30 Apr 2004

Casket of Fiji's Ratu Mara off for burial on Lakeba

3:50 pm on 30 April 2004

Fiji has said farewell to its founding prime minister and former president, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

A state funeral service has just ended in Suva and Ratu Mara's casket is on its way to Lau, the islands where he was paramount chief.

Shiu Singh reports from Suva.

"Thousands dressed in black attended the service. As a 450-strong choir sang hymns, some members of Ratu Mara's family and friends including the PNG prime minister, Sir Michael Somare, came to say brief prayers. Ratu Mara's first cabinet secretary and close confidante, Sir Robert Sanders, came all the way from Scotland to pay tribute at the service. Fijian chiefly funerals are solemn occasions and emotion is not permitted. But the Queen of Tonga was visibly moved and was seen wiping away tears. Many thousands lining the streets of Suva up to ten deep also wept as Ratu Mara's flag-draped casket was taken in a procession from Albert Park to Suva wharf. Ratu Mara's traditional warriors, who have been guarding his body in Suva, are on the ship to continue performing their last duty to their paramount chief. Shore batteries fired a 21-gun salute as the flotilla left Suva harbour. And word went out to Lakeba that Ratu Mara was on his way, so men of the island could take up blowing conch shells non-stop until his burial on Monday."