Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Faleloa Feast

More language training this morning, our second day of formal study. Boy is it getting confusing! With all the preparation we did with the materials sent out by the Peace Corps, the informal studying we did with our peers while at Sela’s, the attempting to talk with our host family members and learn new words and phrases, and now formal instruction. I really need to start learning some basic grammar to try to make sense of some of these phrases and how to construct some basic sentences. I’m sure that will come. In the meantime, we will be doing other things the next few days, so no more formal classes until Monday. Hopefully this weekend we can continue to practice what we have learned and dial some of it in.
This afternoon we attended a feast organized to honor the Class 6 students who completed their exit exams this week. These exams are a very big deal; success has something to do with what they will be able to do next year. The seven families involved spent all day preparing a variety of food; our family roasted four young pigs over an open fire, prepared both raw and cooked fish and a variety of other dishes. The food was transported up to the school and laid out on a long row of tables set up on the school grounds under a series of canopies. When all was ready we were invited to sit with our host family’s table, and after a long, long prayer (length of prayer is a sign of respect) from the Town Officer we were able to start eating. The table was piled high with food, including the pigs (straight off the spit, uncarved), cooked potatoes, squash, and other root vegetables wrapped in foil), various plates of food on plates or in bowls wrapped in plastic, and wedges of watermelon. One was expected to select a dish or two, eat what you wanted from it, share some with your neighbor, then rewrap the remainder and return it to the table.

Meanwhile speeches were being made, and both our host parents spoke, as well as Luseane, who is one of the students being honored, and we noticed some tears from some while she apparently gave heartfelt thanks to the families for supporting them through this time. (Luseane later told us that she knew none of her classmates would have the nerve to speak, and she thought someone from the class should.) This went on for a while, until the Town Officer made a final speech, and the feast was over. Guests were encouraged to take some food home, and the families then started giving much of what was left (feasters had eaten only a small portion of the food available) to others who were not guests at the feast. Our host family packed up the remaining food on our table and brought it back to our house. Here Mekulio oversaw the organizing of this food into about eight baskets, which were then given to the neighbors who had helped with its preparation, and several other families from his church. Much more food was distributed, including the four pigs, than was eaten at the feast. It is likely that most of that food has been consumed by now (three or four hours later). A graphic illustration of the Tonga way of sharing, and also of the Tongan propensity to live for today.

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