It’s been a busy week. There was a funeral in the village for the mother of one of the school children. She was in her 30’s and died of breast cancer. The funeral brought a number of family members from within and outside the country. Funerals involve fa’alavelave, which means the family of the deceased not only has to deal with their grief but they usually go into debt to pay the mourners. As a sign of respect, the family of the deceased gives cash, fine mats, and baskets of food, including roasted pigs, and cases of tinned fish and corned beef to mourners. The amount varies depending upon the relationship. All mourners are also fed after the funeral.
I saw one crowded van heading home from the funeral as I walked home from school. The back of the van was open because there were people sitting in the small area behind the seats and the food from the funeral was also there. Unfortunately, they hit a bump and the food came tumbling out. Luckily, the people didn’t. Cans of mackerel were rolling across the road and slabs of mutton flaps and pig flew out of their woven palm baskets and hit the tarmac. The car stopped in the road and two of the passengers got out tocollect the food, laughing the whole time.
There was a family reunion at the house one house away from me. There were about 35-50 people here for that. They had a matai naming ceremony (when new chiefs are given titles) early Thursday morning. That is also a fa’alavelave and involves feeding all present as well as giving cash, food and fine mats. In this case, the new matais gave $100 to each of the existing chiefs in the village. Each family typically has several chiefs, so that’s a lot of money. That’s the reason for the lyrics of a song: “fa’alavelave means no more money”. It’s also part ofthe reason that people who might never have lived in Samoa but have good jobs in other countries are frequently named as matais. Matai titles are earned through serving and supporting the family. While the majority are men it is becoming more common for women to receive titles as well.
The big event, though, was a meeting for Seventh Day Adventists. People came from all over Samoa as well as American Samoa, Australia and New Zealand. It began last Monday and ends tomorrow, Sunday. The visitors are staying with families in the village as well as at beach fales. They don’t call it a fa’alavelave but it’s another way for families to go into debt.
My best Samoan friend opened her home to 40 people from Apia. She doesn’t go to the church having the meeting but lives near the church. It would bring shame on the village not to show hospitality. They did not bring mats or pillows although they easily could have. They do not provide or pay for food. They do not help with cooking or cleaning. Instead, my friend’s family is expected (as a sign of respect and hospitality) to house and feed 40 people for a week.
She told me she is tired and frustrated and is trying to find money for her daughters’ school fees while buying groceries for so many people. Plus, people are smoking in her home, although she’s asked them to stop. She caught some teenagers smoking marijuana last night in her kitchen. While the visitors are at the church praying, my friend is praying they’ll go home soon.
To protect the safety and property of those visiting, the village has imposed a curfew. After 10:00 p.m. matai’s patrol the streets until midnight to make sure locals stay in their homes. After that, we’re apparently on the honor system. They are also enforcing the sunset prayer curfew. I was caught walking home during prayer time and got a smile when I said I was heading home as quickly as I could.
All of the visitors have been a blessing for my family’s store. The sale of vodka and beer has gone up exponentially since the arrival of the Seventh Day Adventists. One brother pointed out that it’s the American Samoans buying the most liquor. I countered with the fact that it was the Samoans from Apia who were caught smoking weed.
The visitors are really enjoying our lagoon. Usually it’s just me, kids and fishermen who go swimming. With the amount of time the visitors are spending in the water, you’d think they’d never seen a beach. . I’m looking forward to having the village back to normal on Monday. I can wait for the bus again at an empty fale and the beach will be empty. If I find the hustle and bustle of a few hundred extra people disturbing, how will I deal with moving back to the big city in Florida?