Change of day for King's funeral upsets expat Tongans

By Yvonne Tahana

The late King George Tupou V, of Tonga. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The late King George Tupou V, of Tonga. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Expatriate Tongans on both sides of the Tasman, including a confidant of King George Tupou V, are upset by a decision to hold his state funeral a day earlier than initially announced.

Government officials said the funeral would be on Wednesday, leaving two days for the body to lie in state at the Royal Palace, once it arrives back from Hong Kong where the King died on Monday. That has since changed to Tuesday, leaving the body to lie overnight before burial.

Fusi Topui, who grew up with the King and remained close with him throughout his life, said she'd given up trying to get from Brisbane to the main island of Tongatapu for the funeral. The only flight available landed in the evening, making any trip a waste of time, she said.

It wasn't right that Tongans would miss out on mourning in a culturally appropriate way over multiple days.

"We express our grief openly, we don't bottle it up - to be denied access to mourn the King, it's a slap in the face and an incredible insult.

"Let the Tongan people come in and say prayers. Even though he had the shortest reign he was the most momentous [monarch]."

She said Tupou V had planned his father's state funeral to the smallest detail when he died in 2006. He had been unable to get to New Zealand for the few days that Taufa'ahau Tupou IV lay in state here before being flown home.

"I distinctly remember him saying to me on the phone, 'I wish I could be there with him [in NZ], all I've got is the salt of my tears because someone's got to be here [organising]."

It was galling that the same care didn't seem to have been applied to Tupou V's final farewell, she said.

But Tongan Ministry of Information and Communications spokesman Paula Mau said the King's successor, King Tupou VI, had always wanted the funeral on the Tuesday.

He said a miscommunication meant it had been announced initially on the wrong day.

Getting to the funeral from New Zealand was made easier after Air New Zealand put on an extra flight on Monday to deal with the demand.

Who's going

New Zealand delegation on Royal New Zealand Air Force flight:
* Governor-General Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae
* Deputy Prime Minister Bill English
* Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully
* Maori Affairs Minister Dr Pita Sharples,
* Labour leader David Shearer
* Pacific Island Affairs Minister Hekia Parata
* New Zealand First leader Winston Peters
* Auckland Mayor Len Brown
* Chief of Royal New Zealand Navy, Rear Admiral Tony Parr
* Friends of King George Tupou V
* King Tuheitia - to travel separately

- NZ Herald

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