Jonah Lomu remembered at Mangere service

7:03 am on 23 November 2015

Jonah Lomu's mother was among more than 600 mourners who attended the first public memorial for the former All Black.

Jonah Lomu's mother, Hepi, seated during the service.

Jonah Lomu's mother, Hepi Lomu, seated during the service. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

In the church he used to go to as boy, the Lotofale'ia Methodist Church in Mangere, 40 candles were lit on a table at the front to represent each of the years of the rugby great's life. Jonah Lomu died suddenly last week after suffering for many years from a chronic and serious kidney disorder.

Music filled the church during yesterday's three hour service, from traditional Tongan and modern singing and a brass band, and people came to tell stories about "their son".

More than 600 people attended the service, including Jonah Lomu's childhood friend, Sinipata Kaufononga front, seated with mourners.

Childhood friend Sinipata Kaufononga (at front) spoke of Jonah Lomu's life growing up in South Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Childhood friend Sinipata Kaufononga gave an account of Lomu's life before rugby, growing up in South Auckland.

"I remember this time when he got a pair of Reeboks, I don't know where he got them from, whether a cousin handed it down to him or whatever, because we were all broke in Mangere.

"But they were too small for his feet so what he did was is he cut the front part of the shoes so that his toes would come out the front... he wanted to fit in."

Mr Kaufononga began to cry as he recounted being told stories by his cousin's children about the "only Pacific Islander" in the Madame Tussauds museum in London.

"They were telling me that people who make an impact on the world, people that create changes and inspire hope - they're in there in wax.

"Inside this museum - Mandela, Ghandi - all these great people - and they said 'and guess what, Jonah Lomu's in there, he's the only Pacific Islander in there'."

Jonah Lomu's mother, Hepi, cuddles a child after the service.

Jonah Lomu's mother, Hepi, cuddles a child after the service. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

There were speeches from other Pacific nations; a representative of the Cook Islands spoke of Lomu as a Pacific warrior, and a Tuvalu community leader described him as a talented son.

A speech from Vijendra Prasad, a leader from the Fijian Indian community, was met with laughter.

"You know that Indians don't play rugby, they hardly touch a rugby ball. But we're inspired by the way he played.

"You know that try he made after the three tackles - Indians got behind rugby and started to get interested in watching rugby and to learn about it."

More than 600 people attended the service.

More than 600 people attended the service. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Pasifika Members of Parliament also paid their respects. Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, Pacific Peoples Minister, said Jonah Lomu inspired people around the country to "reach for the stars" and to dream big and strive for excellence.

"From the moment Jonah put on a black jersey he became an ambassador for rugby, for New Zealand, and for Tongans that continued until his passing."

MPs (from left) Pacific Peoples Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, Alfred Ngaro and Jenny Salesa.

MPs (from left) Pacific Peoples Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, Alfred Ngaro and Jenny Salesa. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Mr Lotu-Iiga said Prime Minister John Key had asked him to pass onto the Lomu family how much respect he had for him and how saddened he was by his death.

Local MP Su'a William Sio said everyone was deeply proud of Jonah Lomu's accomplishments, and that he had had a big influence on young people.

"Wherever he would have travelled to and played it would've felt like we were running with him. When he scored the tries, we all felt like we were scoring the tries."

A second and much larger public memorial, which could be held at Eden Park in Auckland, is still being planned.

Forty candles were lit at the service, one for every year of Jonah Lomu's life.

Forty candles were lit at the service, one for every year of Jonah Lomu's life. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

First service for Jonah Lomu

Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson