Sunday, March 25, 2012

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

We heard on Monday morning that the current King of Tonga, King George Tupou V, aged 63, passed away unexpectedly on Sunday afternoon in Hong Kong.

The Late King George Tupou V

I had just been reading an account from cruising friends of ours, in the SSCA Bulletin, about their experiences in Tonga when the previous King (George Tupou IV) had died. So the timing was uncanny.

The Kingdom of Tonga is a 'democratic monarchy', similar to England. There is a King and he represents Tonga, but there is also an elected Parliament. It took 2-3 days before the 'government' announced exactly what would happen for the funeral. The funeral is this coming Tuesday. The King's body will be flown in from Hong Kong on Monday, and transported by car from the airport to the royal estate. From there, in traditional fashion, the King's body will be loaded on a bier and carried on the shoulders of 140 Tongan men, to where he will lie in state until the funeral on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the clans scattered throughout Tonga are preparing to make their way, bearing huge amounts of food, to the capital city of Tongatapu, for the funeral and the funeral feast. We understand that all flights from Neiafu to the capital are fully booked, and they are sending a special ferry through the islands to bring the people to the funeral. They announced on the VHF this morning that the ferry will arrive today, and take on 400 passengers (plus their pigs, cows, and huge baskets of Tongan vegetables). Each clan has a specific role in the funeral preparations. For example, one clan is responsible for the cooking of the feast, another for setting up the venue, etc.

They announced on Friday morning here, that the market and most of the town will be closed on Monday and Tuesday, so there was a huge rush for groceries on Friday. But there wasn't much on sale at the market on Friday morning... we assume it has been held back for their own feasting, both in Tongatapu and locally. Fortunately, we were already pretty well stocked.

We understand that the official mourning period has been set for 90 days. But the ex-pats in Neiafu said that things here will return mostly to normal after this coming week.

We understand that it may take nearly a year before the new king, King George Tupou VI, is actually crowned. The recent king was unmarried and had no children, so his younger brother has been named the successor. However, there is an important, but unofficial kava ceremony scheduled for Saturday with the new king, and the heads of the Tongan noble families.

I am sure there is a Tongan news website, but I have been unable to find one. We've been getting our news bits from the local VHF net, and from Radio New Zealand International

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