George Tupou I ruled with the support of Methodist missionaries, a religion he had converted to. The Vava'u Code was strongly influenced by his religious beliefs. It instituted basic human rights and limited the power of chiefs over their subjects: chiefs no longer had the right of life and death over their people, nor could they seize agricultural produce. Furthermore, chiefs could now be put on trial like any other Tongan.
In addition, the Code banned traditional festivals seen by missionaries as encouraging sexual promiscuity. Circumcision, tattooing and alcohol drinking were also outlawed. Sundays became a compulsory day off work, to encourage Tongans to worship the Christian God.
The Vava'u Code was followed and completed by further laws, including a second Code in 1850 forbidding the sale of land to foreigners and proclaiming Tupou as supreme leader of Tonga.
- Huffer, Elise, Grands Hommes et Petites Îles: La Politique Extérieure de Fidji, de Tonga et du Vanuatu, Paris: Orstom, 1993, ISBN 2-7099-1125-6