17 April 2014

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Last week while I was in Nadi, Vina’s brother-in-law asked about the papaya seeds he’d sent Austin.  I had no idea, said I’d have to ask Austin, and wasn’t all that interested …. and then I saw the papayas in HIS yard.    WOW!   I’m Interested!   He tried to send some seedlings with me – I told him I was afraid I’d kill them.   But WOW.  Must ask Austin when he gets home.
 
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A FIJIAN FUNERAL
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My friend Mary’s mother died in the neighboring village last week.  I went to the funeral, because I love Mary – and I was very happy that the family allowed me to take photos, so that I could share the beautiful Fiji customs with all of you.
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Every funeral starts with a reguregu, a traditional ceremony where family and friends come to offer gifts to the family to help with the funeral expenses.  
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A family member accepts the reguregu gifts with a speech, usually given while the speaker stands on his knees.
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Then the visitors are invited for tea.  We were in one of 3 “sheds” (temporary posts holding loose roofing irons) that were erected for this funeral.   Villagers had gathered grass for the ground to make it comfortable.  Tarps had been spread and then cloth runners as “tablecloths”
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Later, in the home where the viewing takes place, the floor is prepared with mats.
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Lots of mats.
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I learned that there are 3 major types of Fijian mats – NAI ONI – the very large mats.  VAKABAUTI  – the mats with colorful yarn.  and  DAVODAVO – the small every day mats.  All three kinds are used in a funeral.
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The ones I know are at a funeral are a kind of vakabauti – they always have a very wide decorated part along one side.
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Kava is another essential element of a Fijian funeral.  Here is  kava (also known as yaqona or grog) being presented in the house.
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And kava being taken outside in one of the sheds.
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No Fijian funeral takes place without masi, the cloth made of pounded plant fibers.  At this funeral I learned about the piece of masi called “kumi” (beard)!   I’ve been to a lot of funerals before and either did not notice it or they did not have it.   These are HUGE pieces of masi that are hung up on either side of where the casket is brought.
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When the casket arrives, the kumi is lowered, and the mourners have privacy while they cry and weep.   
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The casket is carried to the church, where there is a loving and dignified Christian service.  The acapella choir was magnificent.
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The pall bearers are traditionally from the extended family-of-birth, not -of-marriage.  The casket is carried around the village square, led by the ministers who preached at the church service.
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The spokesman for the family-by-marriage presents a tabua (whale’s tooth) to the family-of-birth.  I take it they are saying something like “thank you for loaning us your relative” and how much the relative was appreciated.
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The spokesman of the family-of-birth accepts the tabua and also gives a speech.  At another time there is a lot more exchange of gifts – drums of kerosene, mats and so forth.  These customs all reaffirm the ties of affection between the two families.   After this, while the pall bearers hold the casket aloft, everyone walks underneath the casket to say their last goodbye.
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The casket is carried to the graveyard – a bit of a trek in this case, blessedly above the flood plain.
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Gravediggers had dug a clean hole about four feet deep.  They respectfully received the coffin and secured the mats around it.
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A choir of angels sang as mourners threw in handfuls of dirt, and the gravediggers started shoveling the soil back into the hole, on top of the coffin.  (Normally the ladies are wearing black – but my daughter-in-law and I both think the white is really terrific and hope it becomes the custom)
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In this village they build a little wall with stones around the grave.  It was my first time to see this.  The reason is that they do not have the resources to finish graves with cement blocks the way families do in urban areas.
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As with all Fijian funerals the grave is finished with masi cloth being spread out and staked down, and then flowers put on top.
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Every Fijian funeral ends with a wonderful, huge meal fed to everyone who is there.  I asked a young man beside me what is the significance of the meal.   He thought a bit and then said, “It is so you will be happy.”
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7 thoughts on “17 April 2014

  1. Thank you Kim for sharing such a beautiful way of passing over to the next world. Sorta reminds me a little of a Baha’i funeral with all the celebrating but with some morning too.

    • Yes – I agree. A wonderful aspect of all island funerals is how everyone is allowed to really OWN their feelings and get the sadness out. I especially love Fiji’s custom of “100 nights” – which is for 100 days you grieve intensely in whatever way you yourself choose – to give up a food, or shave your head, or wear a black ribbon, or no outward sign at all if that’s what you want. But at the end of the 100 nights, you are expected to pick up and carry on at that point. There is a family party at the end of 100 nights. Then one more at the end of a year, to give the grave its final dressing up. Way more psychologically healthy than the lack of customs I was raised with.

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