New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern writes in a condolence book for Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in Wellington on Friday

The Commonwealth celebrates the loss of a figurehead, a link to the past

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern writes in a book of condolences to Queen Elizabeth II in Wellington on Friday – Copyright AFP Marty MELVILLE

Andrew BITTY with Sean Gleason in Delhi

As Britain mourned the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Friday, a succession of dominions, kingdoms and former colonies marked the loss of a common figurehead and an irreplaceable link to a rapidly fading era.

Although she was 96 years old, the Queen’s death was an emotional upheaval from Africa to the Pacific.

“This morning the people of Papua New Guinea from the mountains, valleys and coasts rose to the news that our Queen is God rested,” Prime Minister James Marape told his country.

“She was the anchor of our Commonwealth and we affectionately refer to her as the ‘Mother Queen’ of Papua New Guinea,” he said, just one of dozens of emotional thanksgivings that have poured in from countries once marked on the cards in pink.

In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern read about her monarch’s poor health before bed.

“A police officer shone a flashlight into my room around 10:5 this morning… I immediately knew what it meant.”

“I feel very sad,” she added, recalling fondly the talk of raising children in the public eye.

Across the Pacific in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Queen will “forever be an important part” of his country’s history, but also told personal stories that went beyond clichéd statements.

“She was one of my favorite people in the world,” he said. “I’m going to miss these chats so much.”

Most of the former British colonies have completely changed since Elizabeth Windsor ascended the throne in 1953 with a new face.

At that time, India’s population was about 380 million – up from 1.4 billion today – British troops brutally suppressed the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, and New Zealand citizen Edmund Hillary made the first successful ascent of Everest with long-unrecognized Nepalese partner Tenzing Norgay.

For many, Elizabeth II represented one of the few remaining links of that vanishing era of empire, of the “old country,” of intertwined history, or the common victim of a brutal world war.

India’s Prime Minister, Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, recalls how Queen Elizabeth II showed him the handkerchief given to her by independence hero Mahatma Gandhi at her wedding.

“I will always cherish this gesture,” he wrote on Twitter. “She personified dignity and decency in public life. It hurts because of her death.”

– “Non-replaceable” –

The death of Elizabeth II inevitably raised questions about whether there could be bonds rooted in colonialism and maintained by the tiny monarch’s personal charisma.

The Queen was a “driving force” in the Commonwealth, said Harsh V. Pant, professor of international relations at the Royal Indian Institute in London.

The block of 56 countries – most of the former British colonies – spans Africa, Asia, America, Europe and the Pacific and includes 15 kingdoms where Elizabeth II was still head of state.

“So what is happening with this Commonwealth now? Will he survive in the future? Pant asked.

In Sydney, Maya Munro, 20, said the Queen was both an “incredible figurehead” and an example, especially for women.

But like many young Australians, she envisions a “very different role” for the monarchy in the future.

“I think the Queen has been a monarchy for a long time. And she brought him so much respect, history and honor,” she said.

“I think it just plays a different role in our lives these days. Maybe we are now moving away from the monarchy.”

In New Zealand’s capital Wellington, Warwick Murray, 50, said “politicians come and go, but someone like Queen Elizabeth cannot be replaced.”

“The fact that she was above politics and could really rally positivity means that I admire her deeply.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese – a generally recognized Republican – tried to deflect questions about the future head of state by declaring 10 days of mourning.

Instead, he paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth’s “eternal decency”, saying that her death marked “the end of an era”.

“A historic reign and a long life of duty, family, faith and service has come to an end,” he said.

“Today is the day for one question, and one question only, to pay tribute.”

Even in places where the legacy of colonialism is still raw, leaders have focused on the qualities of the woman rather than the baggage of her role.

“The history of modern Nigeria will never be complete without a chapter on Queen Elizabeth II, an outstanding world figure and an outstanding leader,” said President Muhammadu Buhari.

“She dedicated her life to making her nation, the Commonwealth and the world a better place.”

The president of Zimbabwe, who withdrew from the Commonwealth in 2003 after it was suspended over human rights concerns and endured decades of cold relations with its former colonial ruler, expressed his sympathy to the British public.

“May she rest in peace,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa wrote.

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