Obituary: Orator who joked with the king is  laid to rest

At a time when it was strictly taboo in Tongan culture for commoners to personally address the king in public Viliami Pousima Afeaki was different.

At an inter-collegiate sport competition in 1990s held at the Teufaiva Park Viliami was the master of ceremonies (MC).

His oratorical skills keep spectators listening to him while they watched the various competitions.

Some people climbed the trees outside the Teufaiva stadium so they could watch the competitions.

Unfortunately, the branch of a mango tree in which some of them were sitting suddenly broke and the people fell to the ground.

Viliami, who was in the stadium building with spectators and the king, could clearly see these people falling.

Viliami then humorously addressed the king about the incident and said: “Your Majesty, there is another competition out there on the eastern side outside Teufaiva, but those competitors were competing to see who could first touch the ground.”

His jest was received with a smile from the king and a laughter from the spectators.

But why did Viliami risk making a joke with the king in public?

One of the answers could be because of his very close ties to the monarchy.

The name Afeaki is a royal title and means the king’s herald. Viliami’s father, the late Soakimi Pousima Afeaki, a lawyer and Member of Parliament for Ha’apai, was appointed to the position.

Afeaki is one of the Fale Ha’akili, the only ha’a (group of heralds) who are allowed to mix and mingle with the king. They can talk to the king in the commoner’s language and even eat together and joke with the king.

Apart from being a Member of the Tongan Parliament for six years, Viliami was a high school teacher, a broadcaster and an orator.

In July 1996 to June 2004 Viliami became the Director of Utah State Office of Polynesian affairs (Utah State Governors office of Ethnic Affairs).

In July 2004 until June 2007 he was appointed by the George Bush adminstration to the post of Commissioner Presidential Advisory Commission for Asian Americans &Pacific Islanders (White House Appointment – Washington DC).

In 2007 the government of Tonga appointed him as an adviser on Reconciliation and Civic Education.

It was during this time that Tonga’s Public Service Act was amended to require public servants who wanted to contest elections to resign before registering as candidates.

He told the media the amendment was made after the government considered there was a conflict of interest if public servants remained as paid government officers while running for Parliament.

Viliami was known to many for his brilliant command of English and Tongan, an aptitude clearly shown when he was regularly assigned to become an MC and translator at many national, public and church events.

His oratorical talent and skills were a significant credit to the Afeaki clans as whenever people showed their approval and admiration when Viliami addressed the public, their remarks linked him with his father, his service to the nation in politics and also the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of which he was a member.

Viliami was originally a Catholic, but became a Mormon after he divorced his first wife. This was a legal dissolution not accepted by the Catholic church.

Viliami is survived by his wife Henrietta Suliana and eight children.

He had two daughters from his previous marriage, Victorina Kioa and Emily Afeaki.

He also had a son, Stanley Havea, before he married Suliana, with whom he had five children: Telesia Tonga, William Pousima Afeaki, Nikolasi Afeaki, Finau Afeaki and Kitekei’aho Afeaki.

Viliami was the seventh of 11 children of the late Soakimi Pousima Afeaki and Lisia Fatongiahe’a Vea Afeaki.

It is understood he and nine of his siblings were qualified in different fields of education from various universities.

Viliami, 65,  was born on May 26, 1950 and died of heart complications on March 22, 2016 while in hospital.

He was buried on April 1 at the Salt Lake City Cemetery in Utah, United States.

The main points

  • At a time when it was strictly taboo in Tongan culture for commoners to personally address the king in public Viliami Pousima Afeaki was different.
  • He famously joked with the king at an inter-collegiate sport competition in 1990s when spectators sitting in a tree outside Teufaiva Park Viliami fell off the branch.
  • Viliami, who died aged 65 on March 22, was a Member of Parliament for six years, a high school teacher, broadcaster and orator.
  • He was known to many for his brilliant command of English and Tongan and was regularly assigned to become an MC and translator at many national, public and church events.

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