The kingdom of Tonga chose not to take sides at the beginning of the First World War, but British officials were uncertain how far that neutrality went.
At the beginning of the 20th century, with Great Britain, France, Germany and the United Stae all vying for power in the Pacific, King Tupou II signed a friendship treaty with Great Britain.
When war broke out in 1914, Tonga declared its neutrality.
According to Jan-Hai Te Ratana of Aranui Library, the kingdom had good relations with both Britain and Germany and Tonga was home to many German traders and importers.
The German consulate in Nukualofa was eclipsed in size only by the British.
And the British were not entirely sure where Tonga stood. During a visit to Nuku’alpofa just before the war, Sir Maui Pomare reported that fewer British flags were flying than German or Tongan ones.
Nor did it escape his notice just how many German goods were available in the shop, ranging from tinned meat to beer.
And there was more to worry the British. At the end of 1916, the British Consul in Tonga wrote to the High Commissioner in Suva to express his concerns about what he called the “German sympathies” of King Tupou II.
According to New Zealand historian James Baade, the Consul reported that the King wore ceremonial decorations supplied by the Germans. He complained that in the King’s Palace – built in 1867 by the German firm Godeffroy – there were large portraits of Kaiser Wilhelm II and Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.
While Tonga maintained her neutrality, the British pressured Tonga to fall in line with her war aims.
The British Consul identified 150 people living in Tonga as “enemy aliens.” They included Germans, Samoans, and New Guinea Islanders including wives and families. Some were deported to New Zealand, while others continued a restricted life stayed in Tonga.
Despite this – and the recruitment of a small number of volunteer in 2016 – King Tupou II kept the kingdom from officially taking sides during the conflict. While Tonga officially became a British protectorate in 1900, the king had refused to sign the clause which gave Britain the power to determine Tongan foreign policy.
This meant that Tonga remained self-governing and was able to preserve – at least technically – her neutrality during the First World War.
The main points
- The kingdom of Tonga chose not to take sides at the beginning of the First World War, but British officials were uncertain how far that neutrality went.
- The kingdom had good relations with both Britain and Germany and Tonga was home to many German traders and importers.
- During a visit to Nuku’alpofa just before the war, Sir Maui Pomare reported that fewer British flags were flying than German or Tongan ones.
For more information
The Kingdom of Tonga – Pasifika involvement in the First World War
100 Kiwi Stories of WWI: Tongan soldiers struggled in a strange land
Tonga in World War 1
Germans in Tonga 1855-1960