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Last Updated: Monday, 3 May, 2004, 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK
Warrior burial for Fiji leader
The body of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, draped in the Fijian national flag, is carried along a path of tapa mats to his final resting place
A state funeral was held before the coffin was taken to Lakeba
Fiji's former leader Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara has been given a warrior chief's burial, ending six days of official mourning in the South Pacific nation.

Thousands of mourners crammed on to his tiny home island of Lakeba for the ceremony led by a barefoot bishop.

Conch shells, which have been blown continuously since he was laid in state six days ago, finally fell silent.

Ratu Mara, who died aged 83, was hailed as modern Fiji's founding father after independence from Britain in 1970.

He died earlier this month from complications after a stroke.

The burial ceremony contained a mix of traditional Fijian and British military rituals.

Some 600 soldiers dressed in red tunics carried the flag-draped coffin along a path of decorated tapa mats, cloth pounded from tree bark.

Former Fijian Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara
Ratu Mara was buried alongside his ancestors
Women from the Lau islands lined the route.

Warriors wearing only palm leaf skirts and carrying clubs stood guard at the entrance to the chief burial grounds that only close relatives - including his widow Lady Lala Mara - were allowed into.

Fiji's current president, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, and Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase stood respectfully outside the fenced compound.

Ratu Mara was the Tui Lau, or paramount chief of the Vuanirewa royal warrior clan of the Lau islands in east Fiji.

He became Fiji's first and longest-serving prime minister after independence and later became president.

He was forced to stand aside during a nationalist coup four years ago.




SEE ALSO:
Honours for Fiji's former leader
28 Apr 04  |  Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Farewell to 'Fiji's father'
30 Apr 04  |  In Pictures
Fiji's 'founding father' dies
19 Apr 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Fiji
18 Jul 03  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Fiji
13 Nov 03  |  Country profiles


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