Ta’i’s take: Hymns and songs for Church Father
A long, long time ago the Greek historian Plutarch advised: Not by lamentations and mournful chants ought we to celebrate the funeral of a good man but by hymns, for in ceasing to be numbered with the mortals he enters upon the heritage of a diviner life.
That advice was followed last week in Auckland, New Zealand, in the celebration of the life of the late Tanuvasa Paul Ah Dar (Poe), 89, Church Father of the ‘Le Aomamala i Aotearoa Christian Church.’
In the Family Service on Thursday at the Pacific Island Presbyterian Church, East Tamaki, the program had three hymns and two other songs: Beyond the reef, Tanuvasa’s favourite, sung twice, first by a choir, and second by the old man himself, in a video, obviously recorded for this occasion in mind; and the Believer’s song, sung by three of his grandchildren.
In his eulogy, the secretary said Tanuvasa only resigned from their church to join the church of his son, Rev.Dr Danny Ioka, who led the family service with Afioga Tuifaasisina Joe Po Ching F.T.
Tanuvasa, the secretary said, was a man of faith, and a meticulous worker.
As church treasurer he was always well-prepared and whatever the then minister of the church, the late Rev.Le’i’ite Setefano, wanted done, it was quickly and efficiently done.
A generous man, the secretary said, Tanuvasa was always giving away money, 20 dollars, 50 dollars, whatever, and he didn’t allow you to refuse.
He was also very humble, the secretary said. When Tanuvasa was addressed in terms of the saying: A i ai a Tanuvasa, ua atoa A’ana; If Tanuvasa is present then the whole of A’ana is present; Tanuvasa Ah Dar was always quick to point out that that was not his Tanuvasa.
Other speakers paid similar tributes and noted Tanuvasa’s kindness and help in various ways.
I too remembered Poe’s generosity with gratitude, when I needed transport to our wedding; he quickly offered his car for our use. This was early 1963 in Samoa when only the well-off had cars.
To encourage others, especially farmers, to buy vehicles the government reduced the import duty on certain vehicles to only 5 percent.
But owners had to mark vehicles imported under the scheme with the number 5 painted on the side of the vehicle.
Those old enough to remember, would have seen the then Prime Minister Fiame Mataafa Mulinu’u II, riding to work in his green pick-up truck with the large 5s on the doors, parking the truck under the tall Talie tree in front of the then government house, for all the world to see that even he could only own a vehicle landed under the duty concession.
Yet, there was Poe, as he was then, with his starched white shorts and shirt and shiny shoes owning a car at just 28 years old, still a boy, in Samoan terms.
Yesterday, at the funeral service at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Howick, his eldest daughter, Patrina Eva Po Ching, with his late first wife, Pi-Faitau, his widow, Matalena Ah Dar (Mata), his youngest brother, Leota John Ah Dar, provided more details about Poe’s move to New Zealand and his involvement with three churches: PIC Newton, PIC Tamaki, and the ‘Aomamala’ church already mentioned, that her father founded.
In leaving a secure mid-management position in Samoa, to seek even better opportunities in New Zealand, Poe thereby joined the brain drain developing out of the country in the mid-sixties, to New Zealand and other places.
Patrina explained that her father had twelve siblings from their mother Sugalu and father Joseph Ah Dar from China. She herself was one of her parents ten (10) children, five boys and five girls, who have given her father thirty (30) grandchildren, forty-two (42) great grandchildren and five (5) great great grandchildren.
In a moving revelation of life with her husband, Mata, the widow, said that when her family found out that she was having an affair with the Man (Tamaloa) they demanded that she came home at once – and she did.
That was the most difficult time for them, Mata said, as Tanuvasa never stopped ringing and begging her to come back.
Love won the day, she did return, when she was convinced that Tanuvasa truly loved her. They married in 2008; saved for a house and have happily lived in it until her husband got seriously ill.
She said she was about to leave the hospital for an errand but changed her mind. Just as well, she recalled with tears, that was the day, her husband died.
Before he died, she said, her husband told her not to take another husband as she could lose control of her house.
Younger brother Leota John Ah Dar, said his handsome brother was a ladies’ man who used him as a messenger boy to take letters to his prospective girlfriends. But he never told his brother, he said, that when he found that the girls the letters were intended for were good looking, he never delivered them but threw the letters away.
Rev. Dr Danny Ioka commented briefly on his father’s role as the Church Father of Le Ao Mamala i Aotearoa Christian Church. For four hundred (400) years ,he said, the Christian Church was governed by Church Fathers until the differences recorded in the First Epistle to the Corinthians when some said ‘I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.’
His father was a gift from God; when he was unable to attend church, he never missed giving his ‘envelope’ to support the work of the church.
Finally, the leader of the service, Rev. Elama Maea, who introduced himself simply as ‘Tanuvasa’s friend, said he was honoured to be asked to lead the service.
His task is to be strong and give comfort, he said, but how can he be strong when it is said that where Tanuvasa is present, there is no need for anybody else.
The minister also commented on the two aspects of the word renew, the strength of eagles and the strength of those who ‘wait upon the Lord’.
He noted also the three segments of Tanuvasa’s service to the church, thirty (30) years with Newton; thirty (30) years with Tamaki; and the last thirty (30) years, a total of ninety (90) years of service devoted to God; required strength and dedication.
He ended by calling on God’s blessing on the family, friends and the whole congregation.
The final part of the funeral service at the Manukau Memorial Garden was conducted by Rev. Dr Danny Ioka, ending with the singing of:
Talofa, uso e, tofaina oe!
Ua sau le itupo e malolo;
E ala oe pe a mavae le po.
Tofa! Tofa! Tofa! .
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