Scoop Video: Tonga - An Island On The Brink
Scoop Video: Shortly after attending the State Funeral for the King of Tonga, New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark encouraged Tonga to continue with constitutional and democratic reform. She said: "There's been enormous division in Tonga and I think there's an opportunity to move ahead… There's a new prime minister. There's a will for change, I believe, and we will support that however we can." See below for more on why Tonga is on the brink of change.
On Tuesday September 19 Tonga held a state funeral for its late King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV in Nuku'alofa. The occasion was attended by around 15,000 Tongans, 40 states were represented, among those were New Zealand, Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, Fiji, Samoa, Cook Islands, Niue, Tahiti, New Caledonia and other Pacific island nations.
In reference to civil action and island-wide strikes in 2005 that led to pay increases of between 60-80 percent, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said: "That's led to a lot of pain in restructuring of the economy." She, noted that 170 teachers have now lost their jobs. Child numbers per classrooms are at an all time high, and Tonga has an expanding youth population. "There's work to do here and let's hope there's an open enough process for that to happen."
As the late King's body was brought from his palace to his final resting place at Malae Kula, the free Wesleyan Church bells began to play.
The King's body had been handed over to the charge of Luaki, the traditional undertaker, who was carried in to the Royal Tomb Malae Kula on top of the King's coffin. In the past, it is believed warriors were buried alive with the monarch's body. But today, that part of the old tradition has been relegated to history.
Caring for the King's body is a clan of people called Nima-Tapu who are renowned for their oratory. When a monarch dies, Nima-Tapu are not allowed to feed themselves, nor cook food, nor do any tasks apart from that of looking after the monarch's body. They are the only people allowed near the Royal Tombs. They prepared the grave for the late King of Tonga.
Tonga's people are not normally allowed on this sacred ground surrounding the tombs. Today, they say, is the exception. They have been told that it is a privilege for them to be there for the funeral.
There were traditionally around 1000 pallbearers who were chosen to carry the King's coffin rested atop a large cradle. The chosen came from the late King's former school, Tupou College and included men from villages of Tongatapu Island who attended his favoured Wesleyan Methodist Church.
The new King, George V arrived in his black London cab. Locals say he is very English, by nature more Palagi than Tongan. He speaks with a different accent, likes western things, they say he appears to abandon the finer points of old tradition. He is at times indifferent to the 'commoners'.
Away in the distance, far from the Royal Tombs, a church bell tolls to Pacific time, punctuated by a thud of cannon fire.
Tonga has a total population of 101,000 people. Around 15,000 people turned out to observe the late King's state funeral.
As King Taufaahau Tupou was carried onto the sacred ground, a slow agonising beat drew closer a brass band playing the death march.
One could not but wonder that this just may be not only a state burial of the late monarch, but also of the island state's monarchy.
Looking about the thousands gathered, there was not a tear to be seen, not a sob, nor a cry, there was no outward mourning at the Royal Tombs. There was respect, patience, and kindness belying a mood of anticipation for change.
Information courtesy of New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Tonga's political system is a constitutional monarchy where the King appoints the Cabinet. In March 2005, the late King of Tonga, Taufa'ahau Tupou IV permitted four additional ministers to be appointed from within the legislature. The four included two people's representatives and two nobles' representatives.
The Tongan Legislative Assembly comprises of a cabinet of 16 ministers, nine nobles representatives chosen by 33 noble families, and nine representatives elected by universal suffrage by Tongans 21 years of age and over.
Tonga's head of state is the new King George Tupou V, the eldest son of the late King.
Tonga has been struggling to hold its economic position. GDP stands at T$361 million, with GDP per capita totalling T$2936 with GDP growth at 1.6%. It exports US$13.9 million per annum and imports US$82.9 million per year. Its main exports are fish, squash and vanilla, main imports are food, animals, beverages and tobacco.
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