Kōrero: Tongans

Whārangi 2. Life in New Zealand

Ngā whakaahua

Where they settled

In 2013, 78% of Tongans were living in the Auckland region. The 1990s saw a shift from central to south Auckland, in part because inner-city rental houses were being sold and renovated, forcing tenants to find housing further out. The two areas of concentration were Ōtara and Māngere, which have some of the biggest Tongan churches. Tongans are likely to live close to their churches, which are their community centres.

Other notable concentrations were in the Auckland suburbs of Grey Lynn, Glen Innes, Ōtāhuhu, Onehunga, Mt Albert, Mt Roskill and Avondale, and in the Waitākere suburbs of New Lynn, Henderson and Massey. After Auckland, Wellington was the second most important area of settlement, with 4% of the Tongan population in 2013. 

Socio-economic issues

In 2013, Tongans’ median annual income was $15,300, compared to $28,500 for New Zealanders as a whole. Only 59% of working-age Tongans were employed. Like other Pacific Islanders, Tongans commonly worked in manufacturing, where jobs have declined.

In 2013 disparities in income, employment and living standards were apparent in household statistics:

  • Over 20% of households consisted of two or more families living together, compared to only 7% of New Zealand households.
  • 40% of Tongans lived as an extended family, compared to the total New Zealand figure of 12%.
  • 67% of Tongans lived in rental accommodation, compared to 33% nationally.
  • Only 15% owned the house they lived in, compared to 50% nationally.

Measures of success

Despite the grim situation suggested by the statistics, many Tongan people perceive their move to New Zealand as a significant achievement. Compared to those with no regular employment in Tonga, a person receiving a benefit or low wages in New Zealand is seen as relatively well off.

Last kingdom

Tonga is the sole surviving kingdom in the Pacific today. It is also the only Pacific nation that has never been colonised. Although Tonga is often described as a constitutional monarchy, in fact the monarch possesses considerable political power. In the 2000s a pro-democracy movement was trying to change the kingdom into a constitutional democracy.

Essential measures of success are the ability to contribute to the extended family, and fulfilling community obligations. Even when Tongans are highly educated or materially wealthy, if they do not help the family in paying for funerals, weddings and church donations, they are not regarded as successful. Showing respect for seniority, restrained behaviour in the face of need, and sexual propriety by Christian standards are considered equally important.

Having large families is an indicator of success, as resources can be pooled to carry out family responsibilities. Those who send money to their family members in Tonga are highly regarded. In return for their remittances they receive gifts of mats and ngatu (bark cloth) – items of great value in Tongan culture – or Tongan food such as yams, taro and cassava. In the late 1990s remittances from Tongans overseas amounted to over $NZ90 million annually, a figure that far outweighed Tonga’s annual returns from tourism or agriculture.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Melenaite Taumoefolau, 'Tongans - Life in New Zealand', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/tongans/page-2 (accessed 17 October 2019)

Story by Melenaite Taumoefolau, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 25 Mar 2015