In her first public engagement of 2017, the 90-year-old monarch greeted the Fijian warriors — braving frosty 39-degree temperatures — at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.
Her husband, 95-year-old Prince Philip, had been listed to accompany her but was absent due to what aides suggested was an “oversight.” They insisted he was well and cited a scheduling conflict. Both the Queen and Prince Philip battled “heavy colds” in December.
The Queen, who last week made a low-key visit to her local Women’s Institute in Norfolk, again chose a vivid shade of pink, this time a cashmere coat and matching hat by Angela Kelly. During today’s outing, she reminisced about her six trips to the Commonwealth nation of Fiji during a tour of an exhibition showcasing Fijian culture at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts.
Outside the modern art gallery, two drummers and two warriors stood guard with war clubs when the Queen arrived. The Queen was greeted by Fiji’s High Commissioner, Jitoko Tikolevu, who showed his respect by performing a traditional bula welcome.
After shaking her hand, he knelt down on one knee and clapped his hand three times. “It’s a sign of respect for the royal family only,” he said, noting that many Fijians still regard her as their Queen even though the country became a republic in 1987 after two military coups. It was not, he said, something he would do for a prime minister.
The Queen, escorted by the high commissioner and the university’s vice chancellor, Professor David Richardson, was shown around the huge display of artifacts and exhibits.
In one part of the gallery she was shown a wedding dress made from masi — cloth produced from the bark of the paper mulberry tree — for the 1991 marriage of Adi Litia Mara to Lord Henry Dugdale. “Oh yes, she married the son of one of my ladies-in-waiting,” the Queen said.
A choir performed a traditional Fijian song, “Lily of the Valley,” a tune Commissioner Tikolevu said she knew well.
“She shed a tear when the choir sand it for her at the Royal Windsor Horse Show last year for her 90th birthday,” he said.
Fiji, which was governed by Britain from 1874 until its independence in 1970, still has a Union Jack in its flag and supplies troops to the British Armed Forces from a people who retain close ties to the crown.