Tongan family’s heartbreak after father dies and is buried before they arrive to say goodbye

A man who travelled from Auckland to Tonga to celebrate his father’s 80th birthday died and had to be buried before his family could farewell him because there was no refrigerated morgue on the island.

Kaliopasi Kioa, 38, died on December 9 on his home island of Niuafo’ou. He had travelled there with a container of goods and a van as part of his family preparations to celebrate their father Tonga Kioa’s 80th birthday.

Kaliopasi’s siblings had travelled from New Zealand and the United States for their father’s birthday celebration.

His wife, Muna Kioa and their daughter arrived in Tonga from New Zealand on December 11 and were due to travel from Tongatapu to Niuafo’ou later this week to meet with Kaliopasi and his family.

The cause of Kaliopasi’s death is unknown, but his sister-in-law, Tita Nonu ‘Otai, told Kaniva News the dead man had to be buried after the family was told by Niuafo’ou’s health authority they could not embalm the body.

“My sister and their daughter said goodbye to the sand covering the top of Kaliopasi’s grave,” ‘Otai said.

“It is so heart-breaking.”

‘Otai said the family was devastated. This would have been the first time Kaliopasi’s wife and family would have met his family.

Friends and family who paid tributes to Kaliopasi on Facebook described him as a “good character,” with a “smiling face” and “loving.”

Niuafo’ou

Niuafo’ou is in the north of the kingdom and is the furthest from the mainland, Tongatapu, where the capital city Nuku’alofa is located.

Niuafo’ou is 574 km away from Tongatapu and according to the 2006 census has a population of 650.

Regarded as one of the most remote islands in the world, a vessel from Tongatapu arrives at Niuafo’ou once a month with passengers, goods for the shops, petrol and mail.

Flights from Tongatapu on Real Tonga Airline arrive once a fortnight depending on the weather. According to the South Pacific Handbook, the island’s airstrip is aligned so that dangerously strong winds whip across it.

“When that happens, the plane has to fly all the way back to Vava’u, and the people on the island see their long-awaited cargo go back where it came from for two weeks,” the Handbook says.

The main points

  • A man who travelled from Auckland to Tonga to celebrate his father’s 80th birthday died and had to be buried before his family could farewell him because there was no refrigerated morgue on the island.
  • Kaliopasi Kioa, 38, died on December 9 on his home island of Niuafo’ou.
  • His sister-in-law, Tita Nonu ‘Otai, told Kaniva News the family was devastated.
  • “My sister and their daughter said goodbye to the sand covering the top of Kaliopasi’s grave,” ‘Otai said.
  • “It is so heart-breaking.”

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