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Last Updated: Monday, 11 September 2006, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Obituary: Taufa'ahau Tupou IV
Taufa'ahau Tupou IV
Taufa'ahau Tupou IV: One of the world's last absolute monarchs
Tupou IV, the ruler of Tonga, who became the country's king in 1967, was the fourth longest-reigning monarch in the world and, according to the record books, was at one stage the heaviest.

As King of Tonga, Taufa'ahau Tupou IV was the absolute ruler of more than 170 Polynesian islands which were brought together when their many different tribal groups united in 1845.

Though still the object of great reverence, the Tongan royal family has recently faced criticism for seemingly enriching itself while most of its subjects remained in poverty.

It has also faced calls for greater democracy. Under Tonga's constitution, just nine members of the country's 30-member Legislative Assembly are elected by the public.

Pro-democracy candidates have consistently won seats in parliament since the early 1990s, but they have been routinely outvoted by the 21 members selected by the king and the country's noble families.

The King was born Crown Prince Tupouto'a Tungi in July 1918, the eldest son of Queen Salote Tupou III.

Prime minister

As a youth, the prince was one of Tonga's top athletes. A proficient pole vaulter who regularly vaulted more than 3m (10 ft), he also played tennis, cricket, rugby, surfed, dived and rowed competitively in a racing skiff.

He was also something of a musician who mastered a wide range of instruments including piano, saxophone, clarinet, guitar, balalaika and the Tongan nose flute.

After gaining a Law degree at Sydney University, the prince was appointed Tonga's prime minister in 1949.

A traditional Tongan festival
Tonga is still a highly traditional society
When Queen Salote, who had won the hearts of the British people travelling in an open-topped carriage during Queen Elizabeth II's rain-swept coronation in 1953, died of cancer in 1965, the prince succeeded to the throne.

But his own 1967 coronation - part Tongan, part Methodist - was stylistically a world away from the British model.

Forty thousand of his people spent five days celebrating in the Tongan capital of Nuku'alofa, where they roasted 71,000 suckling pigs, drank vast amounts of kava - a mildly narcotic drink made from a root - sang songs and danced.

Despite his youthful athleticism, King Tupou became vastly overweight. In a country which views great physical size as beautiful, he took his kingly responsibilities extremely seriously, taking a bottle of Tabasco sauce with him wherever he went.

Financial scandal

At one time the Guinness Book of Records put his weight at 209.5kg (33st). But, during the 1990s, Tupou IV led his 108,000 subjects in a diet and exercise regime in an effort to reduce Tonga's notable obesity problem.

In doing so, the king shed around 70 kg (11 st) to reduce his weight to about 130 kilograms (20st 6lb).

His recipe for weight loss was simple. "I find I can control my weight quite easily just by eating a lot of soup," he told an interviewer in 1985. "I would say that I'm down to, oh, about 360 pounds (25st plus)."

Despite his role as father of the Tongan people, the king's reputation was tainted by his involvement in a series of financial controversies as he tried to find ways of overcoming his kingdom's poverty.

A Tongan beach
Despite its beauty many people live in poverty in Tonga
Starting in the mid-1980s, Tonga made about $30m through selling Tongan passports to mainly Asian buyers, reportedly including former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda.

And another scandal erupted in 2001 when it emerged that $26m had been lost in speculative investments by the king's appointed court jester and former US banker Jesse Bogdonoff.

Tupou IV's 41-year reign made him one of world's longest-serving monarchs, after Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Samoa's King Malietoa Tanumafili II.

A committed Methodist, indeed the world's sole Methodist sovereign, King Tupou was devoted to his faith, "But I must say, until I arrived in America," he once recalled, "I never knew that Amazing Grace could be sung so many times in one day."


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