An Auckland Tongan community leader who has been asked to be part of King George Tupou V's funeral ceremony is praying that he will be invited on to an official New Zealand flight tomorrow.

Will Ilolahia has been asked by his traditional village Masilamea to represent their matapule (chief) in the king's 150-strong fata, which is made up of males who will carry the royal catafalque. This is the structure which will transport the body from the royal palace to the royal tombs.

Mr Ilolahia was a member of King Taufa'ahau's fata in 2006. It was a special privilege then and now to be asked because he was born in New Zealand.

"I feel that I'm representing all of the New Zealand-born Tongans - I think it's for that reason my village is wanting me to be there, for the Tiwis [Kiwi-born Tongans]."


The scale of the mourning in 2006 when more than 1000 bearers were involved made it an experience Mr Ilolahia says he'll never forget. His previous role involved making sure the bearers kept a sure footing on tapa mats which had been laid the length of the route.

If the 60-year-old can get back to Tongatapu for ceremonial duties it promises to be a more personal experience, he said, as he was friends with King Tupou V and shared similar life experiences - both studied in Britain when they were younger.

Mr Ilolahia, who is also a member of Auckland Council's Pacific Peoples Advisory Panel, has written to the Governor-General, Jerry Mateparae, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully and other MPs in the hope that he'll get on the Royal New Zealand Air Force flight. Although there were still seats on Air New Zealand flights leaving today, Mr Ilolahia said because he'd just started a new contracting job last week he didn't feel he could take two days off for the funeral.

The official flight returns New Zealand dignitaries late tomorrow but he has yet to hear back from those organising the flight.

The Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs is responsible for inviting Tongan New Zealanders on to the flight. A media spokesman did not return calls yesterday.

"It'll be devastating if I miss it. If I didn't have the job I'd be up there already. I was lucky enough to call him a friend. It's about saying goodbye," Mr Ilolahia said.

Meanwhile, Mr McCully, who is part of a large delegation of ministers and political leaders who will attend the funeral, paid tribute to the late king. He said because of his choice of car, a London cab, and love of military costume, it often meant he was reduced to a cartoonish figure. History would be kind to the king who introduced democracy in 2010.

"He was unique. But how many stories do you hear of reigning monarchs passing over their powers to elected governments? He decided three days before his coronation he was going to do that. It's one of the quite remarkable transitions to democracy and we have to give the king enormous credit for it."