The sun has set on the Island Kingdom of Tonga and many will go back to their daily routines and responsibilities after laying to rest their beloved King George Tupou V. A new sun has risen , yet the shadows still expose a great loss. A mother has lost a son, a Princess her uncle and a nation their beloved King. Although many had the opportunity to see Tonga during this time of mourning, very few saw what happened within the walls of the Royal Palace and with those closest to him. Hon. Frederica Tuita gives us a final but powerful glimpse into her life and humanizes what we see from the surface as she bids farewell to her Uncle, the King and tends to the Queen Mother.
The hour of the late King George Tupou V’s arrival and burial has come to pass and we’re left trying to adjust to life without him. Rearranging our lives to move forward without him is just as difficult as taking the news of his loss. The build up to his arrival was overwhelming as villages came in the hundreds to see the Queen and pray with her. As we obliged her needs, none of us had fully prepared for what was to come.
My grandmother, my sister Hon. Lupepau’u Tuita and I were up very early every morning to prepare to receive the people who wanted to come pay their respects to Her Majesty, make formal presentations and pray with her. This protocol went all day and night while Her Majesty would sit in front of her people, eyes closed and hands clasped. The devastation of losing her son and the anticipation of his arrival was obviously heavy within her yet she gracefully continued to be present for her people and remained in her seat. I’ll never forget the moment during one of the prayers, the Queen opened her eyes to find her great granddaughter, Phaedra [daughter of my sister, Hon. Lupepau’u Tuita] sitting beside her on the floor looking back at her. For a moment, the Queen forgot that she was in front of hundreds of people, and with eyes lit, we saw a smile through the pain in absolute joy to see Phaedra. As they embraced, the Queen cried stroking Phaedra’s hair telling her how happy she was to see her. Since Phaedra’s arrival, she never left the Queens side. I felt a small sense of relief but more joy for the Queen.
It was Monday, the day before his arrival and the Queen had given specific instructions as to how all would transpire for the Kings arrival. Certain people were given places to sit in the palace and responsibilities to guard priceless Kie Hingoa [Samoan Fine Mats] that were hundreds of years old to be place on his majesty upon opening his casket. As strong as she could be during this time, the dreaded knowledge of knowing this would be the last time any of us would ever see him again lingered throughout the palace. There was a look in her eyes that some of us resembled of “how will we react and cope with seeing him?” As the night the news came that he had passed away, my sister Hon. Lupepau’u and I set our emotions aside and continued to press forward never leaving the Queens side.
The time had come and we went to the Palace to await his arrival. As expected all the Queen’s women, some of the Nobles wives, and relatives were sitting on the floor outside of the Palace porch. It was only the Queen, Hon. Lupepau’u and I that moved freely inside the palace aware of the long night ahead of us. Everyone finally came in and took their places in the hallways leading to the Matapa Tapu [Throne Room] My sister and I took our place on either side of the door that lead to the throne room where he would lie in State. We knew our role and my sister and I were going to complete them to the best of our ability. The mood was somber and quiet and everyone’s talk reduced to whisper as we all waited for the plane to arrive with our King. Soon, a heart stopping shot of the cannons fired once, then multiple shots again hailing the arrival of the King. No one spoke and there was silence. Then off from a distance, the sound of the Queen weeping began to flood the halls. As the cannons continued to fire, her crying intensified. As we all sat there looking on the ground and listening to her weep a sense of helplessness came over me because I couldn’t console her.
I cried watching Phaedra follow the Queen everywhere. She’s only 8 yrs. old but performed her duties like an adult. The Queen anxiously awaited walking briskly back and forth in front of us holding her handkerchief to her mouth with tears streaming down her face. Then, all the vehicles drove up the driveway and he was there, her son was finally home. They brought him into the Throne Room and prepared him for the Takipo [Royal term for funeral]. Once ready, his mother was the first to see him. Our hearts broke watching her loving strokes to his hair, a doting mother and tears falling into his Royal casket. She said, “You never belonged to me… you were always in charge of this place and your life. Now God has taken you back.” She continued to stroke his hair while whispering into his ear telling him things only she and he will ever know. My sister and I looked at each other and our grandmother’s nieces and knew it was time to stop crying and do what needed to be done.
We let my grandmother and the elders mourn while we did our job, taking in his late Majesty’s friends and family one by one. Inside we fulfilled our responsibility and those outside the palace did the same trying to manage all the chaos. People continued to come to bid farewell to the late King even until the morning. On that day, my brother, Hon Sione Ikamafana went outside to join the men who would carry the Fata with the King on it to Mala’e Kula [Tongan Royal Tombs]. I did not join the procession instead I went ahead of them with my grandmother. She had her own tent near her son’s tomb and I sat with her along with my sister and cousins to tend to her if needed. She never took her eyes off the casket throughout the ceremony and stayed long after it was over till the tomb was closed and her son finally laid to rest. The ceremony was lovely and went smoothly.
I find that history has repeated itself like when the late King became our Monarch and took us through a time of change and enlightment. Our new King may do the same and become the King he was meant to be and lead us into a new era of change. His wife will become as God intended, as Her Majesty Queen Halaevalu Mata’aho became, the heart of our nation. One thing that I’ve learned from our grandmother is to always have faith. We had faith in the late King and were greatly rewarded for it. We have to put our faith in God to guide our new King to lead and continue serving the people and bringing the change that has blessed our family and nation.
Written By: Hon. Frederica Tuita