I was privileged to go to a Samoan wedding last night. It was the first Samoan wedding I’ve been to. Actually, it was just the wedding reception, but there was enough Samoan to know it was almost exclusively a Samoan wedding. I’ve been to other cultural weddings in the past. I’ve been to a Macedonian wedding, an Indian wedding and plenty of Aussie weddings. Incidentally, do you know the difference between an Aussie wedding and an Aussie funeral? One less drunk.
Jokes aside, it was a beautiful reception. The groom was a couple of years younger than me, and is currently a professional rugby league player. To be honest, no-one really mentioned the bride, as lovely as she was.
Now, I don’t know how indicative this reception was of Samoan wedding receptions, but there were many things that the MC would preface much of the proceedings by saying ‘in Samoan culture’. For example, he’d say ‘in Samoan culture, we always invite the priest and his wife to eat first’, or ‘in Samoan culture, we share dances and songs at gatherings like this’. Indeed, there was much singing, dancing, prayers and formalities. Most of the reception, save for a few speeches, was done in Samoan. One of the grooms family members was a tribal chief, who gave a very ostentatious speech in Tongan. The women all gave dances, the men gave dances, they all gave dances. At various times during the evening, they broke out into beautiful Samoan songs – many of which I recongnised as old church hymns, except in Samoan. It was truly a beautiful experience, and it gives me goosebumps even now thinking about it. Regardless of your views on faith, there is something totally inspiring about spontaneous hymns in a beautiful language.
Just over a year ago, I was in Fiji. Going there, it weighed heavy on my mind the disparity between my Western wealth and the humble, austere living of the Fijians. Anyone who has been to Fiji will know what I’m talking about. How do I reconcile having a plate of food, served by a beautiful Fijian man or woman, who goes home to a simple home, perhaps without even electricity. It wasn’t until I visited a nearby village and partook in a kava ceremony that it made sense – how the Fijians could live like this – really in what we would describe as poverty.
During this ceremony, the village elders described how they were deliberate in preserving their culture. How they were committed to seeing their culture and their way of life preserved and passed onto their children, and their children’s children. They were describing their love of their culture. So we sat there, on the floor of this wall-less shelter listening to the elders, sipping kava, being mesmerised by this simple way of life. It wasn’t until that moment that I realised that even though there was a huge disparity – and I mean huge – between my shallow wealth and the depth of their culture that I wondered who was missing out.
I can’t help wonder, now, what is my culture. Even as a fairly conservative kinda guy, I don’t have any real rituals, customs or rites. I had no formal initiation into manhood. I have a personal faith, but to say the predominant culture I find myself is in anyway religious would be incorrect. I have no tribe with a chief, I have no songs of my forefathers, even at significant events (weddings, funerals etc), to say there are cultural expectations would be a stretch of the imagination. I have no special language to pass onto my son or daughter, no lore nor rites. I pray I will train them up in the ways of the Lord, and this is one inheritance I am very proud to implore them to find their faith in Him.
So, we – I – have very little in the way of culture. What do we have? I have been searching for the answer. What have we found our new culture? I look back to the social revolutions of the 60’s, where there was a very clear rebellion against the conservative ways of the 50’s. It is very easy to see the difference this rebellion, if you want to call it that, had on our Western society. But even now, if one was to rebel, what culture would they be rebelling against? If I was to tell my culture to ‘stick it’, so to speak, what would I actually be rebelling against, for the cultural rules and expectations placed on me are so minimal.
In the years proceeding 1990, Latvia, along with many other former Soviet republics regained independence after being occupied, bound by the evil yolk of communism. During those oppressive years, the Communists imposed their might on the Latvians, forbidding the language, the culture, the stories, the lore. In the three decades since independence, Latvia, as well as her sister states Lithuania and Estonia have been deliberate in nurturing their culture, their language and traditions. Jay Nordlinger writes that for many Lativans returning to Latvia after Communism it has been both a physical and spiritual experience. Many Jews similarly express similar sentiments when they return to Israel.
I love capitalism, and firmly believe ethical capitalism (I know some friends will scoff at that term!) does much more benefit than controlled economies. What capitalism can’t do, what it cant buy or produce though is connection, culture and being. I wonder, if, here in ‘the West’, we have traded culture, connection and a sense of being for a never-satisfied need for ‘things’ and ‘stuff’. I wonder.
Culture, in the traditional sense of the word, doesn’t spring up overnight, but something I think needs to be practiced daily. One only needs to look at the Jews to see how, especially for observant Jews, their culture is a daily practice. It’s a culture that’s sustained them through over 3500 of human existence, through being scattered amongst the earth, through Pogroms and Holocausts and ever present promises of destruction.
So I ask – do you come from a strong culture? How do you see culture in terms of identity? Is it a culture you wish to impart into your children? Do you find comfort in the company of ‘your own’?
You may think this blog is somewhat somber, and perhaps it is. I guess I’m just missing this idea of culture, this idea of belonging to something bigger than myself. Something that perhaps compliments my faith, and something bigger to shepherd my children in as I guide them through the wilds to maturity. I’m interested. Tell me your thoughts.
Picture credit from http://www.qiane.co.nz/anele-nigel-le-lagoto-resort-savaii-destination-wedding/