For those gathered outside their places of work and who could not make it to the service, it was a chance to bid a final farewell to the much-loved and highly respected woman who was the country’s oldest traditional leader and was regarded as a Cook Islands icon.
Some of those at the roadside were directly involved in the funeral procession as the teams of pall bearers, representing the Aronga Mana, the House of Ariki and a host of other organisations and communities, changed over at around 12 points along the route.
At the archway to the National Auditorium entrance, the task of bearing the paata was handed over to a team of immaculately-uniformed police officers who step-marched it inside the building. The paata was then taken to the front of the stage by pall bearers including prime minister Henry Puna, opposition leader William “Smiley” Heather, Cabinet members and MPs, before the singing of the Queen’s anthem and the national anthem.
Hundreds, including a large group of schoolchildren, queued to enter the auditorium for the service. VIP guests sitting either side of the casket laid wreaths in honour of Dame Margaret, including Queen’s Representative Tom Marsters, prime minister Puna, Finance minister Mark Brown, House of Ariki Kaumaiti Nui Travel Tou Ariki, and New Zealand High Commissioner Peter Marshall and Religious Advisory Council (RAC) leader Pastor Bobby Matapo.
Mourners filling the auditorium included government and opposition figures and representatives of many of the organisations which Dame Margaret supported over her long lifetime, and their sheer number was a huge tribute to the late leader.
A prayer service was conducted by the RAC, with tributes following from representatives of the Karika family, the House of Ariki and prime minister Puna.
The service also included a eulogy by the late Dame Margaret’s niece, Helen Tatuava.
Song filled the air as Marsters and Puna led the departure from the auditorium and the casket was once again handed over to a team of pall bearers from the Cook Islands Police Service, before being handed over to outer islands representatives for the walk to the Avarua Cook Islands Christian Church by way of the USP.
The crowded church formalities were followed by a moving burial service, during which the Cook Islands Boys Brigade folded the casket flag and handed it to Marsters, who in turn gave it to a Karika family member.
The notes of the Last Post sounded out across the cemetery as the funeral came to an end around 2pm, putting the seal on a life well lived and well served.