Jonah Lomu death: Tongan village mourns hero

Ex-All Blacks Ofisa Tonu'u and Michael Jones pay their respects at Lomu's home. Photo / Dean Purcell
Ex-All Blacks Ofisa Tonu'u and Michael Jones pay their respects at Lomu's home. Photo / Dean Purcell
The Tongan village where Jonah Lomu is best remembered has gone into mourning to honour the passing of the sporting giant.

As the Pacific Island government looks at how the nation will mark the rugby legend's passing, the governor of the Ha'apai island group said Lomu's family were now wearing ceremonial clothing as word spread of his death.

"It's a very touching moment because it's a loss of a superstar, especially because Jonah has grown up here," said Mo'ale Finau.

"This is sad, not only for Ha'apai but for all the people of Tonga as well.

"The whole village will be mourning ... Some of the people are wearing black already."

Members of the extended Lomu family were now travelling from outer islands to Holopeka village for a 10-day period of mourning.

Relations would stay at the Lomu family home wearing customary ta'ovala over black clothing, preparing feasts and holding ceremonies to honour the rugby star.

Finau understood Lomu, who moved to Auckland to live with his parents and attend school on his fifth birthday, would be buried in New Zealand.

Tonga's Sports Minister Fe'ao Vakata said the question of how Lomu's memory would be recognised throughout the kingdom would be discussed by Cabinet tomorrow.

He told Radio New Zealand Lomu had brought great pride to the islands.

"Even people here in Tonga have named their children after Jonah Lomu and everybody has been saying they are related to Jonah Lomu. That's how much we are proud and appreciate what he had given Tonga and New Zealand and world rugby."

It was a sentiment echoed by the coach of the national Tonga rugby team who said Lomu was a great sporting ambassador who gave hope to all Tongans.

Said Mana 'Otai: "He epitomises what it was about; it doesn't matter where you come from or how you start in life but what you make of it.

"He gave a lot of hope for young Tongans, both male and female alike, of what he had become. He was one who could inspire others ..."

Otai, who played for Manawatu, North Harbour and Auckland, said Lomu was a "huge flag bearer" for Tonga.

"Although he played for the All Blacks he was known worldwide as a Tongan.

"For Tonga, as a small island nation, that's something Jonah has provided for us, the worldwide knowledge of where the island is in the Pacific."

'Otai said despite Lomu's illness he still did what he could to promote the game and was spotted holding tackle bags for youngsters just a few weeks ago in the United Kingdom.

"He was still out there being a great ambassador for rugby."

- Lynley Bilby 

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