How lucky are we that we have such cultural diversity in our family. I had Croatian-Lebanese on one side and Irish on the other so when I married Gilbert, who is Maori Chinese we almost covered every continent, or so our Dr told us when Damen was born.
Our grandchildren have been further diversified with happy mixes as well, so we are truly multicultural…and one of those cultures is Niuean. We have just celebrated a special Niuean tradition in our family and there was much to plan and prepare in readiness. First though we had a school production, right in the middle of a vibrant Pacific Island community that our grandson was a part of. Gilbert and I are pretty laid back and take most things in our stride, but this night was something else. At several points we looked at each other and just laughed. Laughed out loud that is, and you can do that when there is so much noise around you, someone laughing out loud is a mere whisper in the scheme of things.
Everybody was talking, laughing, shouting, babies and children crying, playing. It was crazy. Like no other school production we have ever experienced, and we have seen a few. The audience was asked to place money, it was a fundraiser after all, in the baskets provided on the stage edges. I mentally was grateful I had received ten dollars in coin for change after buying a cake. I was thinking it would be a gold coin donation, but do you think anyone was going to do that? Hell no! Money was stuffed down children’s Tees while they sashayed across the stage. Was it a gold coin kind of donation? Nope. Notes only, and all colours were accounted for!
Sometimes there were more adults on stage than children. At some points you couldn’t even see the performance. At some points the adults joined in and danced with the children on the stage before returning to their seats. The performance took a group in their waka from Island to Island where they were greeted traditionally. They were welcomed with the song and dance of that culture and the singing and dancing was loud, proud and beautiful. I didn’t have notes in my pocket and no way could I imagine wending my way through the many others lining up to run on stage, nor was I going to drop gold coins down Milans shirt and have them ‘chink’ to the floor, but we loved every minute of it. I don’t imagine in many other communities would the audience be as relaxed, proud or as involved. It was magic to be a part of.
Our next big event was Milan’s hair cutting. This is normally done around puberty but Tara and Sifa decided it would be earlier. Tara asked for our measurements as we will be wearing outfits to match the family group, so I grabbed the tape measure and wrapped it around Gilbert first and jotted it down. Then around me. Bust and waist. Wait a minute…those numbers are pretty close together. Must have read it wrong. Try again, and again. I peer at the numbers and turn the tape over. Maybe I had it backwards for the waist one?
Now you would never have called me slim I guess. I kind’ve went from skinny kid to well rounded teen. Always worked hard with physical jobs and days off see me in the garden lugging, lifting and shovelling. No sense in lying. The outfit will come back a size too small and who’s going to look like a porker then? I texted Tara the measurements.
The next day at my breast scan the girl said as I dressed. “Those are great images. I can tell you work hard. You don’t normally see all that muscle in the chest wall in women your age.” I puffed my well rounded chest out and for some reason felt proud. “Should have asked her to scan my abs, I told Lindy later. Check out all that muscle too!” I needed have worried however as the people sewing our tops must have looked at our measurements and thought these cant be right and made them about a size or two bigger. I looked like I had put Sifas shirt on by mistake. Sewing machine out I soon fixed those and with a little more fabric made Tara’s little Leilani a matching dress.
Running through the day’s plan a couple of nights before Tara phones and says, “so you and Nana Sa will be out the back room and once the minister is here you will both Niuean dance Milan out to his seat, and then”….”excuse me Tara. Did you say me and Nana Sa will Niuean dance? “I’ve stopped sewing. “Yeah but just follow Salome’s lead. It’s easy,” she says as if it really doesn’t matter when clearly if you are Niuean and this is your hundred year old tradition it just might matter. I’m still reeling from this revelation when I come out to Gilbert’s call he’s made a cup of tea.
“I was just talking to Tara, I say to Gilbert, and she’s telling me how the day is going to go and she says….””so you and Nana Sa will be dancing Milan out” Gilbert looks up from his ph and wide eyed he says “what!” “I know, I said to her do you think we should have had a practise or something?” Gilbert is still looking at me like he actually cares and blurts out “I won’t. I won’t do it! I’m not going to bloody…”not you ya dick. Me!” We’re both laughing quite hard now as we realise what he thought I meant. “Oh well he says. You’ll have to. It’s the tradition you know….”
Milan’s hair is prepared by his aunties into many little ponytails.
The day for the hair cutting came and Tara had warned us. Ear plugs if you have sensitive hearing and be warned that Island time is real and it’s possible everything may be late…very late. Well it was all that and more. I’m wondering if the pacific island community in general has more hearing problems than the general public as the volume, especially of the drums, would be similar to standing close to a jet engine, and the lollies and chocolates…it’s like nothing you can imagine. Mountains of them, but I loved every minute of it and the ringing in my ears continued long after the cook island group left the building.
The Umu is lifted steaming hot and full of island treats and delicacies.
Yep, that’s a money lei you see.
What a privilege to be a part of such a wonderful tradition.