Funerals-A true lesson in reciprocity
There were two funerals on the same day. One was for a teacher’s mother, and the other was for my great aunt in the village. I had seen funerals when I first arrived, but did not take the time to appreciate the beauty of a funeral, since I did not fully understand the culture at the time.
It seems weird to say that a funeral is beautiful. But it really is. A funeral is the community’s opportunity to come together to support each other. In one fale in my village about 10 women gathered to prepare a fine mat for the grieving family. Every time I passed by they were working, they never stopped. For days on end they were just weaving this enormous, beautiful fine mat. The mat was so big, it covered the entire house. It was amazing to see what they were capable of doing.
At school we were also grieving for one of our teachers since she is a part of our family. We put together a collection for her family. Everyone was more than generous with their financial contribution. Also, three teachers prepared fine mats to be given to the family and the principal bought beautiful fabric to cover the coffin.
A few teachers were selected to go a few villages over to the teacher’s house to give the gifts for the funeral. I was curious (new Samoan word of the day-fia iloa) about how the school day would pan out. If over half the teachers were going to be at a funeral for all or part of the day, what would happen of the school day?
I was about to walk to school, when my little brother called to me and said the other teachers were waiting on the road for me. Out of surprise, I dropped my bag, jumped the fence, and ran through the long wet grass to the car. In the vehicle were the other teachers, fine mats and the fabric.
When we arrived at the house I noticed that all the furniture (the few chairs and tables) were taken out of the room in the house. On one side of the room was the coffin with beautiful fabric draped around it. We added our glimmering gold fabric, and the people around the coffin smiled with approval.
We left and then returned with the other mea alofa. We sat on the mats in our respected places. I was told to sit next to the vice principal. The vice principal gave a speech about how we have also been grieving since one of our teachers was grieving, and we are a part of her school family and love her for being the person that she is. We showed our gifts to the family by unfolding the gigantic fine mats and presenting them to the correct person. The money was then presented. The next part was my turn. I was to give monetary gifts for the matais in the room.
The family then thanked us for our generosity, and gave us gifts in return. They presented us with 2 fine mats, ten cases of sardines (eleni), 1 case of corn beef (pisupo), money, and several meals (including one with a soda).
After the final speeches, we headed back to the car and several men helped load the gifts into the pickup truck. We saw our grieving teacher and gave her a big hug. We knew she had been through a lot this year, and wanted to let her know we supported her completely.
I took one last look at the house. In the back were so many people preparing meals for those that were coming over. There were some men meeting in one of the big open fales, and so many people gathered in their respected places in the house. It was great to see the community together.
My first funeral I thought it was weird to have the dead inside the house, often for overnight. I grew up being creeped out by the dead. In Samoa, everyone has so much love to give for everyone, including the dead. Even though someone might be dead, you can feel their love around you from being around those that love the deceased person. It is an amazing feeling that is hard to put down in words. Even though funerals are a sad time, it is a beautiful time to bring everyone together.
We headed back to school, where we feasted on our meals for breakfast. Fried chicken, sausages, and potato salad. It was delicious! School started a little late, but it was a normal teaching day.
When I headed home I was surprised to see one of the village busses in my yard. Early in the morning the choir from one of the churches headed to the funeral home to pick up the body. It was so early that the bus driver was exhausted and after the funeral at the church came to our house and took a nap. (He really is a brother to me.) My family was still at the funeral, so I put my leftover food on the table, and took a nap. When my family returned, there was even more food covering the table. So much, that we feasted well that day.
A few days later, the teacher came back to school to thank us again for being there for her. She came with huge boxes of chicken and sausages. After she left, we divided the frozen chicken and sausages up to bring home to our families.
I am not sure when she will be back to teach, but all of us will be waiting and ready to give her a giant hug to welcome her back.