Tonga (which means "south") was settled about 3,000 years ago and is one of the oldest Polynesian settlements. The name of its capital, Nuku’alofa, translates literally to "village of love." At first blush, the town of around 23,000 people is somewhat rustic, slow, and almost backward. Nuku’alofa can often seem like it is caught in a time warp, and the presence of horse traps and Tongans wearing t’ovala (woven pandanus-leaf mats that are tied around the waist) adds to the impression of a place stuck in the 19th century. This is a misleading first impression, and visitors quickly find that Tongans are worldly and warm. It’s easy to see why English explorer James Cook dubbed Tonga "the Friendly Isles."
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