Polynesians settled in the islands of Tonga as they did many other islands in the South Pacific. In the 12th century Tonga was a dominant nation in this area of the Pacific. Historians often refer to the 'Tongan Empire' during the reign of 'Tu'i Tonga' their chief. In both the 15th and 17th centuries, civil war broke out. Between these wars in the year 1616, Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire, both Dutch explorers, came to Tonga. Later in 1643, Abel Tasman visited the main island of Tongatapu and also Ha'apai. In 1773, 1774, and 1777, Captain Cook came to Tonga and Alessandro Malaspina arrived in 1793. Missionaries followed a few years later.
In 1845 a young warrior named Tāufa āhau united Tonga into a kingdom. His title was Tu'i Kanokupolu, but he was baptised with the name King George. In 1875, he made Tonga into a constitutional monarchy.
Twenty five years later on 18 May 1900, Tonga became a British protected state. While under the protection of Britain, Tonga remained the only Pacific nation to keep its monarchial government unlike both Hawaii and Tahiti.
Tonga's protectorate status ended in 1970 and joined the Commonwealth as an autochthonous monarchy, meaning that they kept their monarch rather than Elizabeth II). Tonga then joined the United Nations 1999. In March 2006, Britain closed its High Commission in Tonga.