30 Apr 2004

State funeral underway in Fiji for Ratu Mara

1:28 pm on 30 April 2004

The State funeral service of longtime Fiji Prime Minister and former president, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, is now underway in Suva.

His casket left Government House at noon today under a military escort of 500 troops and accompanied by his wife, Adi Lady Lala Mara and members of her family.

Shiu Singh reports from Suva.

"Women dressed in black with heads bowed sat on both sides of the road as Ratu Mara's flag-draped casket travelled on a gun carriage from Government House to Albert Park. There thousands of people have arrived to take part in service and say their final farewell to the high chief who has dominated Fiji for the last half century. Dignitaries from around the world are also there, as are the prime minister, members of his cabinet, members of the Great Council of Chiefs and the judiciary and political leaders. A mass choir of 450 people began singing Ratu Mara's favourite hymns well before the arrival of the casket. Today's service is being conducted jointly by the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Fiji, the Most Reverend Petero Mataca, and the head of the Catholic Church in Tonga Bishop Sione Foliaki. Most of the service is in English but parts are also in Latin, Fijian and Hindi. The service will end in about two hours when Ratu Mara will leave the mainland of Fiji for the last time for his home island of Lakeba. The government ship carrying his casket will be escorted by a fleet of eight vessels, including three from the Fiji navy and a patrol boat of the Royal Tongan Navy."