|HM King George Tupou V|
(photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
We heard the news in the taxi as it sped through the rain to our respective offices. "Did you hear the news on the radio this morning?" the driver asks us. We gave him two blank stares and a "no..." Convinced we had understood the question but simply didn't know, or perhaps too excited to share the biggest news of the year, he continued on, "Tupou V died last night. He was in Korea. His brother is now the new King!"
The news spread fast; before long everyone was wearing black. On Tuesday, the official mourning period was declared by the newly confirmed Tupou VI: three months of mourning, backdated to the date of the late king's death. This means that everyone will be required by law to wear black from March 19th to June 19th. Radios are banned from playing anything except church hymns. School sports days were cancelled, we cancelled the upcoming On the Spot improv show, and there will be no performances, loud music, or construction of any kind during the next three months.
An exception was made for the road crew, who, after months of slowly making miniscule progress day after day on the repaving of Nuku'alofa's roads, suddenly found they could finish each road in a day! New roads are sticky with tar, and school kids have been working for the past three days to clean up the royal toumbs- by hand, because sweeping in the area with a broom is prohibited.
Now Tonga and the world are wondering when the funeral will actually be held. The official announcement that was broadcasted from the Prime Minister's office originally said it would be held next Wednesday, the 28th, only to be recanted several hours later. The new king had declared it be held on Tuesday the 27th, instead. There is still no actual confirmation of the date or the time, but everyone's assuming that it will indeed be held next Tuesday. Similarly, there is ongoing confusion about what will be a public holiday: is it Tuesday? Monday and Tuesday? Or perhaps Monday to Wednesday? One thing is certain: although most businesses will be closed, all the tourist-related services will be open and ready for business. Tonga will not shut down to visitors.
As it is customary to present gifts to the deceased's family, most ministries, noble families, and some businesses are planning to present massive traditional gifts of Tongan ngatu (tapa), mats, pigs, yams, and kava. Former colleagues at TDB are preparing their part of one Ministry contribution: the biggest pig they can find, the biggest kava root they can find, 500 yams, and $1000 in cash. This will be added to the rest of the Ministry of Public Enterprises' gift of thousands of dollars worth of ngatu, mats, and other koloa fakatonga, or tongan valuables. Considering that one yam alone is worth $50, the gifts presented throughout this period will be truly fit for a king.
I'll most likely be assisting the huge delegation of foreign representatives who are making a day's flight into Tonga for the memorial, whenever that will be. I'll publish another post in the next couple of days to describe the funeral and city preparations.
Now we're just counting our black shirts: since we only own two each, it looks like we'll be doing a lot of washing in the next three months ...