12-24 Steph’s Wedding


Having a number of other white people around has been nice. It means we can get some down time with people who (at least mostly) share our culture. Recently, it also meant an interesting blend of developed world and ni-Van culture when one of our white neighbors married a local.

Steph’s family has been coming here since she was little. They have a church connection to Ranwadi school, the anglophone secondary near us. A few years ago, the principal at Ranwadi asked if she wanted to come teach there. Once she finished high school herself, she moved here to do so. Six months later, she was engaged to the deputy principal.
On the truck down to the weddig

This wedding was more of a combination of church and kastom than usual due to the white people and their different expectations. Firstly, there was a ceremony to adopt Steph into a family here. This is standard when a woman from another island marries into the area. I was not back from Vila yet and didn’t get to see the ceremony.
The day of the wedding started with a walk to Ranwadi so I could jump onto the truck to the village. I considered wearing my loincloth but Steph may have actuallykilled me. I settled for having Georgia tell her I’d done it, which was almost enough to get me un-invited anyway. After meeting her family, I jumped in the truck to the village.
First up was the kastom ceremony. This involved her new papa talking a lot. Partly in local and partly in Bislama. Most of the Bislama was about the families and countries coming together. Then the relatives walked circles around them and took the token presents – mainly luggage, baskets, and food. Then red mats and money were given to her family. This involved a lot more talking by the chief which was mostly in language. After that, Steph’s Aussie father walked circles around everything and took the gifts. I believe he may have given them to the community, school, or couple. That would have been in private but I know that he was uncomfortable taking gifts from the community when he comes here as a volunteer. This concluded the kastom portion of the wedding.
For some reason she got poked with sticks.

Next we went to the church and waited for people to change into their fancy clothes. I am always astounded at the nice clothes that come out at church weddings. It is the only time they are worn and it looks so out of place. Once the bridal party got there, they started the church service. It was very similar to church weddings I’ve been to back home. Except for the cameras. There is no camera etiquette here. During the ceremony there were half a dozen or so who would get right up on the dais where everything was happening to take pictures. I was reminded that I have been here for a while when I looked over from among them at the white people standing back to take their photos. With my willingness to get right in and my new shutter-bug tendencies, I was basically the official photographer. After A LOT (and boy do I mean a lot) of worshiping and singing, the ceremony was done and the receiving line started outside. At some point, the rain started. This being Vanuatu, some umbrellas were held up over the party so the line could keep going.
The wedding party

Finally, everything was finished and we moved to a makeshift “tent” for food. There was a whole lot of food to be had, even for Vanuatu. Big parties here often have food I would have found tasty back home but with the white people in town they out-did themselves. There was even champagne and cold cokes. Then there was the cake. It seemed like there was as much cake as there was food. Yum.
The strangest part of the whole thing was the difference in attitudes. In the developed world, weddings are exciting. Here, the woman is leaving her family and will generally have very little, if any, contact with them. People cry at weddings at home, here they wail. The Aussies were excited and the ni-Vans were crying. I’ve noted the difference before but seeing it right in front of me really highlighted the gap.
Slightly damp receiving line.

There was also Steph’s nephew. White kids are babied. The ni-Van kids his age are mostly running around on their own and often waving knives around. (Some of the babying is a good thing.) The white kid had constant parental attention and did things like tossing a shell he found and looking to his parents to get it. I honestly couldn’t tell whether he was actually being bratty/demanding or if it just seemed that way compared to the kids here.

Nothing shows differences so starkly as seeing them juxtaposed. All-in-all, it was an interesting combination.

I haven’t had a chance to talk to Steph since the wedding and am curious to find out how she is liking village life. I hope that they have a successful and happy life together.

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