Archaeological evidence shows that the first settlers in Tonga sailed from the Santa Cruz Islands, as part of the original Austronesian-speakers' (Lapita) migration which originated out of S.E. Asia some 6,000 years ago. Archaeological dating places Tonga as the oldest known site in Polynesia for the distinctive Lapita ceramic ware, at 2,800-2,750 years ago. The "Lapita" people lived and sailed, traded, warred, and intermarried in the islands now known as Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji for 1,000 years, before more explorers set off to the east to discover the Marquesas, Tahiti, and eventually the rest of the Pacific Ocean islands. For this reason, Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji are described by anthropologists as the cradle of Polynesian culture and civilization.
By the 12th century, Tongans were known across the Pacific, from Niue to Tikopia, sparking some historians to refer to a 'Tongan Empire'. A network of interacting navigators, chiefs, and adventurers might be a better term although the empire did have its own dynasties. It could be compared to the Scandinavian kingdoms and the Vikings. In the 15th century and again in the 17th, civil war erupted. It was in this context that the first Europeans arrived, beginning with Dutch explorers Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire in 1616, who called on the northern island of Niuatoputapu, and Abel Tasman, who visited Tongatapu and Ha?apai in 1643. Later noteworthy European visits were by Captain Cook in 1773, 1774, and 1777, the first London missionaries in 1797, and the Wesleyan Methodist Walter Lawry Buller in 1822.
Tonga, alias the Friendly Islands, became a British protected state under a Treaty of Friendship on 18 May 1900, when European settlers and rival Tongan chiefs tried to oust the second king. Within the British Empire, which posted no higher permanent representative on Tonga than a British Consul (1901-1970), it was part of the British Western Pacific Territories (under a colonial High Commissioner, then residing on Fiji) from 1901 until 1952.
The Treaty of Friendship and Tonga's protectorate status ended in 1970 under arrangements established prior to her death by Queen Salote Tupou III. Tonga joined the Commonwealth of Nations in 1970 (atypically as an autochthonous monarchy), and the United Nations in September 1999. While exposed to colonial forces, Tonga has never lost indigenous governance, a fact that makes Tonga unique in the Pacific and gives Tongans much pride, as well as confidence in their monarchal system. As part of cost cutting measures across the British Foreign Service, the British Government closed the British High Commission in Nuku?alofa in March 2006, transferring representation of British interests in Tonga to the UK High Commissioner in Fiji. The last resident British High Commissioner was His Excellency Mr. Paul