Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cultural Notes - Fa'alavelave

I seem to write about a lot of stuff, but don’t fully explain things in terms you guys back home can understand. So I’m sorry about that, I’m going to try to do a better job of that in the future. I’m going to write a little bit more about the culture of Samoa to give you all a better idea of my life here.

Fa’alavelave means to disturb or trouble. Fa’alavelaves are anything which causes a disturbance of daily routine in the village, but usually refers to big events like weddings, funerals, church openings and church gatherings (such as the meeting of all the Congregationalist pastors in the district, which held in my village a few months ago). These fa’alavelaves are cause for much preparation; pigs and cows are slaughtered, cases and cases of pisupo (canned corned beef) and tinned fish (sardines) are bought, fine mats are given, massive amounts of food is cooked, and much money is exchanged. My fa’alavelave experiences have been funerals. Here is how each went: The day started early in the morning when I boarded a bus headed to Apia to pick up the body from the hospital. This means I woke up at 4:30 am because we were told the bus was coming at 5 and the head of the choir was walking around the village hitting a piece of bamboo, which calls the chior to assemble. Since this is Samoa and there is a little thing called taimi Samoa, the bus didn't actually come until 6 or 6:30, which means we all stood around wanting to go back to sleep for and hour or so. When we got to Apia, there was a small service at the hospital, and then we came back to the village. We were given food at this point (enough for me to make two meals out of). Then there was a service at the church, which involved singing, relatives giving eulogies, and the pastor talked as well. We then went to the house and put the body in the grave. When the body is lowered into the tomb, everyone crowds around to get a good look. Here in Samoa it is more common to bury your relatives in graves in front of the house rather than in a public cemetery like in the States. Land in Samoa is not like it is in the States. You don’t buy it (except sometimes in the Apia area); your family just owns it and it is passed down generation to generation. Many generations of a family have lived on the same plot of land for many years, so burying your relatives in front of the house is a way for generations to remember their family. There are a few cemeteries in Apia, but when in a village you will see tombs in the front yards of houses. Next was more food and exchange of gifts. During the giving of these gifts of money, pisupo, tinned fish, fine mats, pigs and cows, there is a delicate balance of exchange. First, the host presents the gifts to the other party. Then the other party gives back a portion of the gifts. These exchanges can go on a few rounds. Since everything is communal and everyone in the village put in to the pot of gifts, the gifts are further divided among the families in the village. Usually, the higher matai get the most and best since they rank high in the village and probably gave the most and best stuff anyway. It is really interesting to watch the presentation and exchange of gifts. Every case of pisupo is carried out individually, each bill of money is given individually, and every fine mat is displayed, all while an orator chief is yelling out the gift being given and ceremonial phrases.

Fa’alavelaves are an interesting part of Samoan culture and a lot of time, money, and effort goes into having one. The whole week leading up to a fa'alavelave is really busy for the village; decorations are put up, money is spent on gifts, food is prepared (usually people stay up all night cooking for the fa'alavelave the next day), etc. Luckly, I don't have to do any of this. All I have to do is show up and everyone is happy.

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