Nation mourns Ratu Sukuna

Lady Liku behind the coffin of Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna at Rairaiwaqa, Suva, as his body lay in state before going to Lakeba for burial. Picture: FILE

HE was a product of history, with a type of upbringing and experience that cannot be repeated. His father, with far-sighted vision, saw that at least one Fijian leader must know well the ways of overseas countries and peoples. He began by employing an English tutor for his eldest son. Ratu Sukuna would go on to New Zealand and later the United Kingdom for education. It was an experience no other Fijian had at that time.

On May 31, 1958, The Fiji Times ran an article on its front page announcing his demise. Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna died aboard the Arcadia, off Ceylon in the early hours of Friday morning, May 30, 1958.

He passed away peacefully only a few hours after a message had been received in Suva saying his condition “had again deteriorated, and a peaceful end was expected”. Sir Lala and his wife, Lady Liku, were on their way to England on holiday when he got ill. The ship was then travelling between Sydney and Colombo, said The Fiji Times article.

As news of his death reached Suva, flags flying at half mast throughout Suva and “government departments were depleted of their Fijian staff members as they made their way back to their koro or their homes in Suva.

“Most were unanimous that a great calamity had happened. Other than that, they refused to comment on their leader’s death. Most shook their heads and walked on. Many Fijian men and women were bleary-eyed, evidence that they had received the news with great emotion,” described the article.

“Besides King Cakobau, Ratu Sukuna was probably the greatest Fijian who ever lived. By all means mourn, but let us be determined that there will be many more Ratu Sukunas in the years ahead. Unless we achieve this we will not have much to live for,” a Fijian man commented.

The high chief and leader was buried at noon in the chiefly burial ground at Tubou, in Lau on Thursday, June 12, 1958. The Fiji Times described his coffin being covered with mats and entombed in a seven-foot deep slab covered vault on the seashore within the sound of waves breaking on the reef.

More than 5000 Fijians and a number of distinguished visitors, including Prince Tungi, Premier of Tonga were present. Fijians travelled from throughout the Lau islands and provinces to be at the chiefly funeral.