VANUABALAVU had not ever seen a funeral like the one they gave the country’s sixth Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. From the two Tikinas of Mualevu and Lomaloma, people from 17 villages assembled to give their favorite son a fitting farewell.
It all began at Malaka airstrip where the former PMs youngest great grandchild 2year-old Alona Levy led the women of her grandmothers kin to welcome the Tui Kobuca one last time.
As the women of Malaka laid fine mats and tapa, the men closest to Qarase’s family, walked over that finery with their late patriarch on their shoulders.
On the approach to Mavana, men greeted the cortège blowing conch shells, a somber welcome but also a sign to mourners that taboo was now in place.
Throughout the day there would be no unnecessary movement, no noise nor would any loud crying be tolerated.
At the “Vakasobu”, the family gave back to the Mataqali Vatulami and the Vanua, the late Tui Kobuca’s body.
The men of the Vatulami clan are the only ones allowed close proximity to the body of their fallen chiefs.
Throughout the hour long procession and ceremonies to welcome their favorite son home, tears flowed quietly like the rain which had dampened the entire island for days.
All eyes were on the widowed Leba Qarase and the large family she led through to Naivaka, the house her husband built 30 years ago.
For an hour the late former PM lay in state at his home while mourners from all walks of life paid their last respects.
In the large Methodist Church that Qarase had given a good part of his life and service to, there weren’t enough seats for the thousand strong crowd who then sat outside on the grass in reverence, despite the rain.
Ratu Ene Colavanua, the chief of Tikina Mualevu village gave the first eulogy and spoke of the strength he drew from the late former PM.
As Sau kei Mualevu and Tui Mavana, Ratu Ene was senior to the late Tui Kobuca both in age and position.
“I am grateful that so many people are here and I want to thank all of you who have come to farewell this man.”
“This was a caring man. He was respectful and humble. Most of all he was full of love. It is painful to say goodbye to this man because I always thought I would go before him.”
Ratu Ene said Qarase was instrumental in the formation of Mualevu Holdings, which conducts the business interests of the Tikina of which the two chiefs were from.
“Before I was installed, he encouraged me and told me to remain confident especially when it came to the running of our Tikina business.”
“He gave me a lot of advice, sometimes the words were strong but I always accepted and received direction from him.”
Ratu Ene said Qarase had taken a journey all would eventually but said the path the former PM had taken was only for those who were humble, loving and most of all who gave their love for the good of others.
Inoke Buadromo was Qarase’s nephew and he spoke on behalf of the family to describe the former PM’s leadership.
Quoting family genealogy records, Buadromo confirmed popular opinion that the former PM’s maternal grandfather was a Jewish man called John Borman.
“His mother Vika Fane was the descendant of a Jew named Alexandar Borman and his wife was a Scottish woman named Fanny Orsborne. Their son was John Borman who married a woman from that island across from here named Avea named Asinate Ole. Their daughter was Vika Fane the mother of the man we are farewelling today.”
Buadromo whose father was the former PM’s first cousin, said close family members felt privileged to have been under great leadership.
“It is a leadership style that I’m sure I dont have to explain. I am sure you will have witnessed the milestones of his life, his service and the past works of his hand.”
Reverend Iliavi Tuiwai, the General Superintendent of the Suva Division of the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma led a large contingent to the funeral.
The group included church officials, senior members as well as the choir of Centenary Church in the capital city where Mr Qarase attended worship services.
Reverend Tuiwai said Qarase’s commitment his faith and to improving the churches’ financial standing was unrivalled.
“From when he became a member of the Centenary Church to this final farewell, his pew was never empty except for when he was sick or away on Prime Ministerial duties.”
“As the Centenary Church choir sings for him and about him today, we come across the seas to farewell our brother and to say we will sing his songs forever.”
At the white tomb, as the rain halted momentarily and while the Mataqali Vatulami completed burial rites, Leba Qarase’s emotional farewell gave the day its fitting end.
“Gods will has always led us and today it separates us. We came together with Gods will. We did our best to follow Gods will in our lives. We began and raised a family in God’s ways.”
Thank you Laisenia. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for letting me have my way, I have always said I am the most blessed woman because you were a good father and a good man.
Thank you for everything, I lacked for nothing.
As we promised, death has separated us. Laisenia, I will work hard to join you in the place God has prepared for us. Goodbye my love!