Respected Tongan scholar Professor ‘Ōkusitino Māhina once referred to Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva in heroic mythological terms as the Maui Kisikisi of Tonga – the Maui who brought the fire from Pulotu – the underworld to Maama – the World.
In the hours since his death this morning tributes have flowed in for his role in bringing democracy to Tonga and his leadership on Pacific issues.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern said Hon. Pōhiva would be remembered for his lifelong commitment to championing democracy.
“He was also a powerful advocate for Pacific regionalism, demonstrated at the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting in Tuvalu where he advocated for climate change action and regional solidarity.”
Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor said Hon. Pōhiva showed great courage in attending the most recent meeting, even though he was ill.
“I think, in many ways, he came to say goodbye, to show his respect and solidarity with the Forum Leaders and to make a final resounding stand on issues close to his heart,” Ms Taylor said.
“May his legacy stand true and be an inspiration to the people across the Blue Pacific.”
Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said he mourned Hon. Pōhiva’s death.
“He inspired the world with raw emotion at last month’s Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu which, despite his health, he attended in recognition of the urgency of climate action.
“We must honour his legacy by continuing this fight.”
Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister, Ralph Regenvanu, said: “My condolences for a good friend and principled leader”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was saddened to hear of Mr Pohiva’s death, describing him as a “passionate advocate for his people.”
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Mr Pōhiva was “a respected leader in the Pacific and a good friend to Australia.”
Former Tongan publisher Kalafi Moala, who worked as the Prime Minister’s media adviser before spectacularly falling out with him, acknowledged his role in leading the democracy movement in the kingdom.
“He played a key role in the political development of our nation,” Moala told the ABC’s Pacific Beat programme.
Tongans living in Brisbane have expressed their sadness at Hon. Pohiva’s death.
“It is with a heavy heart that the Brisbane Tongan Community mourns the passing of the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Tonga, Hon. Samuela ‘Akilisi Põhiva in Auckland, New Zealand aged 78,” a statement from the Tongan Brisbane Community said.
Defender of Democracy
A former teacher and broadcastser, Hon. Pōhiva was Tonga’s longest serving member of Parliament, entering the House in 1987.
In 2013 Hon. Pōhiva became the first Pacific Islander to be awarded the Defender of Democracy Award by the Parliamentarians for Global Action.
The following year he became the first commoner to be elected Prime Minister by Tonga’s Parliament.
It is understood that the current sitting of Tonga’s Parliament has been suspended indefinitely.