King Siaosi Tupou 1. Photo/National Library of New Zealand

While Tongans in New Zealand are celebrating the Queen’s Birthday, their cousins in the kingdom are also enjoying a public holiday to mark emancipation Day.

This marks the occasion on June 4, 1862, King Siaosi Tupou I, officially abolished serfdom in Tonga.

Tupou, who was Tonga’s first Christian chief, freed commoners from being virtually owned by the chiefs under the 1862 Code of Laws.

The Code said: “All chiefs and people are to all intents and purposes set at liberty from serfdom, and all vassalage, from the institution of this law; and it shall not be lawful for any chief or person, to seize, or take by force, or beg authoritatively, in Tonga fashion, anything from any one.”

Taufa’āhau Tupou, ruler of the island of Ha’apai and a Christian convert, gained control of and united the islands following a civil war between those who had been converted by Wesleyan missionaries and those who followed traditional beliefs.

Taufa’āhau held the chiefly title of Tu’i Kanokupolu.

In 1875, he declared Tonga a constitutional monarchy and enacted laws which significantly weakened the powers of the chiefs.

Speaking at the opening of Tailulu College’s first hall, Fale Masiva, last month,  His Majesty King Tupou VI said  the 1875 Constitution highlighted Tonga’s emancipation and the freedom of education, freedom of expression, freedom of employment and freedom of religion.

The next public holiday in Tonga is in July 4, which marks the official birthday of King Tupou VI.

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