Crowds mourn king at traditional funeral

BBC's Duncan Kennedy: "One thousand pallbearers took turns to carry the king's coffin"

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Over 1,000 pall bearers dressed in black with mat and straw skirts around their waists carried King George Tupou V on their shoulders.

They brought him from the royal palace, where he was lying in state all night, to the site of the Royal Tombs.

There was a 21-gun salute and the church bell at the Free Wesleyan Centenary Church rang out.

School children sat on the kerb, Tongans looked on wearing their traditional mourning dress and all the homes and buildings the cortege passed were decorated in purple and black material.

The king's coffin, draped in the Royal Standard, was covered by a rigid structure or canopy, with golden spires attached to the roof reaching up into the sky.

The gates to the burial ground were also draped in purple and black, and in gold material the words "God is With Us" were wound around the wrought iron.

Strict protocol

The Royal Tombs, where four previous kings and queens are buried, is a vast grass area normally out of bounds, but today hundreds of school children sat there in the blazing sun.

Royal women walk across the tomb grounds on 27 March 2012 Children lined the route to the Royal Tombs as the procession passed by

Girls wearing blue pinafores with matching ribbons in their hair lined the route and made sure the tapa (the traditional mat which the pall-bearers walked on) did not fly away.

Boys in their white shirts and waist mats sat in the central space, with nothing on their heads. Strict protocol had to be adhered to - sun hats, umbrellas and sunglasses were forbidden, and everyone was to stay seated.

There were some tents though. One, with a crown on the top, shielded the Tongan royal family from the sun, including the new monarch, King Tupou VI, who is the late king's younger brother, and his wife who is now Queen Nanaipau'u.

A plain white tent protected international guests, including the Duke of Gloucester representing Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, Prince and Princess Hitachi from Japan, and the president of Fiji.

Statesmen and government representatives from countries a little closer like Australia and New Zealand had flown to this tiny island for just one day.

Other VIPs including Tongan politicians and church leaders were also shaded and the state broadcaster, Radio and TV Tonga, was broadcasting live from the scene.

Moderniser

The Tonga Defence Services played a big part because the king was their commander in chief, but so did the marines, and there was a military band.

The Christian service had hymns and biblical readings. The official royal undertakers were there to remove the coffin from the specially-made wooden platform and canopy, take off the Royal Standard and place the king into the burial plot.

File photo of Tonga's King George Tupou V from August 2008 The king succeeded Taufa'ahau Tupou IV in 2006

There was classical music from Handel and Wagner, and the Last Post and the Tongan National Anthem ended the event which lasted about three hours, shorter than previous state funerals.

Delivering the sermon, the royal chaplain spoke about the political reform the king had overseen and his eagerness to establish closer links with the rest of the world.

The king, who died in Hong Kong, had been out of Tonga since November, and it is traditional for the royal chaplain, amongst others, to wave him off at the airport when he goes away.

In his sermon, the royal chaplain described the farewell. The king told everyone to have a Happy Christmas and New Year, and said he would not be returning for some time.

No one expected those words to ring so true. Even though Tongans knew their king was unwell, many were still surprised when he died.

They were relying on him to keep pushing for change and modernisation.

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