Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Penrhyn - part 2

The 21st birthday party was a major event. Bold Spirit, Jeff and Kathy, Trinda and I were treated as guests of honor. When we arrived at the church Sunday school building they put flower leys around our heads and had us sit with the elders while final preparations were completed on the tables.

There were about 8 trestle tables in a line down the length of the room, with one crosswise at the head with a small table to hold the cake between it and the rest. A koroke style boom box was conspicuous at the head table and a small new video recorder on a tripod set near. The food was all in quart sized plastic containers with some of each food piled around each two plates. Lobsters and coconut crabs were wrapped in saran wrap and scattered along the table too.

They had us all take our seats. We 'English speaking guests' were seated at the beginning of the row of trestle tables, where the largest of the coconut crabs were. The birthday boy James, arrived and was robed and seated in the center of the head table. On either side was the eldest elder in the village and his wife, Saetu and Rariki, and the new minister and his wife. The father, Rio, did not have a chair.

After everyone was seated, the ceremony began. Papa Saetu opened with a prayer or two in the local Polynesian language, then James was presented, then we were introduced in both English and Polynesian. Next came singing. It turns out the singing is memorized passage from the Polynesian translation of the bible, where the men sing one part and the ladies sing the other all in harmony. The only catch was the ladies sing clear but very loud. Trinda was seated next to the most capable of these ladies
and had trouble hearing during the rest of the meal.

More prayers then the father came with the mike. He apparently gave more introduction of James and counted his accomplishments to date and their hopes for his future. The new minister (they are appointed for 4 years at each post in this area) prayed some more. Two symbolic keys were presented to James. Where American parents often give luggage to their children as a graduation gift in hopes the leave home and start a new life on their own, the key is a similar symbol. It is the key to the door so
they may leave, but also the key to open the future. Each key is designed uniquely for each young person with subtleties about their life and plans in the design and ornamentation.

Then James was escorted to the table with the cake. Trinda was acknowledged for supplying the cake again. His uncle Michael and aunt Ngu lit the candles and helped as he blew them out and then made a ceremonious cut in the cake. He returned to head table and sat while more praises were given by his father and some others.

More prayers and singing then we were invited to eat. That was when we noticed the startling omission of any silverware anywhere on the table! None. No knives, serving spoons, not even a plastic fork. We watched and realized that every one was opening the small boxes of food close to them and helping themselves with their fingers. When in Rome… so we too dug in. Bana, who had been running the video camera, gave the needed guidance to get us started. The curried pork and chicken posed the biggest
dilemma, but when poured over the sticky rice it was easier to handle. Also the coconut with tapioca covered in coconut cream was sticky but manageable. We ate the tail of a lobster, but noticed no one else were eating theirs. There were no tools to get to the inner parts. As the meal finished, and more prayers, talks in Polynesian, and in English, thanks to their English speaking friends, the party began to break up. A young girl came around the table with a large dishpan full of soapy water. Trinda
had been busy talking and eating and not paying attention, so when the girl came to her, and got her attention, She looked at the soapy water, picked up her plate and dumped it into the "finger bowl". There was a sudden stillness, then chuckles as the girl pantomimed she should retrieve her plate and only wash her hands… So much for the silverware.

Everyone was collecting the remaining food boxes, lobsters and crabs to take with them. The ladies came over and ensured Trinda had some of everything, including two more lobsters and the largest coconut crab there. Because the shellfish are so difficult to get to the good parts and so messy, they take them and most of the meal home to enjoy in private, where they have more tools and can be as messy as it takes to get the best parts, in their own homes.

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