Traditional Tongan Funeral


Ofa Talanoa

The author’s aunts at her great aunts funeral.

Ofaanga Talanoa, Staff Writer

Tongan society is lead by four core values, which are combined to welcome visitors to the Kingdom, and to each other. Faka’apa’apa (mutual respect), Fetoka’i’aki (sharing and fulfillment of mutual obligations), Lototoo (humility and generosity), and Tauhi vaha’a (loyalty and commitment). The elders demand the most respect and family members know their roles.

According to The Kingdom of Tonga, the two most celebrated occasions for Tongan families are weddings and funerals, which are both characterized by the giving of gifts including traditional tapa cloths and woven mats.

Tongan funerals usually have cultural pressure to throw a huge expensive funeral which usually cost thousands of dollars. The family has to make food for all the visitors to show gratitude and appreciation for coming to the funeral. Funerals are also a time of great respect and love.The woven mats (Ta’ovala) that are worn indicates how close a person is to the deceased.The bigger and neater it is, the closer the person is. It’s worn by the dad’s older daughter and the youngest brother wears the frayed disorderly mat. During these events the father’s older sister has the highest status, she’s the Fahu. If the dad dies, his older sister will cut his children’s hair to show respect to him and her. Before the funeral, families and friends gather together for a wake to pay their respect.

Since most of the Tongan people are Christian, funerals typically are a mixture of Christian and cultural customs. Before anything is done, the ‘Ulumotu’a (head of the family) gathers everyone and discusses the plans for who is responsible for what. A normal Tongan funeral can last up to 2- 4 weeks. During the time before the burial, the mourners, families and friends come to the Failotu. Mourners gather together to sing, exchange gifts, and express their grief. During the Failotu it’s normal for the relatives of the deceased to wail as a way to bring out how they will be missed and say their goodbye. “Some express their grief through humor and some express through despair” said Moni Vao, a local from Tonga.

The ceremony is usually held at a church where everyone gathers to say their last goodbye and last prayer before they go for the burial. After the ceremony the men carry the casket to the mala’e (cemetery) while the women sing on the side. Most ceremonies hire a band to play as they escort the casket for the burial. A typical mala’e is decorated in a bright quilt, bouquet of flowers, and crosses.