The Upside to Colonization

Tongatapu, Tonga

Downside to never being taken over by a western power: There’s a lot of poverty in Tonga.

 Hut village on the edge of the capital town


There’s a lot of wealth too, it’s just focused on the royal family and a very small percentage of ultra-rich.  Driving around Tonga, like in Mexico, it was not unusual to drive past a grand palatial estate that had hovels as immediate neighbors.



Due to religious dedication and cultural tradition, churches and graveyards were typically the nicest areas in the towns


So you’re saying “Ok so yeah guys hey you notice we’re kinda having the same thing here back home?  What, you been under a rock the past few months?”

On a boat, actually, rocks don’t float.  And this is different though the overarching issue is the same.  What is the guaranteed minimum quality of life we as Americans, or as people, should have?  Isn’t that one of the core issues that universal health care, minimum wages, taxation, all of it ultimately comes to?  Tiffany’s brother Chris and Greg spent a few hours talking about “the right of internet access.”  It all comes down to what is the minimum acceptable standard of living that we can reasonably expect.  Where that line should be drawn.

In Tonga, there is no minimum we’re aware of.


And things are a lot more…. run down in Tonga than we noticed in other Polynesian countries.


A typical mid-range dining establishment in Tonga.

In Tahiti the entire country is a colony of France.  Downside- no self-governance (well, they have a representative to the French now) and every now and then the French government used to test a thermo-nuclear weapon on an island (eventually they stopped).  Upside- no matter where you go in all the hundred-plus islands of French Polynesia, no matter how out of the way you are, if you’re hungry a full 2 foot long baguette is only 50 cents.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like a fair exchange, and as we’ve said before the nukes are so inexplicably wrong on so many levels, but before we write off the French as completely horrible perhaps we should take a moment to appreciate what it takes to make freshly baked bread available for 50 cents on a remote island village approximately 3000 miles of open ocean away from the nearest wheat field.

Tonga has no such sponsor so you either pay for it & the delivery yourself or you go without bread.

On the upside, cars that can outrun the cops still can’t get very far…

 Perhaps before we call the USA imperialistic bastards we should note that from what we hear the quality of life in American Samoa (US territory) is far better than Western Samoa (not a US territory), so much better that there are immigration issues between the islands.  Having the only Wal-Mart for 5000 miles makes one’s country popular it would seem.

For better or worse, Tonga does not have Wal-Mart…or any discount retail options for that matter.

The New Zealand government gives the government of Niue 14 million dollars a year.  This is the single largest income the country receives and makes up a significant portion of their annual budget.

Tonga has no larger country actively committed to annually giving them millions of dollars to do with as they please.


Oddly enough, kids school uniforms always looked fresh, clean & pressed


Tonga is independent, it is free…and it is not subsidized.  We mentioned China and the Mormon church and how they have managed to place themselves firmly into the Tongan way of life simply by spending money here.  Hey, no one else was and the money was needed.  So is colonization bad?  Kind of.  Is sponsorship good?  Mostly.

Grey areas suck eh?



It’s not all cheap bread and good times on the other side of the equation either.  To find out more about the extreme hardships the Marquesan people endured as a European colony click on Next Stop: Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia


About the authors

Greg and Tiffany are traveling around the world on sailing yachts and keep a video blog of their (mis)adventures.  If sailing to Tahiti on a 44 ft sailboat, getting pooped on by seagulls, opening coconuts with dull machetes, sailing past tornadoes and ukulele Christmas carols are for you, then check them out at!

This entry was posted in travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Upside to Colonization

  1. Erica says:

    Lots of Mormons in Tonga? Had no clue – and our fams are Mormon. Interesting!

  2. Tiffany says:

    Yeah, we thought it was pretty interesting ourselves! Especially since we had seen so many Catholic churches in French Polynesia.

  3. Kathi & Bill Cuffel says:

    The outer island Fijians are very poor and Vanuatu is even poorer. They were both colonized. French Poly receives a lot of money from France. Baquettes are cheap because they are subsidized and the priced by law. Notice there’s not a lot of whole wheat bread…. Not all former colonies are currently subsidized.

  4. This is a great post and a perfect example of reportage on a meaningful travel experience! I’m sure attitudes towards colonisation are similar between Britain and America, although Britain colonised two thirds of the world and was pretty brutal a lot of the time. Out brutality has also made it into popular culture with films like Ghandi. So lots of people think that colonisation is inherently evil. I have also found on my travels that there’s always an “upside”, which I think this article demonstrates brilliantly. It’s the same in Laos and Cambodia; both 98% poor but what little help there is for people was put there by a French colony or, more recently, by rich nations with interests in gold mining or hamburgers. Not much has really changed; like here, the rich get richer and the poor stay poor. The difference is that poor don’t get their rent paid or have access to free healthcare… that minimum standard everyone gets here and in America. We are very lucky, that’s for sure. Good luck with your trip, sounds amazing!! Some inspiration for Part 2 of my travel post! Thanks.

    Best wishes,

    Benjamin Blech

    • Tiffany says:

      Thanks Benjamin! We too hadn’t realized what some of the upsides were until we’d visited both kinds of places – those with and without colonial influence. And you’re right – Britain was pretty brutal about it, as were the Dutch, the French and the Spanish – just all in different ways. But in some ways those countries are better off for that influence. I’m not saying that this is unilaterally true, just that we in the modern world tend to think in over-simplifications like “colonization is bad, freedom is good”. This is a blanket statement that just doesn’t encompass entire situations.

      Thanks for coming over for a read, I’m looking forward to part 2 of your post!

Comments are closed.