meanwhile, two out of three Tongans are subsistence farmers, eking a life out of raising squash, coconuts, bananas and vanilla beans.

Today, about one in seven citizens is unemployed. The country has just 115 miles of paved roads.


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