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Sione Latukefu as a scholar, Tongan patriot and Christian gentleman. Sione was born at Kolovai on Tongatapu in 1927, where his family were prominent commoners with important traditional responsibilities. His grandfather was a distinguished Tongan poet and his family were closely involved in the sufferings, educational achievements and faithful witness of the Wesleyan mission and afterwards the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga. After secondary education at Tupou College Sione trained for a teaching career in Tonga and then, with scholarships, at the University of Queensland. He had already been ordained a minister of the Free Wesleyan Church in 1960.
Sione’s autobiographical essay, ‘The making of the first Tongan-born professional historian’, in the book Pacific Islands History, edited by Dr. Brij Lal, glosses over most of his educational advancement. The boy from Kolovai was not meant to aspire to academinc honours. Yet the highest in the land acknowledged his ability. Queen Salote, herself a scholar of traditional matters, recognized Sione’s potential, gave him encouragement and, in her last days, passed on some of her own knowledge to him.
Taking his studies further at the Australian National University, in an era when Phd Degrees were still fairly novel throughout the world, Sione was one of the first Pacific Islanders to obtain one. He was a generous, careful and perceptive historian.
Queen Salote had hoped that Sione would take charge of the Tongan Archives. Her death in 1965 caused him to take a different path. While at ANU he met his beloved life-partner, then Dr Ruth Fink and they were married in Sydney in 1966. Both Ruth and Sione successfully applied for the positions of anthropologist and historian respectively at the new University of Papua New Guinea. At Port Moresby they helped lay the groundwork for future courses and trained a new generation of Papua New Guinean leaders. Sione was also a successful funds raiser and from 1969 to 1988 he was secretary and executive officer of the Te Rangi Hiroa Fund for promoting the study of Pacific history.
After 18 years of dedicated service, by which time Sione was an Associate Professor, they retired for a while to Canberra to live. Sione’s dedication then led him to accept the post of Principal of the Pacific Theological College in Suva which he held from 1989 to 1991 when ill health led to his return to Canberra. At the College he proved a stabilising influence and helped to give the curriculum a greater academic emphasis. In Canberra he contined to work on various research projects surviving a triple by-pass operation and other setbacks with great courage and aplomb. He participated fully in the life of the new Division of Pacific and Asian History and he was still writing articles and working on a book at the time of his death.
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Latukefu, Rev. Dr Sione
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From Niel Gunson, Memorial Tribute to Reverend Dr Sione Latukefu, Tonga Research Association website http://tongaresearchassociation.wordpress.com/