Firstly, it has been my experience that whenever I participate in any Samoan cultural event I miss countless subtle details and very rarely have a good idea about what is going on, so please keep in mind that this experience is being told from my point of view and there probably are several points which have been missed or misinterpreted.
The mother of a work colleague passed away and so a few of my colleagues, the CEO , and some of the village matai (chiefs) prepared to go visit the family to represent the village and the Company. They decided to bring me so that I might experience more Samoan tradition.
We piled into 5 company cars along with about fifteen fine mats, a bolt of lace, a bolt of fabric and a huge wreath of emotions. We all wore traditional Samoan clothes: puletasi for the woman and ie faitaga for the men. When we got to the house we formed a procession. I was put in front, next to our CEO the Matai Chief. Next to me, the others held out the fabric and the lace side by side. We waited for our turn. Important members of the family are entombed on the family?s property.
We entered the house and laid our gifts to the family. We then stood back outside to sit facing the family. Here we presented our gifts of money and fine mats. In return we were presented with gifts of fine mats, tinned fish, money, fabric and cooked meals. This exchange of gifts is very important and this procedure is followed by each family or group that visits the family of the deceased. There are church services in addition to this custom we just weren?t involved with it.
Everyone there (a good fifteen people) thought it was quite hilarious watching a palagi (outsider) participate but, as always, they were extremely grateful that I was making the effort to understand the Samoan customs.
Once we returned to the office there is a consulting with the matai about how the gifts we were given should be split up. The Samoan culture is all about service to one another. You give and you receive. Everything you have you share. You always take care of your family and your village because they will always take care of you. The matai themselves are granted their title after proving service to their community. For large events such as weddings, funerals, and births families and friends give greatly to one another. The term for this is fa?alavelave (which also, funnily enough is the word for trouble). As a Digicel Samoa team member, I strove to become member of the community and so also participate in the fa?alavelave of this great country