I had the unfortunate occasion to attend a Tongan funeral over the weekend. Unfortunate because it was for my uncle (my wife’s uncle actually, which I guess would make him my uncle-in-law?) — the fourth uncle I’ve had die in the last few years, and the third to have passed away under the age of sixty. In this case, my uncle was just in his mid-thirties, a mere three years older than me.
Semisi caught pneumonia a couple weeks ago. From what I understand, it got out of control to the point that the hospital he was at was not equipped to deal with it. Yet inclement weather prevented his transport to a better facility.
We got the call on a Sunday morning that he was ill with pneumonia. We didn’t think too much of it. After all, people get pneumonia all the time. But less than an hour later, we got another call that he had passed away. It was quite a shock to my wife and I, and especially to his family.
Semisi was a big man (as you’d expect a Tongan native to be) and a hard worker. No matter the conditions, he was out there putting in whatever physical labor was required to get the job done.
He was loved by all that knew him as was evidenced by the memorial held Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. One eulogy after another praised him for his kindness and service. As one man said, “He was as close to being an angel as anyone I’d ever met.” About half the eulogies were in Tongan, mostly given by members of his immediate family, so I didn’t understand them, but I’m sure they were good.
He loved kids, and kids loved him. My oldest son, who is just seven, put on a tough front, but it was clear he was very sad to lose his favorite uncle.
I have very little understanding of the Tongan culture, so this was an interesting, albeit very sad, look into it. Semisi’s family would break out in Mormon hymns sung in Tongan with seeming random spontaneity (I later learned that a full third of the Tongan nation is LDS) — and boy did they sing loudly! — during which time attendees would line up to view Semisi’s mortal body for the last time. Note the traditional dress. Those are actually floor mats they are wearing, something that has significant meaning in Tongan culture.
Because they are attending a sad event, the mats were generally tattered and torn. At joyous events, such as weddings, I understand that the mats worn are more elaborate and are not tattered.
To my Aunt Lucy and Cousin Keera, I know you now have a huge family of Tongans willing to do anything for you. But if you ever have need of anything I am able to provide, we are also here for you.
This one’s for you Semisi. We’re going to miss you.