As the island was preparing to celebrate the 44th year of self-rule, the family of Fakaumatagi Toniu were making preparations to inter his remains in the family burial plot in the village of Liku. Fakau had passed away at Niue Foou Hospital just two days before the Constitution Celebrations. For the family, this was a celebration of a different and more sombre kind; the celebration of the life and times of much a loved husband, father and grand-father. On a windy and cool morning in the family burial plot on the outskirts of the village of Liku, we laid him to rest.
For the island the preparations for Constitution Celebrations continued without pause. This is a time for reflection; it’s a time to hold up the mirror so that we as the people of this island can see where we’ve been; it is a time to remember the leaders of the past; it is a time to hear from our current leaders on their plans for the future. It is a time to remember and to give thanks.
As I sat in the church at Liku at the funeral service with my two grandsons, surrounded by other members of our family, it occurred to me that this really was the end for Fakau. We live in a world that tends to celebrate beyond death only those who are rich or famous or those who have served in a public office or church. Those with no such distinction are laid to rest with little fanfare, no obituary in the press, no national recognition; it’s just the way that it is. Family and friends hear of the life of Fakaumatagi through good and bad times. . .and then at the family burial plot they help to write the final chapter of his life.
In his formative years, as was the custom at that time, Fakau left his home at Liku and had grown up in the family of Joe and Moka Jackson, commuting between the family homes at Alofi, Foa and Hakupu. For a good part of that time, he lived at Hakupu where he met his future wife, my sister Kuaumu.
Like many of his generation, Fakau could have moved to New Zealand permanently and raised his family there but he chose otherwise. While he enjoyed New Zealand and the good things that life had to offer there, he was never at ease and preferred the warmth of the tropical sun to an invigorating frosty morning. His children would have liked to have their parents with them in NZ but Fakau could not bring himself to leave his home. When Kuaumu had to leave for New Zealand to take care of some health issues, Fakau accompanied her, but only for a short time. He couldn’t wait to return home. For her part Kuaumu, when she was able to travel, returned to the island; she wanted to be nowhere else but to be with her husband. Perhaps she realised that in the autumn of their life together, each day is a gift to be enjoyed.
In his lifetime Fakau had been a mechanic, a driver for the hospital and a chainman for lands and survey. For a time, he was also a meter reader for the power house. By all accounts when he returned from Hakupu to live and raise his family at Liku, he contributed to and participated in village activities and commitments. He was also a deacon for the Liku Ekalesia Kerisiano up until his death.
Fakaumatagi was no one special, he held no public office and he was certainly not rich or famous. But when work needed to be done, whether it be for the family, the village or the island, he was there. And yes, when it was time celebrate, he and Kua were there, decked out in the most colourful tropical colours they can find. Without the contribution of people like Fakau, someone who has an endearing love for the land of his birth, for the land where his fonua is buried, for the land where he wanted to live and to die, there can be no Niue.