It's a Samoan pub.

October 9, 2006: The beginning of my adventure in the Peace Corps. I've been invited to serve as an Information and Communication Techonology volunteer to teach computer skills in Samoa. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are mine and do not in any way reflect the views of the Peace Corps, the US government, or the country of Samoa.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Samoan Wedding

I’d never been to a Samoan wedding before but I had been to enough fa’alavelave (important events, like funerals and matai ceremonies) to know that it would probably be at least nine hours long. On top of the normal ceremony and celebration there would be the exchange of tinned fish, fine mats, and pigs, accompanied by many long matai (chief) speeches. It happens at all major events. And so, with this in mind, Laura and I headed over to the Mormon Church in Tafatafa at about 11:00am.

Tafatafa is Laura’s village. We visit each other so often that people in Siumu all know her and the people in Tafatafa all know me. Laura found out that one of her village friends, Tina, was getting married and when I congratulated her, I was inevitably invited to attend as well.

Alright, so back to the fact that we were planning on being at this wedding all day. Laura and I have lived here for a year but we are definitely not fluent in Samoan. Laura needs to speak it much more often so her Samoan is more advanced than mine but still, neither of us was going to understand the ceremony. So we were looking forward to hours of a ceremony we wouldn’t understand in a Mormon Church. Mormon ceremony = no alcohol. The Later Day Saints don’t drink, ever. Not even for wedding receptions. There was much time spent on trying to figure out how we could get our own supply in but there’s no drinking anything inside the church, not even water, so that wasn’t going to happen.

We got to the church and the ceremony seemed surprisingly fast. Upon reflection I realized that this was because it was just the ceremony. There was no service or lighting of candles or anything. Basically do you want to marry this woman, do you want to marry this man and then it’s over.

After the ceremony was the reception. Now, for Samoan receptions everyone in the village can come but only specific people get to sit at the tables, everyone else sits around outside the fale (open building). And it’s not like you get to pick who sits at your reception either. All the matai sit at the tables and the other important members of the village. Only the important members of your family will sit (the rest usually help serve). Everyone gets fed something but the good food is reserved for the people at the tables and wedding cake is not split amongst guests. It is divided amongst important people at the wedding and given out as a gift from the wedding family. A high chief might get an entire layer of the cake which gets wrapped up for him to take home. Dancing as well is done a certain way. Long tables are set up around the edges of the room so the floor in the center is open. It isn’t just everyone just dancing with each other. Certain people get called up to dance or people perform items for the bride and groom. Most of the people (who are sitting around the outside) just watch the entire time.

Since sitting at the tables is taken so seriously, you can imagine the overwhelming joy Laura and I felt when we were told that we were supposed to sit inside! Laura had been to a Samoan wedding before and hadn’t been allowed so we concluded that two Peace Corps combined must equal a chief and feeling very important indeed we took our seats.
When it came time for the dancing to begin first the bride came out and did a taupo (princess) dance. Then the groom did a dance. And it preceded from there with an announcer calling up each group of people that were to go up for each song (the bride’s family, the groom’s family, the maid of honor, …). Laura and I were so wrapped up in taking pictures and talking to the people around us that when the dancing floor was suddenly empty we were taken by surprise. It wasn’t until a few people next to Laura started to push us to get up that we realized that our names had been called out for this song.

Now, Laura and I have a bit of a reputation in Tafatafa. Laura herself is always quite outlandish at the dancing functions in her village but when I’m there as well we can usually bring down the house. At the last event we were at together we started a conga line (or at least tried until one very unpleasant matai put an end to it).

So the two of us got up, strutted to the center of the dance floor, and tangoed around the room to insane delight of everyone in attendance.

At the end of the reception there was the expected gifting of mealofa to all the important people. Pigs were given out, along with baskets of food and requisite tins of fish. Laura and I watched enviously as the cake was slowly divided amongst the matai. And then, suddenly, there was half of one of the smaller layers being presented to the two of us! Score!

We slipped out after most of the mealofa had been given out and people had begun milling around. All in all, the whole wedding was only three and a half hours. We practically skipped back to Laura’s house feeling as though we had won something. We spent the rest of the night celebrating our good fortune by mixing up some drinks and devouring most of our wedding cake.


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