Tonga's chiefly undertaker remained an enigma while in full view of mourning countrymen yesterday.

The Lauaki, as he is known, was a solitary and solemn figure for much of King George Tupou V's burial service. He stood alone atop the multi-tiered tomb, in his hand a Tokotoko - a chiefly sign that only he had final say over burial protocol.

When church leaders brought the nearly three-hour-long service to an end, it was the Lauaki who directed the strictly regulated coffin bearers, nimatapu, to lower the King's body to its final resting place.

The departure of the new King, Tupou VI, from the cemetery marked the ceremony's end. But the Lauaki, who inherited his rank and name, gathered Ta'ovala-clad nimatapu men around the tomb to privately finish the burial rights.


Formalities began at midday when the King's body was placed on a 20m fata, a black gabled platform marked with his initials and crown. It was carried on the shoulders of 150 men known collectively as Kavala, who represent every village on Tongatapu and Tupou College Old Boys.

As it made its way 300m up Tu'i Rd from the royal palace to the burial ground, Etevate Sakalai, 63, sat outside a relative's house. Dry eyed but eloquent, he said: "When he died I felt like hope was lost. The most important thing he did was give the full governance of Tonga."

Inside the cemetery the day took a toll on some. An army soldier who stood to attention for hours fainted and was taken away by ambulance.

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira said it was a privilege to witness a window into Tongan culture. He would remember the spirit the rest of his life.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said seeing the monarchy in action was a unique experience. "I thought it was all very dignified - there's a whole culture around the royalty that we're not familiar with ... it's quite considered."

* 150 pall bearers
* 300m - the distance King Tupou V's body was carried to place of burial
* 5000 mourners.