Last year when I experienced my first White Sunday I’d been in Samoa for about a week and hadn’t a clue what was going on. We attended the Anglican church, whose service was all in English. They had a lovely fellowship hour, complete with light snacks after the service. White Sunday in the village is a whole different ballgame.
White Sunday is also called Children’s’ Day. Kids here are treated a lot like kids I knew growing up in 1950’s American suburbia. They do a lot of chores, don’t talk back and adults run the house, not the kids. I remember one day crying very dramatically to my mother “You treat me like a slave!” As I recall, she’d had the temerity to tell me to scrub the kitchen floor. Her response was “And when you’re my age, you’ll have little slaves of your own.” Then she added something about my tone and attitude and said that a few hours in my room to think about them would be in order, after I scrubbed the floor.
Kids here have it even tougher. They also have to answer to older siblings I’ve seen a young man tell his younger sister to “Get me the salt.” It may be two inches from his hand and she may be washing dishes in another room, but she’ll run to hand it to him. . I believe I invented the line “You’re not the boss of me!” whenever my older sibs tried that stuff.
Here, children generally eat last and serve the adults. Eating last means the grownups, guests and older siblings get all the goodies. Kids understand the drill and wait patiently, hoping there will be some of their favorite stuff left. If it’s not, tough noogies. They won’t go hungry, but they might be eating a lot of taro and boiled green bananas.
Everything is turned around on Children’s’ Day. They get special clothes (in white), candy, no smacks – or at least fewer, and they get to eat the same food served to the most honored at the meal.
I was sitting out by the road on Friday evening, watching traffic. Yeah, I do that a lot. Not a lot to do in a village of a few hundred people. The buses were jammed. More than the typical everyone coming back from Upolu Friday evening. I heard they even added an extra ferry run.
I planned to go to the market on Saturday morning. That’s when the most vendors are there and I have a shot at getting pineapple, avocado and mango. I was chatting on the phone as I waited for a bus. And waited. I noticed that every bus that went by was jammed to the ceiling, and I mean that literally. But early on Saturday mornings, I’m usually on a half empty bus along with other shoppers and a few vendors who slept in. A shock then, when one of my buses came by, flashed his lights and blew by me. I was pissed. Really? We’re back to ignoring the palagi are we?
No. His bus was full and there was another bus right behind him. Full, but not overflowing, yet. It was by the time we got to Salelologa.
Sale didn’t look the same. There were traffic jams. People walking everywhere. There were more people than I’ve ever seen on Savaii. In a year. People had set up stalls in front of businesses to sell stuff – mostly white and child sized. Toys also seemed to be a big seller.
At the market, every stall had a vendor. Usually, it’s about half full. The area where the buses drop off/pick up passengers was a mess. At one point I counted 10 buses. That’s the majority of buses on the island.
Vendors were friendly, as usual, but clearly a bit frazzled. Sales were at a fever pitch and here on the Big Island, we’re used to a much slower pace.
I sat on a crowded bus going home, swearing that I would never shop the day before White Sunday again. I texted another volunteer about the crowds and she had a great come back “Only seems appropriate that Black Saturday comes before White Sunday. Indeed. It was just like going shopping at the crack of dawn on Black Thursday.
Saturday night, I knew it was a special weekend. All my family was here. That’s a lot of people. The boys all slept in the house closest to mine and stayed up watching TV, laughing and talking until after 1 a.m. Usually, there’s a 10 p.m. curfew for kids.
I’d been told that church would start an hour early on Sunday, since the service would be longer than usual because the kids would be singing, dancing and doing plays. I arrived at 8:45 a.m. for the 9:a.m. service. It started at 9:50 a.m.
There was a big crowd with a slew of babies. I quickly figured out that they do baptisms (at least at this church) at the beginning of the White Sunday service. I lost track of how many babies were baptized after 15. I can’t swear to it, but closest I can figure out is that the mother handed the baby to a grandparent, who took he/she to the pastor. As with all baptisms, some went smoothly, with smiling babies and some screamed their lungs out while the congregation chuckled.
Speaking of babies, they’re “owned” and loved by their whole family. Just because someone is holding a baby, don’t assume they gave birth. At one point the woman in front of me breast fed two babies. They weren’t twins. When babies got fussy, they were passed around. Sometimes children held children and other times men who looked like octogenarians were holding infants.
Next the children performed. They started with 4 year olds and went up to young adults, people in their 20’s. Each group performed several numbers. I won’t go into details, but it was like every church program or recital every held. Some kids melted down. Some kids were hams. There were a lot of laughs, some intentional, some not. It lasted almost 2 ½ hours and I glanced out at the beach only a couple of times. It was highly entertaining.
A woman I know from the Women’s Co. had invited me to her house for to’ona’i – the feast that is even bigger on White Sunday than a typical Sunday. It was lovely. They live just up the street from my house. All of her kids were there, along with several grandkids who also live in the village and attend my school. It was one of the most relaxed meals I’ve had in Samoa. They spoke mostly Samoan. I spoke mostly English. Nobody stared at me to see if I’d do a trick.
About the food. There was a lot of it, not just in quantity, but also variety. We had fried whole reef fish (caught by a son-in-law), fried chicken, sausages (hot dogs to us), a chicken and squash soup, palusami, roasted pig, a chicken/bok choy salad and, of course, taro. I may be missing a dish or two.
I ate at the table with the grandmother and grandfather (it was their house) and the youngest son, who is 24, single and hot. Just saying, ladies – I can introduce you. His job was to fan the food to keep flies away and make sure we got anything we needed from his older sisters who were running back and forth to the kitchen. In restaurant parlance, I think you’d call him the expediter.
Because it was Children’s’ Day, all the kids (about 12 of them) sat on mats on the floor nearby and were each given a full plate of food, including a sample of everything. They ate at the same time we did.
When we finished, the kids were sent to the faleo’o in front of the house and us seniors retired to the other end of the room. Grandpa on a mat on the floor. Grandma and I on chairs. We chatted while their 4 daughters and 1 son finally sat down to eat. They’d done all the cooking and serving.
Some of the kids were sent to the store, which happens to be the one owned by my family. Think kiosk. You can’t walk into this store. For today, though, they stocked big cartons of ice cream. The kids all trooped in from outside when they saw the 16 liter box of ice cream arriving.
As we ate the lemon ice cream, my friend laughed and asked “How long would that much ice cream last in a palagi family? Maybe a week or a month?” Actually, in my palagi house, it would last about 10 years. She laughed and said “You can tell your palagi friends…in a Samoan family, it lasts one day!” Actually, it lasted one meal.
Between dinner and ice cream, my friend and I chatted. Mostly in English, some in Samoan. We talked about her family. She’s my age. She’s been married for 39 years. She has 5 children, 20 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild. I looked at her and held up a goose egg. “And I have….none.” She laughed and slapped my arm. “You missed the bus!”
One thing my experience in Samoa has reinforced is that there are a lot of “right” ways to live. I may have missed the family bus, but I caught the Travel Adventure Express.