PM Pōhiva’s family and friends in Auckland celebrate his election as kingdom’s Prime Minister

Tongan Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva’s family and supporters in Auckland gathered in Mangere last Saturday for an emotional and joyous celebration of his election.

Speeches and talk on the day were a mixture of good memories, thankfulness and honour for a man who grew up in poverty and rose to the top job in the country.

The family members remembered how they struggled to pay for the Prime Minister’s study at Tupou College in the 1960s.

They recalled how they reacted to his lawsuit that led to the late King Taufaʻāhau Tupou IV summoning Parliament in 1991 to amend Tonga’s constitution to legalise the sale of Tongan passports.

One of Pōhiva’s nieces remembered how her father, a first cousin of ‘Akilisi, contributed to the future premier’s high school fees from income from his village shop.

She recalled that at the time, goods from retail shops in Tonga were usually exchanged for copra coconuts.  The shop owner would then turn the coconut into copra which he would sell them to the Tonga Copra Board in exchange for cash.

Dr Fotu Fisiʻiahi, a lecturer at Unitec’s Mt Albert campus, congratulated the family for organising such a wonderful occasion to celebrate ‘Akilisi’s premiership.

Family and supporters of Mr. ʻPōhiva in Auckland celebrating his victory. Front row L-R in the middle were Samuela Pōhiva and Ula.
Family and supporters of Mr. ʻPōhiva in Auckland celebrating his victory. Front row L-R in the middle were Samuela Pōhiva and Ula.

Dr Fisi’iahi said he believed this was the best government Tonga had ever had. Apart from the support for Pōhiva’s political beliefs over many years, the cabinet ministers were highly educated and had a lot of experience in government matters.

The Prime Minister’s nephew Samuela remembered when Pōhiva was sacked from public service in 1985 and his visit to Auckland in 1986.

Speaking to Kaniva News, Samuela recalled how he was shocked when ‘Akilisi told him he was coming to New Zealand to meet his lawyer because he wanted to sue the king and the government of Tonga in matters related to the selling of Tongan passports.

“I was really panicked and repeatedly asked ‘Akilisi whether he was serious about it or not,” Samuela said.

Samuela, who shares the Prime Minister’s first name, said he quickly contacted his cousins in Auckland and told them about ‘Akilisi’s plan.

There were mixed reactions to the news.

“One of my cousins turned up and jokingly told ‘Akilisi to be careful otherwise the family would all be arrested and imprisoned for what he was doing,” Samuela said.

But the future Prime Minister told them there was nothing to fear as the lawsuit was done according to Tonga’s laws and constitution and it was for the benefit of the people of Tonga.

“We are the Lotava family and we should all shout for joy and be jubilant that one of us has been elected to become Tonga’s Prime Minister,” Samuela told the gathering.

Lōtava was one of ‘Akilisi’s great grandparent.  The family holds a family reunion in Auckland once a year.

Samuela recalled how ‘Akilisi struggled financially when he was sacked from the public service because of his political views. He said he and some family in Auckland collected money and sent it to ‘Akilisi’s wife Neo while he stayed with them in Auckland after his dismissal.

‘Akilisi had a strong connection with his family and supporters in New Zealand and he has regularly visited Auckland since the 1980s.

His long-time legal counsel Dr Rodney Harrison is in Auckland. His Keleʻa newspaper is registered as a company in New Zealand and is printed in Auckland.

Pohiva’s niece told the gathering that when Pōhiva arrived in Auckland to meet his lawyer about the passport case he asked for help dropping off a bag containing documents to his lawyer.

“I was in fear when I found out that what we had in the bag were documents to help in a trial that involved the king and the government, but today I stand in front of you trying to hold back my tears as ‘Akilisi stood for the people’s rights,” she said, while wiping her tears.

The family’s fear when they heard about Pōhiva’s  plan to sue the king and the government in 1980s was one of the main reasons he became popular with the majority of Tongans.

His action was rare because Tongan culture demanded that commoners must not challenge the king publicly because his body was taboo. Those who did so would receive from the king’s supporters strong words like fieme’a (snobbish) and ngututamulea (a poetical word meant to describe someone who speaks against the king as a dumb person).

Samuela’s eldest daughter Sita said in her speech that the family should continue to support Pohiva in whatever way fits the situation.

She said they had helped the Prime Minister for many decades and they should stand by him while in his premiership.

Pōhiva’s first cousin Ula was emotional as he recalled the hardship he endured and working hard to help pay ‘Akilisi’s school fees when he went to Tupou College.

“Today is a joyous day to us all Lōtava family,” he said.

“I am so proud that Akilisi became Prime Minister while I am alive today to witness it.”

Samuela, who is in Tonga to join his uncle for his official appointment by the king, said he would ask the Prime Minister when he could fly to Auckland to meet with the family for a private gathering.

The main points

  • Tongan Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva’s family and supporters in Auckland gathered in Mangere last Saturday for an emotional and joyous celebration of his election.
  • Speeches and talk on the day were a mixture of good memories, thankfulness and honour for a man who grew up in poverty and rose to the top job in the country.
  • Pōhiva’s first cousin ‘Ula said he was proud he had lived to see him become Prime Minister.
  • Dr Fotu Fisi’iahi, a lecturer at Unitec’s Mt Albert campus, said he believed Pohiva’s government was the best government Tonga had ever had.

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