3 May 2004

Fiji's Ratu Mara given military funeral on home island Lakeba

3:28 pm on 3 May 2004

Fiji's founding father and former president, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, has been given a full military funeral on his home island of Lakeba today.

Ratu Mara, who died two weeks ago aged 83, was buried a specially constructed tomb in the chiefly burial ground of Sau Tabu in his village of Tubou this afternoon.

Shiu Singh reports.

"At 10.30 this morning Ratu Mara's flag-draped casket was carried from his residence by military pall bearers dressed in red jackets and black sulus. It was followed by Adi Lady Lala Mara and members of family. The casket was taken to the beautifully decorated Tubou Methodist Church for a service by the head of the Methodist Church, the Rev Laisiasa Ratabacaca. Ratu Mara was a Roman Catholic and at the request of his family, the head of the Catholic Church in Fiji, Archbishop Petero Mataca, held prayers in the Methodist Church in an unusual show of solidarity. Among the assembled gathering are political leaders, cabinet ministers, the opposition leader and foreign diplomats. From Tonga, there is the Queen Halavalu Mata'aho and the Crown Prince representing the king. Six thousand mourners are sat outside. The prime minister of PNG, Sir Michael Somare, delivered the eulogy. The casket was carried to the grave side with a guard of honour formed by 400 troops in scarlet and white tunics with three detachments from the navy. As president, Ratu Mara was commander-in-chief of Fiji and they had brought their full regimental and naval colours and presidential flags to pay their respects. At the graveside, the pall bearers saluted and folded the flag, exposing the casket to the public view for the first time. It was then covered with fine Tongan tapa brought by the Queen and the traditional clansmen charged with this duty lowered the casket into the tomb. Military buglers sounded the Presidential Last Post and smoke billowed from the beach as field artillery fired a 21-gun farewell salute."