2 Mar 2017

Tonga enters 10-days of mourning for late Queen Mother

6:42 pm on 2 March 2017

The Kingdom of Tonga was well into 10 days of national mourning on Wednesday, after the late Queen Mother was buried amidst a series of processions filled with pomp and circumstance.

The late Queen Mother of Tonga, Halaevalu Mata'aho, died in Auckland in February. She was 90.

The late Queen Mother of Tonga, Halaevalu Mata'aho, died in Auckland in February. She was 90. Photo: Kingdom of Tonga

Halaevalu Mata'aho, the mother of King Tupou VI and former king George Tupou V, died in Auckland last month at the age of 90.

That began a recurring series of elaborate tributes across the country. When the Queen Mother's body returned to the country aboard a New Zealand Air Force plane on Tuesday, thousands of children lined the streets on the 20 kilometre journey from the airport to the royal palace, bowing their heads as her cortege passed by.

Across the island country, flags flew at half mast and properties draped their boundaries and buildings in purple and black, a traditional sign of mourning.

"It's a sign of respect and a sign of sharing the grief and the sorrow that the royal family is going through," said John Pulu, a reporter for the Televison New Zealand programme "Tagata Pasifika," who was in Tonga for the funeral.

"Everyone in Tonga, even foreigners, were dressed in black yesterday and wearing traditional ta'ovala (woven mats). It was a sign of unity," he said.

Many recalled the Queen Mother as a national matriarch who had a heart for the people. In a recent interview with "Tagata Pasifika," Princess Salote Mafile'o Pilolevu Tuita said her mother was a champion for the elderly and the disabled, recalling an instance when the elderly Queen Mother visited 80 homes to encourage those with mental health issues to seek support at the Alonga Disabled Centre, of which she was a patron.

A procession carrying the body of Tonga's late Queen Mother Halaevalu Mata'aho, marches through the capital, Nuku'alofa.

A procession carrying the body of Tonga's late Queen Mother Halaevalu Mata'aho, marches through the capital, Nuku'alofa. Photo: Supplied / Matangi Tonga

Mr Pulu said a central theme of the funeral service on Wednesday was the late Queen Mother's legacy of helping others.

"[She] was very passionate about helping those in need," he said. "One person described her as being humble, another described her as someone who was a very hard worker, always giving to those who needed help."

"When Cyclone Ian hit Ha'apai, the Queen Mother travelled with a group to the Ha'apai Islands and gave out supplies to the families who needed help. She was a true leader and she served the people of this nation," said Mr Pulu.

Halaevalu Mata'aho was married to King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, with whom she had four children, and was known for 41 years as Queen Mata'aho. After her husband died in 2006, she took on the tile of Queen Mother when her eldest son, George Tupou V, was crowned king.

By age 90, Queen Mata'aho had outlived two kings and witnessed the crowning of a third, her youngest son King Tupou VI.

Her second-eldest son Māʻatu, an ex-prince who had his title stripped after he fled the kingdom and married a commoner, died in 2004.

Japanese Crown Prince Naruhito (L) talks with Tonga's Queen Halaevalu Mata'aho at the funeral of her husband, the late King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, in  2006.

Queen Mother Halaevalu Mata'aho talks to Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito during the funeral of her husband King Tupou IV in 2006 Photo: AFP

Her eldest son, King George Tupou V, never married and reigned until his death in 2006.

She also witnessed Tonga's slow, sometimes violent, but ultimately unstoppable march towards a more democratic system of government in the late 2000s.

Princess Pilolevu Tuita heralded her mother as the backbone of the royal family and the glue that held them together throughout almost a century of change in Tonga. Melino Maka, the chair of New Zealand's Tongan Advisory Council, agreed: "I think that the way the royal family are actually functioning now, that should contribute to her legacy as the woman from behind the scenes."

The official mourning period, reduced to 10 days by the royal family, will end next Saturday. During that time, the people of Tonga will wear black and many businesses will remain closed. There will be a kava ceremony to honour the late Queen Mother, and the mourning period will be rounded out with the traditional laying of black pebble stones on the Queen Mother's tomb.

Tonga prepares for arrival of the Queen Mother

Tonga prepares for arrival of the Queen Mother Photo: Matangi Tonga/ Peter Poulsen

Mr Pulu said he believed the shorter mourning period was a reflection of changing times in Tonga.

"Tonga's going through a lot of economic changes and a lot of pressure and Princess Pilolevu told us that this is something her mother would've wanted, a shorter mourning period. In the past, it used to be 100 days and now it's being shortened. There's a lot of economic pressure on Tonga and businesses would be affected."

When Tonga returns to normal, the royal family will continue its mourning for 100 days.