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APIA - Samoa's head of State was laid to rest amid the pomp and ceremony of a state funeral in Apia today.

Prime Minister Helen Clark and Governor-General Anand Satyanand led the large official New Zealand delegation for Malietoa Tanumafili II, who died on May 11 aged 95.

Thousands of people gathered in the grounds of Parliament House for the Friday morning ceremony (NZ time 9am today).

Malietoa had lain in state overnight in the parliament chambers before being taken to an elaborately-decorated dais on the front lawn of parliament grounds.

Among the mourners who sat in the hot and humid conditions for the interdenominational service were the Maori king and the Tongan king, as well as ordinary Samoan citizens.

Samoa's Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi, and Malietoa's son both gave eulogies and a 300-strong choir sang hymns during the service.

After the ceremony Malietoa's casket was taken a short distance by a police national guard to a tomb site, where amid a three-volley cannon salute he was interred.

After the official ceremony ended, Miss Clark told media Malietoa had been a father figure of the nation.

He had been providing leadership since 1940, instrumental in the long, slow run up to independence "and then to be at the helm for another 45 years is an extraordinary achievement".

Malietoa's death had meant the passing of a "very, very good friend" to New Zealand, she said.

His role had left a huge gap which Samoa would have to fill.

Miss Clark diplomatically sidestepped the politics over the selection Malietoa's successor.

The mantle would go to a new generation.

"Whatever the choice of the Somoan people we will be happy to work alongside."

A national holiday has been declared for the funeral and burial and the country is officially observing a week of mourning.

His death has seen an out-pouring of grief for a man who was genuinely loved and respected in Samoa.

Malietoa had been taken from his village in a procession that morning to lie in state at Parliament, with thousands of people lining the streets, many throwing flowers at the procession.

An emotional Koro Wetere led the New Zealand delegation into the circular chamber and spoke movingly to those in the room, who included members of Malietoa's family.

After the delegation had all filed past the Samoan flag draped casket Labour MP Nania Mahuta led the group in waiata singing How Great Thou Art and Maori party co-leader Pita Sharples said a karakia.

Mr Sharples said Malietoa's death was a loss to the pacific and his death marked the end of an era.

Miss Clark, accompanied by her husband Peter Davis, laid a wreath before the couple paid their respects about 1am, about an hour after the first New Zealand delegation.

Outside the chamber Miss Clark said it was important New Zealand had a significant presence at the funeral.

New Zealand had a relationship with Samoa unlike any other country, she said.

Malietoa's legacy was one of "45 years of credible stability" in Samoa and the Pacific.

Malietoa's successor had "big shoes to fill but the role was well-defined", she said.

- NZPA