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Video clip synopsis – Tonga's constitutional monarchy is undergoing change.
Year of production - 1994
Duration - 4min 19sec
Tags - civics and citizenship, democracy, leadership, monarchy, Pacific region, power, Tonga, see all tags


Questioning Tradition

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About the Video Clip


Questioning Tradition is an excerpt from the documentary Fit for a King, made in 1994.

Fit for a King
An intimate portrait of the King of Tonga, ruler of one of the smallest monarchies in the world. Filmed during the elaborate celebrations for his 75th birthday and the 25th anniversary of his reign, it shows King Taufu’ahau Tupou IV as a revered figure in Tongan society. The film also looks at the question of democratic reform as the country changes and modernises, and the people of Tonga speak about their future.

A Titus Films Production made with the participation of the Australian Film Finance Corporation Pty Limited.

Curriculum Focus


Area of Study 2– Politics, power and people
This video clip is directly linked to the curriculum focus of VCE International Politics. A case study of Tonga can enhance students’ knowledge and understanding about the concepts of leadership and democracy in the context of change and continuity of traditions.

In Unit 1 Politics, power and people, Area of Study 2, students have the opportunity to:

  • Examine the concept of leadership, legitimacy and, leadership as an agent of continuity and change, or for resisting change.
  • Explore a leader’s influence and goals.
  • The impact and contribution of a political leader.
  • Use a range of sources and the higher order thinking skills of reasoning and interpretation.
This material is an extract. Teachers and Students should consult the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority website for more information.

Background Information

In 1845 ‘The Friendly Islands’ (the name given to Tonga by Captain Cook because of the friendly reception he received) joined and became firstly a Polynesian Kingdom and then later, in 1875, a constitutional monarchy. In 1900, the Kingdom became a British protectorate and was so until 1970 when it became the independent Kingdom of Tonga, the only monarchy among the Pacific nations.

As a constitutional monarchy, Tonga has enjoyed stability and relative prosperity for many decades with its citizens having high rates of adult literacy and longevity. King Taufa’ahau Tupou was much revered by his subjects and under his rule people enjoyed stability and prosperity. Despite his popularity, there was a questioning about the system of government during the latter part of his reign. In Tonga power and privilege are inherited. A pro-democracy movement argues that as Tonga modernises and changes, so too should the form of government include more participation in decision-making by all of its citizens.

Modernisation and change has included Tongans migrating in large numbers seeking work and better wages and increased engagement in the globalise economy. With this wider experience the social aspirations of many Tongans began to change.

The pro-democracy movement in Tonga has in recent years become strengthened. In 1998 the Tongan Human Rights and Democracy Movement (THRDM) was formed and called for democratic changes including the creation of an Upper House for nobles while making 21 seats in the Lower House directly elected by and open to commoners. No longer relegated to the margins of Tongan society, the THRDM’s influence is being felt at all levels of government, though reform has still been very gradual. In the 2005 elections, eight of the nine commoner seats in the Lower House were won by members of the new party.

This video clip comes from the documentary Fit for a King made during the lavish 75th birthday and 25th anniversary celebrations of the reign of King of Tonga, King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV in 1994. Celebrations were held throughout the kingdom and people paid their respects to the King.

King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV died on 10 September 2006. His 41-year reign made him one of the world’s longest-serving sovereigns. He was succeeded by his eldest son King George Tupou V.

Classroom Activities

  1. Using data from the video clip, the internet and other sources write definitions in your own words of the following different types of leadership:
    1. Leader
    2. Ruler
    3. Feudal monarch
    4. Democratic leader
    5. Constitutional monarchy
    6. Popular sovereign
  2. Next to each definition include the name of a current leader/ruler who you think is an example of the definition.
  3. Using Tonga as a case study, construct a profile of the current political structure, noting the centres of power, the structures that support those in power and the broader social, cultural and historical context in which the Tongan system operates. Research recent newspaper or internet articles to discover how Tonga is responding to the ascension of a new monarch.
  4. Several people in this video clip speak against the pre–democracy party. List down the names/titles of each of these people and write one quote that you think best summarises their reason for opposing the pro democracy party.
  5. Prepare an oral presentation discussing the pros and cons of the current political system in Tonga. Part of the presentation should also generalise into a discussion about the complexities of the concepts of the role and responsibilities of leadership, legitimacy, representation, and leadership as an agent of continuity or change, or for resisting change.

Further Resources


Go to Pacific Stories Learning for Interactive Compass Map with facts about the Pacific region.

For interview transcripts, books and references for this Digital Resource go to Pacific Stories, choose Fit for a King, select INDEX, and go to MORE INFORMATION.