A Wedding and Funeral in the Same Week
This past week I attended both my first wedding and funeral in
Samoa. Each with their own set of traditions. The wedding was first, and the youth dance group for the church that my family attends was going to perform several dances. They had dance practice every night the week prior to perfect their dances. The group mixed traditional Samoan dances to traditional songs, and added a few pop culture songs in there as well. They performed their dances at the reception and it everyone seemed to enjoy the show. However, backing up to the actual wedding I was quite impressed. The church was packed, and everyone showed up in their best dress. For the most part some traditions I saw performed during the wedding were the same of weddings I’ve gone to back home. The bride wore a beautiful white dress, her bridesmaids all wore the same outfit, there were ushers, and the father gave the bride away. The reception had a lot of similarities as well. The bridal party entered the reception room in the same manner as done back home. Each groomsmen and bridesmaid were called out by their names and took a seat at the bridal party table. The bride and groom were the last to enter and everyone stood up when they came in. Before dinner was served the father of the bride gave a speech, as well as the pastor. Some dancing went on and everyone was having a good time. Dinner was served in the culturally appropriate way; first, the bridal party, then all the pastors, then the matais (chiefs), then the rest of the tables. Each person was given a huge platter of assorted foods. (The food was amazing by the way) While everyone was eating the dance performances began. The youth dance group danced first, afterwards a few people from the bridal party performed some dance routines, and at the end the bride even performed a traditional Samoan dance. After the food and entertainment was done it was now time for the speeches. This lasted for awhile, and afterwards the gift giving began. It’s a very important tradition in Samoa that gifts are given. Tons of fine mats are given, boxes and boxes of fish, fabrics, etc. The gifts are from guests and are given to the members of the wedding party. In we do this as well, however here it’s on a more extravagant level. Probably one of the most interesting things about the wedding for me was the cake. Instead of their only be one cake at the wedding there were about 20-30 tiers of cake. Each tier was given to the pastors, matais, or highly respected person. The bride and groom still cut the cake, and fed it to each other, but that was it. The cake was mostly meant for the respected people. After the traditional ceremonies were through, everyone danced. The party ended in the evening. It was a great thing to experience and I really enjoyed myself. America
Part 2-the funeral
A respected chief in my village died the other day. Therefore it was expected that the four church’s choirs in my village sing a few hymns to the mourning family. I was told to where a black skirt, and a white top as that, (or all white) is the common dress for a funeral. My host father, mother, and brother are all a part of their church’s choir. The choir met at the pastor’s house to practice the songs before going to the funeral. Now, I had every intention of observing from a nearby seat on the account of I’m probably the worst singer ever, and my Samoan is…well… let’s just say not up to par. However they were not going to have that they made sure I was sitting front and center singing with the rest of them. Afterwards, around 10pm, the church choir and I headed over to the house where the funeral was taking place. When we got there another church was singing to the family. While we were waiting to sing, I was able to check out what exactly we were supposed to be doing when performing for this family. I was really nervous because I didn’t want to mess up in anyway and somehow disrespect the family. When it came time for us to sing I was immediately grabbed and told to hold on to this extremely long veil of lace that all the females were supposed to carry into the house. Wait, no one told me about this!? I had no idea what was going on. Next thing I know I’m carrying this long lace fabric into the house with 20 other women. I was so worried about messing up, and sure enough when I was stepping into the house I realized I was wearing shoes with straps on them and I could slip them off before entering the house! (In
Samoa it’s a must that you take off your shoes before entering a house.) So there I was holding up this line of women carrying lace because I couldn’t get my shoes off. Mistake number 1. After that whole ordeal was over it was time for us to sing. The church choir sat in front of the family, the pastor said a few words and then we started to sing. Luckily I had one of the older ladies in the group sitting next to me who shared her song book with me and kind of pointed to the words we were supposed to be singing. However, Samoan hymns are different and complex. Sometimes only the guys sing a section, and then only the girls will sing a section. Sometimes it will be where the guys sing the first two words and the women sing the last two words. Needless to say, I had no idea what part I was supposed to sing and caught myself on several occasions singing right along with the guys. Mistake number 2. Then at one point, I was singing the completely wrong song. Mistake number 3. Normally these mistakes would go unnoticed, but because I’m the Peace Corps and basically the only white person around. I tend to be watched like a hawk. So I’m positive my mistakes were not going unnoticed. After we were done singing it was now time for the gift giving. (Remember when I said gift giving is a big deal here?) The family of the deceased was now required to give their thanks to the church choir. They gave us 25 loafs of bread, 8 boxes of fish, a fine mat, and some miscellaneous things. So when all said and done this went on for about 45 minutes. 45 minutes of sitting cross legged on the ground. Now I don’t know how many of you have literally sat crossed legged for 45 minutes but after about 20 your legs go numb. When it was time to get up and leave I couldn’t get up. So as everyone is walking out the door there is the palagi stumbling, staggering, and struggling to get herself up and out in a somewhat graceful way. (Didn’t happen) Not a mistake, but definitely awkward. We went back to the pastor’s house to distribute the food that had been given by the family. The pastor, and more respected members of the group were given their gifts first and then down the line. Each person in the choir was given an equal cut of the gifts, even me! Honestly, I find this to be one of my favorite things about Samoa; the ceremonious gift giving and the sharing of it all. The phrase, “what goes around comes around,” truly applies here. Sharing is like second nature here, and I find that very comforting as well as humbling.
So there you have it, my two very important experiences of the week. Both very different, and both important parts of the culture; I enjoyed being a part of these events, even if I was trying like hell to make sure to follow in suit.