Tongans mourn passing of king

King George Tupou V of Tonga, who introduced democracy to the South Pacific archipelago after riots following his ascension in 2006, died in a Hong Kong hospital on Sunday.

The local Tongan community is mourning the passing of King George Tupou V, the man credited with bringing democracy to the nation a couple of years after his father, King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, died in 2006.

Tupou’s family ruled the archipelago with near absolute power from 1845 until just a few years ago when Tupou V gave up his authority to allow the country’s prime minister to guide the nation.

He died Sunday in Hong Kong at the age of 63. The cause of death was not released but the king did have a kidney removed six months ago after a tumor was discovered.

His sister Princess Salote Mafile’o Pilolevu Tuita lives in Hillsborough and has left for the islands already with her husband, friends of the family said.

San Mateo County has one of the largest Tongan populations outside of Tonga with about 13,000 living locally. About 57,000 Tongans live in the United States, according to the U.S. Census. The total population of Tonga’s 171 South Pacific islands is only about 105,000.

"He was the first king to bring democracy to the islands. We are all very sad about his death,” said Malissa Netane, Pacific Islander Community Facilitator at the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center. The PCRC’s Tongan Interfaith Council works closely with local government and nonprofit agencies to ensure the immigrant community’s basic needs are being met.

"He is very important. There are lots of immigrants here who follow the royals,” Netane said. There are also many members of the royal family and nobility who live locally, she said.

Recently, the king was credited for bringing mobile phone service to the islands. Tupou V was never married but did father a child.

The heir to the throne and brother, Crown Prince Tupouto’a Lavaka Ata was reportedly at the king’s side just before he passed away.

Two members of the Tongan Royal Family, Prince Tu’ipelehake, 55, his wife Princess Kaimana, 45, were killed July 5, 2006 on Highway 101 near Redwood City with their driver Vinisia Hefa, 36 in a crash involving Edith Delgado, who was convicted of vehicular manslaughter.

Tonga is the only country in the South Pacific that has a monarchy in place.

An official with the Tongan Consulate General in San Francisco said a memorial is being planned locally to honor the king, a date has not been set, however.

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