Tonga declares public holiday for PM Pohiva’s state funeral
16 September, 2019, 2:14 pm
NUKU’ALOFA/AUCKLAND, 16 SEPTEMBER 2019 (RNZ PACIFIC) – The state funeral for the late Prime Minister of Tonga is to be held on Thursday, with an accompanying public holiday and national day of mourning.
‘Akilisi Pohiva, who died in Auckland on Thursday after being hospitalised with pnuemonia, had been the longest serving MP in Tonga and Prime Minister since 2014.
Family services have already begun in Auckland with a public and official memorial service taking place at the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga in Mangere on Sunday night.
The New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, her deputy Winston Peters and the Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, attended the service.
Pohiva will be repatriated to Tonga on Tuesday via a Royal New Zealand Air Force aircraft and will lie-in-state at the St George Building in Nuku’alofa as various church and community groups pay their respects.
The state funeral will then take place on Thursday at the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga Centenary Church before Pohiva’s burial at the Telekava Cemetery in Kolomotu’a.
Meanwhile, more than two thousand people attended a memorial service for the late Prime Minister of Tonga in Auckland last night.
Last night’s service was attended by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, her deputy Winston Peters, Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, other government ministers and foreign dignitaries.
There wasn’t an empty seat inside the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga in Mangere and many mourners stood outside the Tuigapapai hall.
Kepueli Pohiva said that was how much his grandfather meant to the people.
The 25-year-old said he had lost his greatest inspiration.
“I remember growing up our house was always open to everyone. We’d see new faces everyday. It felt like everyone in Tonga was family. As a little kid growing up I thought I was related to everyone. That was just my grandfather. He was a man of the people. And sadly I’m going to miss him.”
Kepueli Pohiva said he was studying politics and hoped to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps one day.
Sera Molipeli was among those standing outside the church and said she was proud her family came to pay their last respects to their “great leader”.
“It’s a great loss for the kingdom and we are all here to mourn, especially for his family. You can see that heaps of people are here. We got no space but it’s great to be here. He was a great leader.”
Prime Minister Ardern said throughout his life, Pohiva was a very close friend of New Zealand.
“Today is an opportunity to remember the man, his life and his legacy. Throughout the region, he will be remembered for his courage, integrity and heart,” Ardern said.
“While we have lost his leadership, his legacy and commitment to democracy, fairness and transparency will endure.”
Tongan Health Minister Saia Piukala thanked Ardern and the people of New Zealand for standing as one with their Tongan whanau.
“We gather here not to debate policies or to endorse complicated legacies but rather to mourn the loss of a great leader,” Piukala said.
“You have come to mourn with us. To acknowledge our loss and hurt and to be an encouragement in this troubled time.”
‘Akilisi Pohiva’s son Po’oi Pohiva also thanked the people on behalf of his family and shared a poem his father wrote titled The Security.
“On behalf of my brothers and sisters and the rest of the Pohiva extended family, I thank you all for coming to our father’s memorial service. We are deeply honoured and grateful,” Po’oi said.