Distraction Playlist: Sundays in Tonga

Sunday is an important day for all Tongans.  It is the peak day of the week. It is a day where all business activities cease and most families spend the day attending church services, resting, spending time with family and having the traditional ‘umu.  

At home, we have to clean up and sweep on Saturdays in preparation for Sundays. I even spend most of the week with my nieces and nephews thinking of what to bake on Sundays to make it extra special. We all look forward to relaxing and eating (even though we do this throughout the week).

Reflecting on this, I wanted examine the history of Sundays in Tonga and how it was regulated in the past and how it is regulated at present in Tonga.

History of Sundays in Tonga

The sacredness of the “Sabbath”  was an integral part of the missionaries teachings in Tonga. The Tongan converts accepted this teaching with great seriousness.[1] Tongan regarded Sabbath in the same spirit as they observed traditional taboos.[2] The sacredness of Sabbath became a part of the Constitution of Tonga.[3] Young (1854:268) who observed Sabbath in Tonga wrote –

“Never had I previously observed such respect paid to the Sabbath of the Lord. The day appears to be exclusively devoted to religious services, and notghing meets the eye or ear infringing upon the sanctity of that blessed day, but everywhere incense and a pure offering seem to be presented to the Lord of Hosts. If the people are beheld coming from their habitations, it is that they may go up to the house of the Lord, and inquire in his holy temple. If a canoe is seen in the offing, it is conveying a Local Preacher to his appointment in some distant island, that he may preach unto the people Jesus. If noises occasionally fall upon the ear, they are not those of revelry and strike, but of holy praise and fervent prayer going up to heaven”[4]

The first appearance of “Sabbath” in Tongan legislation is seen in Clause 2 of The Code of Vava’u 1838 which states:

“My mind is this. That all my people should attend to all the duties of religion towards God; that they should keep holy the Sabbath day, by abstaining from their worldly occupation and labours, and by attending to the preaching of the word and the worship of God in their places of worship.

Should any man on shore or from on ship board come to the chapel for the purpose of sport or to disturb the worship; should he insult the Minister or the congregation, he shall be taken and bound, and fined for every such offence, as the judge shall determine”

The 1850 Code of Laws, which was a revision of the Vava’u Code referred to Sabbath-day in Clause XIII which states:

    “XII The Law referring to the Sabbath-day

 The breaking of the Sabbath is a great sin in the sight of God. Work which cannot be dispensed with, such as preparing food for a sick person, maybe done, or any unforeseen accident occurring; but other works, such as house-building, making canoes, gardening, seeking fish, journeying to a distance, and assembling together for wicked purposes, are all forbidden. Any person found guilty shall work one month, and repetition of the crime, two months.

The 1862 Code of Laws which was a revision of the 1859 Code referred to Sabbath-day in Clause XV which states:

 “XV The law concerning Sabbath breaking

It is not lawful to work on the Sabbath day – either to build houses, or canoes, or to farm, or go fishing, or such like; but there are things that may be done on the Sabbath, such providing for sickness, or accidents. And who-ever breaks this law shall be fined eight dollars, and for the second offence sixteen dollars.

The first version of the Constitution of Tonga  in 1875 referred to the Sabbath- day in Clause 6  as follows:

“6. The Sabbath Day shall be sacred in Tonga forever and it shall not be lawful to work, or artifice, or play games, or trade on the Sabbath. And any agreement made or document witnessed on this day shall be counted void, and will not be protected by the Government.”

Amendments to the Sabbath Laws                

Clause 6 of the Constitution was amended by Act 3 of 1971 to the current clause –

“The Sabbath Day shall be kept holy in Tonga and no person shall practice his trade or profession or conduct any commercial undertaking on the Sabbath Day except according to law; and any agreement made or witnessed on that day shall be null and void and of no legal effect”[5].

The amendment in 1971 provided an exception for the “essential services” under the Orders in Public Places Act and any other services granted by the Minister of Police with the approval of Cabinet.

Bakeries on Sundays

Growing up, I always knew that the bakeries were always open on Sundays. I tried to locate the authority that allowed for Bakeries to be open on Sundays, but I cannot locate it. However, there is an assumption that Cabinet allowed for the Bakeries to open in Tonga on Sundays after Tropical Cyclone Isaac in 1982.

However, I found a newspaper article from the Tonga Chronicle in 1971 whereby the Police charged a baker Frank Cowley under Clause 6 of the Constitution for baking bread on a Sunday. The Chief Magistrate at the time Justice Roberts acquitted Mr. Cowley and stated that it was “unreasonable to expect that no work can be conducted on a Sunday, because that would mean the hospital should cease operation on Sunday and the ZCO should cease  broadcasting on Sundays”.[6]

Interestingly the amendments to Clause 6 of the Constitution was enacted in 1971 together with the amendments to the Orders in Public Places Act[7] which  provides a list of essential services that are allowed to work on Sundays. These provisions are discussed below. We can only assume that the amendments were made as a result of the concerns of the Chief Magistrate as seen in the 1971 article.

The  full article is seen below:

What is the current definition of “Sunday” or “Sabbath” in the Tongan laws?

“Sabbath Day” is defined under the Order in Public Places Act [Cap 37] as “the period from 12 midnight on any Saturday until 12 midnight on the following Sunday”.[8]

Clause 6 of the Constitution of Tonga expressly prohibits all activities on Sabbath and  states as follows:

“The Sabbath Day shall be kept holy in Tonga and no person shall practice his trade or profession or conduct any commercial undertaking on the Sabbath Day except according to law; and any agreement made or witnessed on that day shall be null and void and of no legal effect”[9].

What does other legislation say about Sundays in Tonga?

Taking Clause 6 of the Constitution of Tonga which prohibits all activities on Sunday (except according to law), other Tongan legislation re-enforces this notion for example –

  • Bail Act provides that a person arrested shall be brought within 24 hours after his arrest before a Magistrate who may remand him in custody , however, no account shall be take of public holidays or any Saturday or Sunday in any period of 24 hours after his arrest.[10]
  • Bills of Exchange Act provides that a non-business day means a Saturday or Sunday.[11] A bill drawn in Tonga dated on a Sunday is invalid.[12]
  • Companies Act defines a working day to mean a day of the week other than a Saturday and Sunday.[13]
  • Fisheries Management Act defines a “working day” in relation to a Flag States means any day of the week other than Saturday or Sunday.[14]
  • Education Act provides that a school attendance officers may enter any yard, house , building or place between the hours of 8am and 5pm of any day except Sundays to make enquiries as to any child residing or employed there.[15]
  • Interpretation Act provides that any intervening Sunday and public holiday shall be excluded from the computation of the time.[16] If the proclamation of an Act, proclamation or regulation falls on a Sunday or public holiday, unless contrary intention appears, proclamation or regulation shall be read as if the first lawful day next succeeding the Sunday or public holiday has been named.[17]
  • Intoxicating Liquor Act provides that no liquor shall be sold under a bar license on a Sunday, except if liquor is sold to a guest of the accommodation where the bar is located, and such liquor is sold between the hours of 12pm to 9pm.[18] The permitted hours to sell alcohol under  a restaurant licence on Sundays shall be between 11am to 9pm.[19]  A night-club licence holder is not permitted to sell or supply alcohol at 11.30pm of the previous day and 12 midnight on any Sunday.[20]
  • Pounds and Animals Act provides that the sale or transfer of horses or kine on a Sunday is prohibited.[21]
  • Public Holidays Act provides that if the Birthday of the reigning Sovereign of Tonga and the Birthday of the Heir to the Crown of Tonga shall be celebrated on the day it falls, unless it falls on a Sunday in which case it would be celebrated on the next following Monday.[22]
  • Magistrates Court Act provides that fines unpaid for 14 days is exclusive from Sundays from the date of payment.[23]
  • Telegraph Act provides that a period of copyright shall extend beyond 48 hours if Sunday intervenes.[24]
  • Tourism Authority Act provides that nothing in the Act shall affect the operation of any other law prescribing requirements applying to the tourism sector including Sunday operation laws.[25]
  • Prisoners Act provides that no marks shall be allotted for mere good conduct except on Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday [26]and any prisoners who conducts himself well on Sundays, Christmas Days and Good Friday is entitled to receive 8 marks[27]. Any prisoner whose term of imprisonment expires on Sunday shall be discharged on the immediate day preceding.[28]
  • Customs and Excise Management Regulations provides that an officer who reports for duty and his services are not required the person who applied for his service shall pay for 3 hours attendance in respect of Sundays and public holidays and for 2 hours attendance on other days.[29]
  • Talamahu Market Regulations provides that the market and canteens[30] in Talamahu shall not open for business on a Sunday.[31]
  • Market Regulations provides that the market and canteens [32]shall not open for business on a Sunday.[33]
  • Medical Services Regulations provides that a dispense shall attend for an hour only on Sundays.[34]
  • Order in Public Places Act provides that any person who engages or practices trade, purchases or sells goods or services, engage in construction, gardening or agricultural works, creates or cause unnecessary noise or is engage in any game, sport, dancing or fishing whether organized or not on a Sunday commits an offence and is liable to a fine not exceeding $100 or to imprisonment for any period not exceeding 6 months or both.[35]
  • Prison Rules provides that if a prisoner’s term of imprisonment expires on a Sunday, he shall be discharged at 1.00pm on the immediate day preceding. [36] Prisoners awaiting trial or under examination are not allowed visitors on Sundays.[37] Persons awaiting trial, under examination or prisoners convicted by Magistrates are not allowed visitors on Sundays.[38] Prisons shall do necessary cleaning on Sundays.[39] No marks shall be allotted for mere good conduct except on Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday. Every prisoner entitled to marks who conducts himself well on those days shall receive 8 marks.[40]
  • Rules of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga provides that a select committee cannot meet on a Sunday.[41]
  • Revenue Services Administration Regulations provides if the due date for lodging an application, notice or other document is Sunday, the due date shall be the next following business day.[42]

What are the activities allowed to be conducted on a Sunday in Tonga?

The Order in Public Places Act provides that the only activities to be conducted on a Sunday is an “essential service”.  An “essential service” is a service rendered for the public good by  the following –

(a)       the Ministry of Health;

(b)     the Ministry of Police in the maintenance and preservation of law and order;

(c)       a concessionaire under the Electricity Act;

(d)       the Tonga Water Board;

(e)       the Tonga Broadcasting Commission;

(f)        all licensed telecommunications operators;

(g)       the Ministry responsible for Civil Aviation in the operation of any airport; and

(h)       the Ministry responsible for Marine and Ports or the Ports Authority in the operation of any port;

(i)        Private Security Services; and

(j)        persons employed by Government Ministries to perform security activities[43].

This Act provides that a person will not be convicted of a Sunday related offence if the offence was done solely for the purpose of meeting an emergency.[44] In addition, the Act allows essential service activities or any activities conducted in accordance with the terms of a permit granted by the Minister of Police with the approval of Cabinet.[45]

Current status of  Clause 6 in Tonga

The Pohiva Government enforced the banning of the selling of bread on Sundays in Tonga commencing on 3 July 2016[46]. This was supported by the Church Leaders and members of Parliament. It is very interesting to see the change in dynamics in the application of Clause 6 of the Constitution. 

It will be interesting to see how far we will go with the application of Clause 6 especially with the threats of COVID-19 and other factors in Tonga today.  But at the same time, Clause 6 of our Constitution is a representation of our strong Christian faith and the respect all Tongans have for their faith. It is a factor that makes Tonga unique from all other Pacific Island Countries and the world in general.

Disclaimer: This blog is for information purposes and it shares the author’s own personal views or based on the author’s research. It is not to be used or replicated for research purposes. I do not own any of the images on this blog.


[1] Sione Latukefu, ‘Church and State in Tonga’ (1974) 80.

[2] Sione Latukefu, ‘Church and State in Tonga’ (1974) 80.

[3] Sione Latukefu, ‘Church and State in Tonga’ (1974) 80.

[4] Sione Latukefu, ‘Church and State in Tonga’ (1974) 80.

[5] Clause 6, Act of Constitution of Tonga [Cap 2] (Tonga).

[6] Paraphrasing in English of the 1971 article (Kalonikali Tonga, Nuku’alofa, February 18, 1971).

[7] Order in Public Places (Amendment) Act (Act 4 of 1971).

[8] Section 6(5), Order in Public Places Act [Cap 37] (Tonga).

[9] Clause 6, Act of Constitution of Tonga [Cap 2] (Tonga).

[10] Section 9(3)(b) Bail Act 1990 (Tonga).

[11] Section 2, Bills of Exchange Act [Cap 38] (Tonga).

[12] Section 13(3) Bills of Exchange Act [Cap 38] (Tonga).

[13] Section 2, Companies Act 1995 (Tonga).

[14] Section 60(4)(a) Fisheries Management Act 2002 (Tonga).

[15] Section 103(2) Education Act 2013 (Tonga).

[16] Section 18(3), Interpretation Act [Cap 1] (Tonga).

[17] Section 18(4), Interpretation Act [Cap 1] (Tonga).

[18] Section 31(1) Intoxicating Liquor Act [Cap 84] (Tonga).

[19] Section 44(3)(b) Intoxicating Liquor Act [Cap 84] (Tonga).

[20] Section 44A(2) Intoxicating Liquor Act [Cap 84] (Tonga).

[21] Section 24 (1)(b) Pounds and Animals Act [Cap 147] (Tonga).

[22] Section 2, Public Holidays Act [Cap 51] (Tonga).

[23] S. 27(1), Public Holidays Act [Cap 51] (Tonga).

[24] Section 26, Telegraph Act [Cap 99] (Tonga)

[25] Section 5(1)(p) Tonga Tourism Authority Act 2012  (Tonga).

[26] Section 51(2), Prisoners Act 2010 (Tonga).

[27] Section 51(3), Prisoners Act 2010 (Tonga).

[28] S.57(2), Prisoners Act 2010 (Tonga).

[29] Regulation 137 (3), Customs and Excise Management Regulations 2008 (Tonga).

[30] Regulation 20 (4), Talamahu Market Regulations 1995 (Tonga).

[31] Regulation 4(1), Talamahu Market Regulations 1995 (Tonga).

[32] Schedule 2 (7) Market Regulations 1988 (Tonga).

[33] Regulation 8(1), Market Regulations 1988 (Tonga).

[34] Regulation 3(a), Medical Services Regulations (Tonga).

[35] Section 6(1), Order in Public Places Act [Cap 37] (Tonga).

[36] Rule 111, Prisons Rules (Tonga).

[37] Rule 144, Prisons Rules (Tonga).

[38] Rule 145, Prisons Rules (Tonga).

[39] Rule 181, Prisons Rules (Tonga).

[40] Rule 187, Prisons Rules (Tonga).

[41] Rule 166(1)(a), Rules of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga (Tonga).

[42] Section 23(2)  Revenue Services Administration Regulations 2003 (Tonga).

[43] Section 6(4), Order in Public Places Act [Cap 34] (Tonga).

[44] Section 6(2), Order in Public Places Act [Cap 34] (Tonga).

[45] Section 6(3), Order in Public Places Act [Cap 34] (Tonga).

[46] ‘Bakeries hit hard with surprise Sunday ban’ (2016) https://matangitonga.to/2016/07/02/bakeries-hit-hard-surprise-sunday-ban (Accessed 25 April 2020).

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