Island kingdom of Tonga mourns the death of its queen mother

AP News
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Posted: Feb 22, 2017 12:49 AM
Island kingdom of Tonga mourns the death of its queen mother

NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga (AP) — The South Pacific island kingdom of Tonga is mourning the death of its queen mother, who dedicated her time to helping the elderly and those with disabilities.

Halaevalu Mata'aho died Sunday at the age of 90 in Auckland, New Zealand, after traveling there for health reasons. The cause of her death has not been released by her family.

She was the mother of two kings: George Tupou V, who died in 2012, and the current monarch, King Tupou VI.

Her funeral procession will be held in Tonga on Feb. 28, when most people in the country of just over 100,000 are expected to turn out wearing black.

Mata'aho will be particularly missed by the Alonga Centre and the Tonga Red Cross, with leaders at the two agencies saying she worked tirelessly.

Lavinia Satini, the coordinator for the Alonga Centre, was in tears when remembering the queen mother, the news website Matangi Tonga reported.

"Her love for those who are less fortunate was evident in her leadership because she made it a point to take care of each person here," Satini said.

She said Mata'aho would personally visit the disabled and the elderly at their homes.

"I will always remember when she visited us from the Royal Palace she was already stocked with everything that we needed from food to various household items," Satini told the website. "She not only distributed it to us here but she also made personal trips to homes of people she knew were in need."

Crown Prince Tupouto'a 'Ulukalala announced that the Tongan people could pay their respects to the queen mother at the royal palace in Nuku'alofa before she is buried in the royal tombs on March 1. The crown prince said the royal family would observe 10 days of mourning following her burial.

The queen mother married Tupouto'a Tungi, the eldest son of Queen Salote Tupou III, in a royal wedding in 1947. Her husband became King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV after Queen Salote died in 1965 and reigned until his death in 2006.

As well as the king, the queen mother is survived by her daughter, Princess Salote Mafile'o Piloevu Tuita, 11 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.

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Associated Press writer Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand, contributed to this report.