12-19 Kastom blong Mared

Weddings here are complicated. There are so many parts, I don’t even know if I’ll manage to catch them all. I was at the post-engagement but pre-marriage ceremony for a woman who is getting married next week. It got me thinking about how there really are different stages to being married here and how much I like that. Let me try to lay out the stages, as far as I know.

1. Frend. The verb “friend” means “to hook up with” for a very broader definition of hooking up with including talking and holding hands. Think of that next time you ask someone to friend you on facebook.
2. Stap tugeta. Just living together. Not totally kosher, but people do it anyway. Maybe not a stage in getting married, but well, it happens.
Red mats are a big part of all kastom ceremonies

3. Blokem woman. The papas of the boy go talk to the aunties of the girl and they determine that it is a good match and both parties are interested. Then, they make a small ceremony where the boy gives the family of the girl a red mat, some other stuff and some kava. Then all the men drink the kava together. Any time after they are blocked (engaged), they can have kids. A lot of people hang out at this stage for a few years and a few children.

4. Seraotem sese. The boy gives red mats (sese)to his papa’s brothers and sisters. The girl does the same.*


5. Mared lo juj. The missionaries have been very effective around here. Just about everyone is some form of Christian. There are a few Ba’hai and a few John Frum cult and a few kastomvillages, but mostly people are Christian. So, they get married in the church. That seems to happen mid-morning or so and involves a white dress and matching bridesmaid’s outfits as well as the aunties (sisters of the father) of the girl hiding under a red mat, as per kastom. Sometimes this happens and the marriage is done, they never get to the kastompart, or sometimes they wait a few years for the kastomto happen.

6. Mared lo kastom. I’m not sure quite where this section stops and the next one begins. I think the marriage ceremony is when they “pay” for each other. They say that they “pay” for the woman, but it is really more of an exchange. The aunties of the girl give a red mat to the papas (brothers of the father) of the boy. The papas all give a pig in return. I think there is a rank order to who exchanges with who and what form of pig** they give, but I’m not totally sure yet.


7. Barate. The kastomgoes all night long. After the pig/mat exchange, the women retire to the house of barateand do the women thing while the men retire to the nakamal to get stoned on kava. I think I’ve written about baratebefore but in short it is “teaching” the new wife what she needs to know about married life, aka sex.


8. Sawakora. When the barate is finished the women go join the men outside the nakamal and they dance until daylight. The dancing looks a lot like a Native American pow wow. The men chant in a call and response and stamp their feet while facing the center post. The women circle around them, also stamping and occasionally joining the call and response.
9. Putum gud tufala. One papa and one auntie take the married couple to their new house at dawn. Theoretically, this is the chance to really explain what it is to be married, though I’m not sure that really happens anymore. The papa and auntie should explain sex, baby care and conflict resolution to the new couple, but I don’t think they do. I think they just leave them at the door and go to bed.
By the end of all that, they are married completely. They can take most of the parts in stages if they can’t afford to do them all at once, or they can do everything after sharing the mats together. Each of the ceremonies requires a feast, which the entire family contributes to. The feast is usually pork or beef, white rice and baked taro. They aren’t big into complicated meals.
*Brother and sisters are rather loosely defined here and include everyone out to second and third cousins. Since the woman moves to the man’s village, I think they share the mats with the father family because the mother’s family is likely far, far away, or at least in the next village over.
** Pigs come in many forms. They can be piglets, which have a pretty low value. A large pig has more value. A pig that has been fed on scraps has a lot more value because its tusk grows longer instead of breaking in the ground. A pig with a tusk that curls around until it grows back into the jaw bone has an extremely high value and is used for things like rank-taking ceremonies and bride prices. I’ve also heard that there are hermaphoditic pigs that have a really high value, but I haven’t had that confirmed. I’ll work on it.

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