Grieving family remember their ‘happy’ Lapana

Saturday September 28, 2019 Written by Published in Local
Lapana Tupou with his family, from left, father Junior, sisters Metuakore and Mehau, mother Matapo, and sister Danina. 19092061 Lapana Tupou with his family, from left, father Junior, sisters Metuakore and Mehau, mother Matapo, and sister Danina. 19092061

As maritime authorities investigate the safety of the Lady Moana, Lapana Tupou’s family take solace in how happy he was in his final weeks. 

Little Lapana Tupou grew up in the big smoke of south Auckland. Visiting his family’s home island of Rakahanga this month, he had never been happier.

“He didn’t want to leave,” his proud father remembers, tearfully. “He told me New Zealand was too cold, and he wanted to stay in Rakahanga.”

Junior Tupou tells Cook Islands News his 7-year-old son was so excited, so happy, to discover the beach, the sea of the faraway atoll where his family came from.

He loved swimming in the sea, eating all types of seafood, the freedom …

Lapana had enjoyed going out fishing in Auckland, but this was something else again. An uncle gave him a freshly caught maroro. Unfazed, Lapana sat down in the sea and began eating the fish, “just like that – raw.”

He tried paua, crayfish, coconuts and all the natural foods offered on the tiny northern atoll with a population of just 83, at last count.

“Everyday day was about fishing, being at the beach, freedom and enjoying being a kid,” his dad says.

Lapana especially loved breakfast. It was his favourite meal and he never missed it, his big sister Mehau says.

The morning the 7-year-old and his dad left Rakahanga, Lapana demolished four slices of toast.

Then the two of them boarded the cargo ship MV Lady Moana. That was the last time Lapana saw land.

The small boy disappeared overboard from the Lady Moana last week. Despite a massive search involving an Air Rarotonga plane, the police patrol vessel Te Kukupa and 16 fishing boats from nearby Aitutaki, the little boy couldn’t be found.

Yesterday his father and sister, who flew over from Auckland to support her rather, sat down to talk. To talk, and to remember Lapana, the little fisherman who would come out with his dad on their boat.

“He usually comes fishing me, everywhere…”

Lapana was a big All Blacks fan and was looking forward to the Rugby World Cup. “When the All Blacks do the haka, he does the haka too.”

Junior recalls when they were shopping at Manukau city mall and Lapana spotted Aaron Smith.

“He recognised him first and called out,” Junior laughs, shyly. “I had to go and ask him for a photo, just for Lapana”

Smith happily obliged; Lapana also has a photo with Lima Sopoaga.

Lapana is the youngest child of Junior and Matapo his mother, and the only brother to Mehau, Danina and Metuakore.

He attended Poetiare o Rongomai preschool and later Chapel Down primary school.

An outdoorsy kid, he preferred soccer and athletics, winning the 100 metre sprint two years in a row at school.

“It’s a good school,” says Junior, “and many of his cousins, kids from Rakahanga, go there”.

Junior and Mehau were to leave Rarotonga last night for the flight home to rejoin their family in Auckland.

He tried paua, crayfish, coconuts and all the natural foods offered on the tiny northern atoll with a population of just 83, at last count.

“Everyday day was about fishing, being at the beach, freedom and enjoying being a kid,” his dad says.

Lapana especially loved breakfast. It was his favourite meal and he never missed it, his big sister Mehau says.

Junior and Mehau are to fly back to Auckland to rejoin their family today.

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