3 May 2004

Ratu Mara funeral in final phase at Lekeba

1:19 pm on 3 May 2004

Fiji's founding father and former president, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, is being given a full military funeral on this home island Lakeba today.

Ratu Mara, who died two weeks ago aged 83, will be buried in a specially constructed tomb in his village of Tubou shortly.

Shiu Singh reports.

"At 10.30 this morning Ratu Mara's flag-draped casket was carried from his residence by miltary pall bearers dressed in red jackets and black sulus. It was followed by Adi Lady Lala Mara and members of family. The casket was taken to the beautifully decorated Tubou Methodist Church for a service by the head of the Methodist Church, the Rev Laisiasa Ratabacaca. Among the assembled gathering are political leaders, cabinet ministers, the opposition leader and foreign diplomats. From Tonga, there is the Queen Halavalu Mata'aho and the Prince Regent who is representing his father the king. Six thousand mourners are sitting outside. The prime minister of Papua New Guinea, Sir Michael Somare, delivered the eulogy. Ratu Mara was a Roman Catholic and at the request of his family, the head of the Catholic Church in Fiji, Archbishop Petero Mataca, held prayers in the Methodist Church in an unusual show of solidarity. Shortly, the casket will be carried to the grave side under full military escort of 400 troops in scarlet and white tunics and three detachments from the navy. As president, Ratu Mara was commander-in-chief of Fiji and they have brought their full regimental and naval colours and presidental flags to pay their respects. Military buglars will sound the Presidential Last Post and field artillery will fire a 21-gun salute. Military pall bearers will then hand the casket to traditional warriors for the final entombment at the chiefly burial ground of Sau Tabu. Ratu Sir Kamisese Kapaiwai Tuimacilai Mara will rest alongside his illustrious ancestors."