Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Celebration Begins

It all happened really fast, the next day family started arriving and before the end of day four we had twelve new people staying at the house full time, another five staying every couple nights, and about twelve that came every day to work of the house and help with preparation. It was a full house to say the absolute least. At one point I counted twenty sleeping bodies in my three bedroom, one shower, house. Everything is done very differently here. Huge amounts of money are spent on ceremony and food. The family all pool their money and invest in freezers full of meet and food preparing to feed the masses. Not only are they responsible for feeding all the family that are staying in the house, all the villagers that come to help during the day, but also all the families that come to pay respect during the days before the service. I would say that for about five or six days my family was feeding over two hundred people three meals a day. On the day of the funeral I would say we did dinner and lunch for closer to five hundred. This is just the beginning of the investment. Every family that comes brings cash and fine matts to offer the family to show there respect for Milli, but for every matt and cash offer the family has to give back an even amount of canned beef and fish. The amounts were extraordinary. Millis extended family gave two thousand tala and twenty hand woven matts that are priceless heirlooms. They were given in return fifty boxes of canned fish, twenty boxes of frozen chicken and three thousand tala for traveling from the other island. This was about twelve different exchanges just like this. Every corner of the house that wasn’t being slept in was filled with canned goods and two rented freezes sat in our driveway for the frozen boxes. Families can go into incredible debt for funerals to uphold this ceremony. The day before the funeral were spent working on the house, cooking food, and hosting families who were coming to present their gifts. The morning of the funeral the family rented buses to Apia and went to the funeral home to do what I would call a wake. It was an open casket and family and friends not only took pictures with Milli but many kissed her cheek of caressed her face. She was wearing a beautiful wedding dress and all her best jewelry. After the pastor said a couple of words the casket was put into a car and we started the journey back to the village. There she was laid in an open fale and more families came to present their offerings and finally to say good bye before they covered the casket. It is also traditional to drape fine lace over the casket and bring large fake flower arrangements. After the final goodbyes we went to the church were the pastor gave a beautiful sermon about going home to god. Then the floor was opened up for anybody to speak. Many of her peers spoke as well as one of her grandchildren, sisters, and sons. Last me and Seleta my 25 year old sister got up and sang a song. Im not much of singer and this is not something that I would usually do but went I was asked it seemed like a fitting gesture. Then the whole precession went back to the house where a above ground grave had been prepared on our front porch next to her husband. A final prayer and song were given then and as she was lowered everyone threw flowers into the grave. They then put the cement blocks over the top of the grave and began cementing it shut. From that point on, things slowly but steadily started getting back to normal. In the next couple week’s overseas family trickled back to New Zealand and Australia and the family from around Samoa started heading back to their homes. It’s now been two weeks and the last family left two day. I am back at work, my room is no longer being used as storage, and I don’t have to use ear plugs at night because of the cacophony of snoring. It was a wild and crazy ride but I am so thankful for it. Being part of everything and getting to know all my extended host family was wonderful. I learnt so much not only about my family but Samoa culture in general. Some of the time I was thankful for the way we treat death in America, the traditions blowing my mind seeming crazy. Some of the time it was beautiful and I wished we treated death similarly. It was just so incredible and I know it will be something from my time here in Samoa that I will never forget.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah well said about Samoan Funeral. You've been very observant with the exchange of goods (lol). I couldn't stop laughing about the snooring I can imagine :)