Posted by: austronesia | June 18, 2007

Samoans Say Farewell to King

Samoans farewell their king and “father”

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Thousands of Samoans, including chiefs in traditional island skirts, ringed the country’s parliament on Friday for the funeral of the “father of the nation,” King Malietoa Tanumafili II.

Malietoa, the world’s oldest monarch who ruled the tiny Pacific country for 45 years before his death a week ago at 94, was farewelled by a 300-strong choir and a police honor guard as Pacific leaders and royalty watched in silent tribute.

“My father really reflected humanity, humbleness and a great deal of love for his people. I think he’ll be sorely missed,” Manlietoa’s daughter Papalii Momoe Von Reiche told New Zealand television before the funeral.

Samoa’s prime minister, Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi, and Malietoa’s son delivered eulogies to a man New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said had left a giant legacy in the Pacific through 45 years of “extraordinary achievement.”

Malietoa was Samoa’s king since the nation of about 180,000 people gained independence from New Zealand in 1962 and was loved by his people, who have mourning his death for a week.

His body lay in state overnight in the Apia parliament before being placed on a decorated dais, draped in the Samoan flag, on the building’s lawns for a service attended by the Maori and Tongan kings in fiercely hot conditions.

Mourners including New Zealand’s Clark, Australia’s Governor-General Michael Jeffrey and foreign diplomats were seated under shaded pavilions to protect them from the heat.

The king’s coffin was shielded from the sun by an open-sided shelter, built in traditional Samoan style and topped with flax.

CANNON SALUTE

At the end of the service, Malietoa’s coffin was carried away by Samoan ceremonial police to his family’s white-walled crypt at Tiafau and interred with a cannon salute.

Malietoa inherited his royal title in 1940, and was made a special adviser to the New Zealand governor in Samoa, following the death of his father, Malietoa Tanumafili I.

He was a key figure in Samoa’s drive towards independence and was made joint head of state for life, alongside Tupua Tamasese Meaole when Samoa became the first Pacific Islands country to achieve independence in 1962.

Malietoa became sole head of state when Tupua Tamasese Meaole died in 1963. He was the third longest reigning living monarch, after Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, ruler since 1946, and Queen Elizabeth II, who ascended Britain’s throne in 1952. Under Samoa’s constitution, Malietoa’s successor will be appointed for five-year terms and will be chosen by the country’s Legislative Assembly, which is elected from mainly customary chiefs every five years.

Another paramount chief and former prime minister from the 1970s, Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi, is being seen as a likely successor, along with Tuimaleaali’ifno Va’aletoa Eti, another member of the council of deputies.

An estimated 130,000 Samoans or people of Samoan descent live in New Zealand, which captured the islands from Germany at the start of World War One in 1914, and ruled the country under an international mandate until 1962.

A Samoan-born New Zealand member of parliament, Taito Philip Field, said Malietoa laid the foundation for the development of Samoa as a modern country.

“He held a lot of the wealth of history, what happened prior to independence and the struggle for independence,” Field said.

In 1940, Malietoa married Lili Tunu, who died in 1986, a year after their eldest son died. Another child died in infancy. The king is survived by two sons and two daughters.

(Additional reporting by Adrian Bathgate)
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