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/
We wake at 5.30am, and the satisfaction of waking up our children will be the first of many delights we will have these holidays!
Airports are funny old places – even the new ones, Airports are a mixture of excitement and exhaustion. Business and pleasure. Love, and broken hearts. Every journey is different. Travel diaries aren’t about airports, however. They aren’t the story. Airports are simply a punctuation mark. They can sometimes feel like a full stop – waiting around for something, or someone to arrive, the end of something. A full stop they are not, a comma they are. A small pause in a sentence, a dividing line between the before and after.
If an airport is but a comma, then the actual airplane trip is the space between two paragraphs. It’s the awkward silence in the elevator. You’re groundless for a few hours, rendered to seat 22F next to the smelly Indian man and the isle, both of which invade your personal space. If the smelly stranger isn’t an assault on your eyes and nose, then the complimentary meal would be compliment week old leftovers. Thankfully, the tea and coffee is prefect, if your definition of coffee perfection is International Roast served in tepid water with UHT milk. As they say, beggars aren’t choosers, so you drink the coffee, sit back and think of England.
So we arrived in Fiji – Nadi to be exact. Nadi Airport is a blend of Island smiles and 1970’s technology. We meet our hotel transfer, who tells us to sign in at the ‘last office on the left’, which is kinda funny cause there’s only one office. We are introduced to Pedro, who introduces us to Suelso, who introduces us to Josepha, who introduces us back to Pedro, who’s just gotten off the phone, who tells us our transport is running ‘late’. Of course, if you’ve been to Fiji, you know there’s no such thing as ‘running late’. By that token, there’s no such thing as running on time, either. Of course, it doesn’t really matter, because the only reason you go to Fiji is to do nothing. So it doesn’t matter if you’re running on time, or running late, or just running, because it’s impossible to be in a rush to get to a place where you’re not going to do anything. It’s kinda like wasting time now so you don’t have to waste time later.
Even if you were in a rush to do nothing, or something, or anything, it would be impossible to do it quickly. The main drag down through Fiji is limited to 80km/hour, and 50km/hour when you’re on a bus with a trailer, like we were on. That’s right. 50km/hour, and to be honest, on the Queens Road, that felt a little excessive at times. You know you’re no longer in Australia when you pass a ute carrying 3 horses and three guys in the tray, and it seems totally normal.
In my notes, I detoured a bit and I might jot those thoughts down as a separate blog, cause it frames some key themes I was keen on exploring both personally and in a literary sense.. So stay tuned!
We stopped off at a spot the driver knew where we’d get ‘locals only’ prices. I paid too much for bottled water and wish I’d spent more on nicer crackers. As we left, raindrops fell on the bus window, echoing our drivers announcement that the Coral Coast was green, due to a large amount of the aformentioned rain.
Crawling through Sigatoka with it’s slum-like buildings, dirty roads and it’s faded signs of depicting smiling Fijians selling Vodaphone and Coke-Cola was a contrast. I didn’t see too many people smiling in Sigatoka.
Finally, we arrived at the Outrigger. “BULA” yelled the guard at the front gate – the first of many BULAS that would be yelled our way!! Warm smiles and bulas were a sharp contrast to the cyclonic winds and rain now pounding the usually serene tropical resort. We quickly settled into our resort and thus, began our holiday.
I need to say at this point that when it comes to eating, I’m not really that adventurous. At all. I thought though, seeing as we were here and seeing as I pre-paid for the meals (best decision!!), I might as well try a few new things. As the kids say – ‘YOLO’. At the resort, there was an Asian-inspired restaurant, a steakhouse, a bistro kinda place and a few other nice places. Well we couldn’t get a seat at the steakhouse and it was seafood night at the bistro, so I reluctantly elected for Asian. How bad could it be, right? In the spirit of trying new things, I went for the teryiaki beef skewers for an entree, then a Chinese sizzling plate of BBQ lamb. I need to mention at this point that none of these meals had any meaningful vegetable content, so it looked okay.
Boy-o-boy. Did I simply love dinner! Who would of thought Asian food would have been so delicious? I guess 3 billion Chinese can’t be wrong, right? Sarah had a Singapore noodle dish. I can’t remember what Zo had and Eli had chips – the first bowl of many.
After dinner, we caught the Polynesian fire dancers – wow, were they amazing! Well, the dancing was amazing, as was the way the fire twirled around. The fact that it was outside, in the rain, was kinda ordinary, but the dancing was great! An evening stroll through the grounds and we were ready to turn in for the night. Well, we were, the kids, not so much.
Like any very organised, caring mother, Sarah had packed a chemist worth of drugs for everything and anything. Everything, except, for the phenergen. The kids eventually dropped off, quickly followed by Sarah, quickly followed by me surrounded by snoring, in stereo. Being introverted, I thought I’d use the time to recharge, and listen to some fantastic David Pawson that I’d downloaded. Now usually I’m enraptured by Pawson’s expository teaching, and his musings on Leviticus would usually keep me enthralled, but tonight, even Pawson himself couldn’t keep me awake. I found myself drifting to sleep, imagining what the week in Fiji would bring.
Vidins in Fiji. That’s right, not in Brisbane, but in Fiji, for a week, for real. So I’ve been writin’ some notes for your reading pleasure, cause for some reason people like reading peoples travel blogs as musings.
As the late, great Oscar Wilde said:
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something to read on the train”
So I’ll type up selected musings of my week in Fiji. Readers, draw up a cup or 18 of kava, put Isa Lei on repeat and strap yourselves in for a week in Fiji.