The funeral of the King of Tonga

Charles 2 Comments

I’ve been waiting for some good photos of the funeral of the King of Tonga to turn up. Most have been indifferent — and then I stumbled on the good old Daily Mail. 

Here is the royal coffin borne aloft by no fewer than 150 pallbearers. Click it to make it bigger. 



Other scenes from the funeral:




Here’s some info about Tongan funerals stolen from Wikipedia: 

Funerals in Tonga (South Pacific), despite the large Christian influence they have undergone over the last 150 years or so, are still very much a traditional affair and an important part of the culture of Tonga, especially if it concerns the death of a high chief or a member of the royal family.

Christian influence has made black (shirt, trousers, skirt, tupenu, etc.) the prescribed colour for everybody in mourning. It is to be worn a few days for a far acquaintance, to a few weeks for a far relative, to a year for a close relative. This is irrespective whether a taʻovala is worn or not. For those in uniform a black armband is allowed instead.

Appearing in public during this period a taʻovala (mat tied around the waist) is much recommended, and it should be during that time a mourning taʻovala. And for sure when attending the funeral itself, it is obligatory. What kind of mat is worn depends on the relationship to the deceased. Close relatives who are “inferior”, in kinship terms, or “brother’s” side, wear old, coarse, torn mats, sometimes even old floor mats. These are the relatives who do the hard, dirty work of preparing the ʻumu at the funeral. Relatives on the “sister’s side” wear fine mats, often family heirloom mats. Those who are not related at all should wear fine mats that arefakaʻahu, or smoked over a fire until they are a rich mahogany color.

Over the course mats loose strips of pandanus may be worn, as whether it is a kiekie. This is the fakaaveave (meaning: like an asparagus), and also a sign of respect. In the later days of the mourning period the fakaaveave can be worn alone without the bulky taʻovala.

In the case of the death of a king, everybody is inferior of course, and only the course mats are worn. Some are very huge ones for close relatives.

In traditional Tonga the king was (and still is) so sacred that no one may touch him. There exists a special clan, claimed to descend from a brother (Māliepō) of the first Tongan king, but put outside the Tongan ranking system by Sāmoan ancestry.It is named the Haʻa Tufunga, and headed by Lauaki; he is the royal undertaker. Only his men (some of them that is, known as the nima tapu (sacred hands)) may touch the dead king.


Daily Mail article here.



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claire callender
10 years ago

This is pretty much what Ru has outlined for his funeral

Charles Cowling
10 years ago

Only 150 pallbearers? He’s scaled it back a bit, then?