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Alf – a man who fell in love

Friday 2 June 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Features, Memory Lane

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Alf – a man who fell in love
Alfred George Manu aka Alf. SUPPLIED/23060101/23060102

When the late Alfred George Manu first came to Rarotonga 22 years ago, he didn’t expect to fall in love. The original plan was to fulfill his rugby league contract as an outstanding premier player, get a few casual jobs and go where the southerly trade winds would take him. But Alf fell in love.

He fell in love with Rarotonga, his Aitutaki heritage, the people of our country, and what his Kiwi friends refer to as “his little paradise”.  

Alf was embraced with generous aroa – our iti tangata respecting him for his great prowess on the field, his humility and deep appreciation of a beautiful island and people – his people, as Alf was also proudly a Cook Islander. He came to embrace our culture and people.

Alf fell in love with this place, people and made Rarotonga his home.

After meeting the love of his life, Bianca Whittaker he again fell completely in love with a beautiful, creative, sporty woman from Takitumu. Rarotonga truly then became Alf’s forever home. They truly loved life together – a time spanning close to 20 years. Bianca and the five children they shared – Darren, Rhys, Tiani, Ioane and Khan, and grandaughter Kadallya are struggling to come to terms with their crushing heartbreak over Alf’s unexpected passing. Bianca and the children meant everything to Alf and they had a happy, interesting and fulfilling life here in Rarotonga.

“Happy Mother’s Day darling,” were Alf’s last words to Bianca before heading to their kitchen to make his love a coffee. Alf never made it to the kitchen, collapsing and passing away in front of his young sons despite Bianca’s frantic efforts at CPR to save him. His passing came as a shock as Alf was fit, lean and full of life. 

At the age of 53 (and in supposed retirement), Alf donned his boots and played three times for Ngatangiia/Matavera Premier Rugby League team – he was that fit and strong. These were memorable games Alf played alongside his son Rhys and very proud moments for them.

The music Alf loved, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson and a diverse range of happy dance tunes are still being played in the home in the Muri hills that he built with Bianca, where his friends and large extended family gather to reminisce many memories.  

Like how Alf loved a good party, to dress-up in fancy dress, dance, go motu camping with the children and friends, go on the reef, cook a good barbeque, bake his much sought-after signature banana, coconut and chocolate chip birthday cake and be with his loves. That big, cheerful laugh always being heard, his sense of humour always at the fore, his generosity and kindness worn everywhere.

Older folk in the Takitumu community speak of Alf being quiet, very humble, polite – traits that were innate when around our elders. 

As family member and close friend Jacqui Evans writes: “Alf was a true island boy, who innately understood the importance of our elders, loved to work outdoors and knew what it means to help his community. He fiercely loved his five children. He also won his island princess who could laugh with him and would always have his back.”

Alf taught his children to have the utmost respect for elders and be well-mannered. But also, Alf loved to shine at any good party, always spreading good vibes and cheer.

Alf was a rugby league star – with a brilliant rugby league career in New Zealand that had him destined for great things. But he chose the contract to come and play in Rarotonga and then … he fell in love.

Alf also shone long and brightly in rugby league in the Cook Islands – internationally representing the country he loved so much multiple times. On the local scene Alf played in the premier grade for several Rarotonga clubs and Aitutaki, before settling on Ngatangiia/Matavera – Bianca played for her village club, so it just made sense. He was also an outstanding coach – taking a bunch of young up-and-coming under 14 boys, a “so-so team” and training them to become the Grand Final Champions in their age group this year. The family had planned to attend church on that fateful Mother’s Day Sunday, along with the under 14 team, to celebrate and give thanks for their victory.

Alf was proud of the lovely home tucked neatly into the foothills of Muri, that he and Bianca designed and built together. He often showed it off to visitors. He was proud of the Grand Final trophies that he helped win. He was proud of the children. He was proud of his beloved Bianca. He was proud that Rarotonga was his home and he could call himself a Cook Islander, thanks to his Dad the late George Manu of Aitutaki. Mother Sue is of Niuean descent, a language Alf spoke fluently. Alf and his five sisters were all born and raised in Sandringham, Auckland. But it was the Cook Islands culture and people that he immersed himself and with Bianca, were active and popular members of their Ngatangiia community with a wide social circle of friends.

Alf was a man who worked hard (literally Bianca’s own “Dial-A-Hubby!”) and was a good provider. He was a builder and landscaper, it kept him in good shape (another thing he was quite proud of as well!). Alf had a small side business distributing Stonefish apparel around Rarotonga. Ioane and Khan will keep this going with the help of their Mum.

Several years ago, Alf asked the late league legend (and his idol) John Whittaker for his daughter Bianca’s hand in marriage. John Whittaker gave his blessing with the words that Alf should “…always look after Bianca.” The couple became engaged and marriage was to be an inevitability.

Amidst the grief and deep shock felt by family, friends and community over Alf’s untimely departure, are the many loving memories left behind that we will keep sharing – including the words of one of his favourite songs…

“Hmm Don’t worry, about a thing
'Cause every little thing, is gonna be alright
I won’t worry, Baby don’t worry about a thing.
'Cause every little thing, is gonna be alright
Say, don't worry about a thing, no girl

'Cause every little thing gonna be alright…”

(Three Little Birds – Bob Marley)

Sunrise: 4th December 1969

Sunset: 14th May 2023

Always, always in the hearts of so many

  • Florence Syme-Buchanan/Manava Media

Funeral arrangements

The Rarotonga family of the late Alfred Manu has been awaiting the findings of the Coroner before any arrangements for his funeral can be made.

The family has been advised that a pathologist from New Zealand has arrived to help determine the cause of death.

“The family are obviously in deep shock, are grieving their crushing loss, they want to bring Alf home to Muri to be farewelled by his many friends and wider family and have a community event to celebrate the full and interesting life of Alf. But they also believe that these steps are necessary for closure and they have a formal explanation for his sudden passing made by the Coroner. This has to be done first, before the family can move forward.”

“We thank friends and family for their patience, support and understanding in this saddest of times for his long-time life-partner Bianca and the children and their families”

Comments

Roselynn Monomai on 03/06/2023

Kia Orana, Fakalofa Lahi Atu. Thank you for a beautiful piece on the late Alfred Manu.The passing of a loved one always hurts, only this loss is being felt across the world. Alf fell in love with his little paradise and dutifully chose this life but he was also is part of a greater community of family whom also want to pay tribute and celebrate his life during this tender time. Grief is the most challenging of all emotions, having the potential to generate decisions that can divide families and as we find ourselves nearly a month after the initial loss, we simply ask of Bianca to share. Share the grief. Share the heartache. Share the burden with the rest of the families to provide a funeral equal to the love we all have shared with Alf. Understanding with kind communication can bring us together for positive outcomes for all families in unification to grieve, celebrate and mourn this life that gave so much. This includes the greater communities of families of which Alf is a part of including his highly respected loving mother our Aunty Sue.