Deceased Tongan royals make final journey home

In the midst of a heat wave Tuesday, they wore black.

Mourners for Tongan Prince Tu’ipelehake, 56, and Princess Kaimana, 46, came to Sneider & Sullivan Funeral Home in San Mateo to pay homage to the late royals at the beginning of the royal couple’s final journey home.

Draped in floral white cloth, the coffins were each accompanied by a bouquet of white flowers, and those in attendance wore their traditional mats — delineating their social status — and sat out of respect, sobbing and singing while the hearses were loaded.

Asked what he would say to the prince and princess if he could, Tongan Consul General Tevita Kolokihakaufisi said, “Thank you for your lives. We learn from it and we honor it.”

San Mateo police escorted the prince and princess to San Francisco International Airport, where their coffins were loaded onto a United Airlines flight to Los Angeles before connecting with an Air New Zealand flight to Tonga.

They are to be buried in the langi — the royal tombs — in the old capital of Mu’a on Friday in Tonga, which would be Thursday on the Peninsula.

Kolokihakaufisi estimated that 500 Bay Area Tongans were also on their way to Tonga for the funeral, and some had flown over from the country simply to travel back with the royal family.

He added that some would associate the 5.7-maginitude earthquake near Tonga yesterday with the momentous event of bringing the royals home.

Eleni Aho, a coordinator with the Tongan Interfaith Council, worked in Tonga for 30 years and said that nothing had come close to the level of tragedy suffered recently.

Her husband, Lui Aho, is currently in the country and says people are preparing to receive the funeral and mourning.

“It is very quiet there,” Eleni said.

The prince and princess, along with their close friend and driver Vinisia Hefa, 36, died the night of July 5 when their Ford Explorer was allegedly sideswiped by 18-year-old Redwood City resident Edith Delgado.

Authorities have said Delgado, a young woman highly regarded by those who know her, was driving at speeds approaching 100 mph and may have been racing another car on northbound U.S. Highway 101.

Delgado is being held on manslaughter and speeding charges for the crash and is due back in court Thursday for a preliminary hearing.

Ofa Kupu came to say goodbye to the royals, adding that while she may not follow Delgado’s trial, others probably would to continue honoring the late prince and princess.

“This is the end for me,” Kupu said.

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