The paanga is the currency of Tonga. It is controlled by the National Reserve Bank of Tonga (Pangikē Pule Fakafonua o Tonga) in Nukualofa. The paanga is not convertible and is pegged to a basket of currencies comprising the Australian, New Zealand, United States dollars and the Japanese yen.
The paanga is subdivided into 100 seniti. The ISO code is TOP, and the usual abbreviation is T$ (¢ for seniti). In Tonga the paanga is often referred to in English as the dollar, the seniti as the cent and the hau as the union. There is also the unit of hau (1 hau = 100 paanga), but this is not used in everyday life and can only be found on commemorative coins of higher denominations.
Entada phaseoloides, native name paanga, also called box bean or St. Thomas’ bean, is a bean-like vine producing large pods with large reddish brown seeds. The seeds are roundish, up to 5 cm diameter and 1 or 2 cm thick. When strung together they are used as anklets, part of the kailao dance costume. They were also used as playing pieces in an ancient disc-throwing game, lafo.
On 1 December 1806 Tongans attacked the passing ship Port-au-Prince in order to take it over. They failed, as the crew sank the vessel. The chief of Haapai, Fīnau Ulukālala, resorted to the next plan, to plunder whatever was worthwhile. On his inspection tour he found the ship's cash. Not knowing what money was, he considered the coins as paanga. Finally, not seeing anything of value, he ordered the remains of the ship to be burned. It was much later that William Mariner, the only survivor of this attack, told him that those pieces of metal were of great value and not merely playing stones.
When Tonga introduced decimal currency, it decided not to call the main unit the dollar because the native word, tola, translated into a pig's snout, the soft end of a coconut, or, in vulgar language, a mouth. Pa'anga, on the other hand, translated into money. Another fact is that the Norwegian word for money is "penger", in most Norwegian dialects "penga", in Swedish "pengar", and in Danish "penge". It is also found in Old English pening, penig, Northumbrian penning "penny," from Proto-Germanic *panninga- (source also of Old Norse penningr, Swedish pänning, Danish penge, Old Frisian panning, Old Saxon pending, Middle Dutch pennic, Dutch penning, Old High German pfenning, German Pfennig. Wheter this is a coincidence or not, is still not known.
Mariner also passed down the following statement of Fīnau Ulukālala: :''If money were made of iron and could be converted into knives, axes and chisels there would be some sense in placing a value on it; but as it is, I see none. If a man has more yams than he wants, let him exchange some of them away for pork. [...] Certainly money is much handier and more convenient but then, as it will not spoil by being kept, people will store it up instead of sharing it out as a chief ought to do, and thus become selfish. [...] I understand now very well what it is that makes the papālangi [white men] so selfish – it is this money!''