By ILIESA TORA
NUKU’ALOFA – February 28: 6.48pm (R2R MEDIA): It drizzled but the rain held back.
The sun came out yet it held its full strength, as the cloud covering provided the shade.
Thousands lined the streets from the Fua’amotu International Airport to the Royal Palace gates in Nuku’alofa as the official cortege carrying the late Queen Halaevalu Mata’aho made its long procession back home for the last time.
As news was relayed to Tonga earlier this morning that the long trip back home was leaving New Zealand soil, the rain came pouring down.
That initial downpour cast doubts over the day’s programme, especially the anticipation of members of the public and school children lining the streets to pay their silent homage to a Queen who became the people’s favourite.
But the sun Came back out, with clouds providing covering.
At 12 mid-day hundreds of school children, in their different school colours, started lining up on the main road from Fua’amotu Airport into the capital city of Nuku’alofa.
They were joined by teachers, parents and other family members who were also keen to catch a glimpse of the Queen Mother.
And as the wait began, the drizzle came, not once but twice.
However, that did not move the school children, nor their teachers or the parents.
They sat and stood waiting for the signal that the Royal procession was close.
“It is something special for us and something we will remember for the rest of our lives,” 12 year old Fijian, Loata Mataitoga of the Hilliard Memorial School said as she sat amongst her fellow students in front of the Fifita House building on Taufa’ahau Road in Mangaia.
Ms Mataitoga was one of six Fijians amongst the school group, which also included a ni-Vanuatu.
And that basically was the story of the day, as Tongans and those who have made Tonga their home either for school or work, turned up to pay homage to the late Queen Mother.
In the main street of the capital city there were people from different races joined together by the lost of a much loved Queen.
People only moved once the Royal procession had gone past.
School children bowed in silence, hands clasped as the cortege carrying Her Majesty rolled past.
Members of the Royal Family, including His Majesty King Tupou VI, Her Majesty Queen Nanasipau’u, Crown Prince Tupouto’a Ulukalala, Crown Princess Sinaitakala Tuku’aho, Her Royal Highness Prince Salote Pilolevu Tuita, Fijian royalty Ratu Epeli Nailatikau and his wife Adi Koila Nailatikau were part of the procession.
Government Ministers, led by Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva, were also part of the procession along with Nobles of the Realm.
It was a procession befitting a Queen – loved by the people and who had given much of her life to helping her people.
Queen Halaevalu had died last weekend at the age of 90 in Auckland.
A Royal New Zealand Airforce Hercules brought the Queen Mother home, landing at Fua’amotu just after 12 noon.
In the past three days traditional presentations were made to the Royal Family, from people honouring the late Queen Mother.
The tributes included Tongan koloa, garlands, livestock- including cows and pigs, as well as traditional root crops.
Three of the Queen Mother’s grandchildren Crown Prince Tupouto’a ‘Ulukalala, Honourable Sione Ikamafana Tuita and Honourable ‘Etani Tuku’aho took turns in receiving the presentations made at the Pangai Lahi grounds next to the Royal Palace in Nuku’alofa.
The presentations, which began in the weekend, have been made by family clans, churches, businesses, and others.
Queen Mata’aho will be laid to rest at Mala’ekula, the Royal Tombs tomorrow, with Tonga marking the occasion with a special public holiday.
Earlier in the day a group of grieving Tongans gathered at Whenuapai Airport in Auckland where they sang mournfully as the Queen Mother’s body was carried onto the plane that was bringing her body home.
Today belonged to the late Her Majesty Queen Halaevalu Mata’aho.
The gods were with her and that showed through nature’s own display.
It was as if Her Majesty was herself saying “I am home, I am coming home to stay”.