Farewell Palemia Pohiva

By Samisoni Pareti

Tonga today buried the man who dared 30 years ago to take on the might and mana of the Pacific’s last surviving monarchy and got rewarded as the kingdom’s first commoner to be elected prime minister. 

Elected prime minister not once, but twice.

Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva was 78 when he succumbed to pneumonia at a hospital in Auckland on Thursday last week.

It ended 31 years of being a People’s Representatives in the Tongan Legislature, a political career horned from years of fighting a monarchy that resisted political change.

He suffered imprisonment and numerous prosecutions during the 3 decade long campaign for democracy in Tonga.

Pohiva has been unwell for quite some time, reportedly from a kdney ailment.

Before he was airlifted to Auckland on Wednesday last week, he has been hospitalised for two weeks.

A large number of foreign dignatries flew to Tonga this week to say farewell to a Prime Minister who was first elected PM in 2014, and then again in 2018.

Representing the king was queen consort, Her Majesty Nanasipau’u Tuku’aho.

King Tupou VI was absent, reportedly travelling to the United States.

It is no state secret that the two were not close as the two clashed repeatedly and many times publicly when the king served as prime minister of Tonga in 2000 to 2006. prior to sweeping constitutional changes that wrestled the power to elect the prime minister from the king and gave it to elected members of the legislature.

Those changes were triggered by public protests that saw rioting and the burning of Nuku’alofa’s CBD in 2006.

China paid for bulk of the reconstruction of Nuku’alofa through a loan that the Pohiva Government inherited and complainingly struggled to repay.  

All those concerns were set aside today as foreign dignatries flew in for the funeral. Among them were Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, high chief and deputy prime minister of Samoa, as well as Fiji’s president Jioji Konrote.

They joined acting prime minister Semisi Sika and members of his Majesty’s cabinet.

The New Zealand government had provided a jet of the Royal New Zealand Airforce to fly the body of he late prime minister to Nuku’alofa on Tuesday this week.

He laid in state inside the main St George Government Buildings in the centre of Nuku’alofa, not far from the Palace. China interestingly also paid for the construction of the complex.

Pohiva was accorded a full state funeral with school children sitting with heads bowed on both sides of the road that the funeral cortege used.

The funeral service was held at the Centenary Church in Saione before Pohiva was buried at the Telekava Cemetery.

When news of his passing spread like wildfire in mainstream and social media last week, Michael Field, a veteran New Zealand photojournalist who was working on an official biography of Pohiva released the following message he said was penned by the late Prime Minister on his deathbed in Auckland:

To the people of Tonga

It has been 32 years since you elected me as your representative,

And that became a sacred covenant for my existence

We established a vision

And I did everything possible to turn that vision into reality

No energy was spared

Thank you for giving me your trust

Your support

Your love

I have fulfilled my obligations to you

This is my final farewell

Tu’a ‘ofa atu!

– Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva, 11 September 2019