Kava ceremony officially welcomes Tonga's new king

Saturday 31 Mar 2012 4:54 p.m.

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By Michael Morrah

King Tupou VI has been officially welcomed as Tonga's new monarch during a kava ceremony outside the royal palace.

Thousands gathered to witness the process, which marked the handing over of power from the late King George Tupou V to his younger brother.

The most significant part of the ceremony was the moment the new king drank from the kava bowl. It's similar in meaning to the signing of a contract and signalled to his people that he accepts his new role as king.

The preparations began at first light.

It involved trucking in more than 140 pigs, almost 100 kava plants and 10,000 coconut leaf baskets, all in the name of the new king, Tupou VI.

"They are all voluntarily donated by the nobles and some by the family, even the Royal Family,” said Ami Latu, Palace Office representative.

The king was the head of the Taumafa Kava, or the royal kava circle.

The ceremony, known as the pongipongitapu, started with the offerings being counted.

Because no Tongan is considered higher than the king, a foreigner came forward to stake claim to the first share of meat.

In this case, it was a close friend of the late King George Tupou V.

It was then time to prepare the kava, an honour reserved for the king's daughter, Princess Mata'aho, before the first bowl was brought forward.

"This means he accepts all the pledges from his nobility and also sends out the message to the rest of Tonga that he accepts being the king of Tonga," said Melino Maka of the New Zealand Tongan Advisory Council.

The king's official spokesperson, or talking chief, has worked for both the current king's brother and father and says the new king is easier to work with because he's younger.

"Pretty normal and pretty easy, and I'm proud,” said talking chief Motua Puaka.

“I guess I am used to doing my job and I am happy with what I am doing."

As the ceremony ended, the pigs remained in the sun. But Motua Puaka assured that the beasts would be distributed between the villages and not wasted.

The end of the ceremony also marked the end of the 10-day mourning period. The radio stations have returned to normal programming and are no longer playing gospel music.

It also means businesses like bars and restaurants can play music once again. The next step will be the king's crowning and coronation, but the date for that is yet to be announced.

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