PM welcomes ‘daughter of Tonga,’ as Sepuloni leads official NZ visit to kingdom

Tongans were pleased to welcome home a daughter of the kingdom, Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku said this morning.

Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku (L) and NZ Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni. Photo/Supplied

The Prime Minister made the statement during a joint press conference with New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Carmel Sepuloni in Nuku’alofa.

Hon. Sepuloni is the first Pacific Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand and the third woman to hold the position. 

“Tonga and New Zealand are inextricably linked. We have a shared history, bound by our cultural and ancestral links through our Polynesian heritage and we share common values of mutual respect, friendship, collective ambition and sustainability,” the Prime Minister said.

Tongan connections

During her visit to Tonga, Hon. Sepuloni was honoured by her Tongan relatives and said she was proud of her Tongan roots.

Lepolo Taunisila, a former Tongan MP for the Niuas, talked to Kaniva News about their connections and the hā’unga presentation they performed to welcome Hon. Sepuloni.

She said their great grandparents Mr Punivai and Toakase had five children – Suli, Sēmisi Punivai, daughters ‘Ila and Nenase and the youngest, Mr Paula (male name in Tongan).

Lepolo said that of these five children, Sēmisi Punivai had a son called Sepuloni. He had a son named Kamisi, who was Hon. Carmel Sepuloni’s father. Nenase was Lepolo’s maternal grandmother. Paula had a grandson called Sika Manu, who was the first captain of the Mate Ma’a Tonga rugby league team. This meant that Lepolo, Sika Manu and Carmel’s father were second cousins.

(L-R) Ponapate Taunisila, Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni and Lepolo Taunisila. Photo/Supplied

Lepolo said all the five siblings’ grandchildren came together on Wednesday and welcomed Hon. Sepuloni in a special family ceremony in which they presented a Tongan hā’unga. It is the highest Tongan cultural presentation of food and kava to welcome a visitor. 

They also provided and performed the practice of Tongan  ha’i ta’ovala in which women decorate the person of the day with a special ta’ovala or piece of matting worn around the waist over one’s loin cloth.  Lepolo said they did this because they were delighted to meet her while she was in Tonga in her capacity as New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister.

During the hā’unga presentation one of the Punivai’s grandsons, former government senior officer Sione Polota, delivered a welcoming speech.

“We welcome you to Tonga on your first official visit as New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister and head of New Zealand Mission to the Pacific Islands,” Polota said.

“Since you acknowledged your Tongan connection, our heart overflowed with joy and pride. You are one of the Punivai clans from Tonga’s Niuatoputa island.

“We are the grandchildren of Mr Punivai and Mrs Toakase including Sika Manu the first Mate Ma’a Tonga rugby league team captain.”

Proud

During her speech during the hā’unga presentation, Hon. Sepuloni said: “My grandfather married a Samoan woman and raised his family in Samoa. We grew up knowing very little of our Tongan side. I became more curious as time went on as to where we came from. But like many people when you don’t know where you come from, you are shy to talk about it because it is embarrassing that you don’t have that knowledge of your roots.

“I was relieved years later to meet Lepolo and for Lepolo to approach me and to tell me the history of our family and where we came from.

“How special it felt to be from an island which is beautiful and far away  – Niuatoputapu. I want to go there where my great-grandfather was from.”

Hon. Sepuloni said that she could see her great-grandfather’s face when she looked at her relatives in the room.

“After a long break away from each other we are now reconnected,” she said.

“I can say very honestly that I am proud to be connected to you and to be related to you and I look forward to the next generation, having that knowledge and being strong in that connection now that we have found it again.”

Government relations

New Zealand and Tonga have explored ways to enhance the kingdom’s climate change advocacy,  Tongan Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku said this morning.

This would amplify the leadership on the issue Pacific islands have taken.

“I thanked the Hon Deputy Prime Minister for the ongoing bilateral assistance from New Zealand that continue to be a boon to our development, with funding flowing into priority areas of strengthening economic development, law and justice and education.

Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni with her Niuatoputapu kāinga. Photo/Supplied

“Our defence cooperation remains strong. Our bilateral relations are important and I asked the Deputy Prime Minister for her continued assistance towards Tonga’s development priority areas. “

Hon. Sepuloni said the Pacific region remained New Zealand’s foreign policy priority.

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