10-13 Bridal Showers and Bachelor Parties, Pentecost Style

There have been a lot of weddings since we got to Pentecost. Some have been well-planned in advance, some have been a bit spur of the moment. One of them was an arranged marriage and one of them was a bit of a shotgun wedding. For the last month, we’ve had one wedding I was really invested in. My coutnerpart, auntie and friend got married to the father of her two children.
This wedding was supposed to happen December last year but got put off until May. When she got pregnant with the second child, they did special kastomto make it ok for her to go live with him without being married, which pushed the wedding back until this month. So, we had a month of full kastom for their wedding.
The groom sharing out mats.

I’ve written about the red mat ceremonies a bit before and it many ways this was more of the same. The bride and groom had to give red mats to their father’s brothers and sisters. To get enough mats, they had to ask their mother’s brothers and sisters for help. This is the normal web of debts here.

So, on the red mat kastom day for the groom, we all wandered up to the village around lunch time. Sometime after that, the mother’s family showed up and formally gave the mats to the groom. The nuclear family whisked the mats off into a house and we all ate and made merry while they worked. The men ground kava and the women attended to screaming children until shortly before dusk. The nuclear family came out and called out to all of the mom’s sisters (sisters in this case includes female cousins and women married in). Each of the sisters received a small red mat to tie around their waist as a thank you for their contribution in making the big mats being shared out. Then each mat was unfolded, the name of who was receiving it was called out, that person had to be found, they circled the mat and the group of women three times and then refolded the mat and they did it again for the next mat. The groom shared about 100 mats. We ate communally and the men drank a lot of kava. (And Jason dropped his iPod in the bush toilet.)
The ‘bridal shower’ part of things.
Those are the standard gifts given to
women when they are married.

The next day, we repeated the whole thing for the bride, with a few variations. It was her las kakaeor farewell feast, which is sort of the equivalent of a bridal shower or maybe a funeral. Before cell phones and easy transit, the women who were married away from their villages went and probably didn’t come back. Travel was too difficult and there was a high maternal mortality, so for many of the people in the village, the girl who was leaving was going forever. So, the communal meal had a more organized feel to it. Rather than everyone getting a leaf of food and finding a convenient piece of ground to eat on, we laid out coconut leaves in the nakamal, brought plates and silverware and sat down to a giant family meal.

The bridal shower part was a bit awkward. (My whole life is a bit awkward these days.) Because weddings are causes for grief here, the bridal shower involves a lot of crying. The bride sits in front of a mat with two of her mamas. Everyone gets in line and drops the gifts on the mat then hugs, kisses the cheeks or just shakes hands with the bride and the two mamas. In some cases, that involves long embraces and much, much crying and bawling and wailing. In this case, she’d only going twenty minutes up the hill and already lives with the guy, so she was a bit less put out than most. Even the gifts are given in a desultory manner, they aren’t excited about giving them or about receiving them and the gifts are sort of dropped as you walk past. I think part of it is being flas. If you do something too outside the norm, people judge you for thinking you are above yourself. So, if you give a really nice gift, they assume you are showing off. To keep that from happening while still giving nice gifts, you have to drop it like it doesn’t really matter or isn’t important.
Her mother’s family had to walk a fairly long way so they were late getting down to us. They didn’t do the formal acceptance of the mats until about 3 pm. I followed the pile of mats down the hill and parked myself in a corner. I have been curious for two years how they decide who the mats go to and who gets which one and I knew Leslyn wouldn’t object to me sitting there. (Actually, I parked myself on top of a pile of already-designated mats. It was like a couch!)
Leslyn, covered in baby powder, with the tags for the mats.

Leslyn, her parents and one of her mamas spent almost 3 hours matching names to mats. We kept getting interrupted by Leslyn needing to breastfeed her 3-month-old or by the 22-month-old waking up from her nap screaming, but all in all I think it went smoothly. They had prepared a list of people they wanted to give mats to which they matched with the pile of mats they’d just been given. The value of a mat varies based on how much ‘hair’ (fringe) it has, how well the dye took, if it has any damage, how well cut the pattern is, if there are yellow-orange strips in the fringe and the weaving of the mat itself. The more important the relationship is, the higher value mat they get. So, the men and women who have looked after Leslyn since she was a child get high-value mats, except they often contributed a mat or two as well, in which case they get a thank you mat which does not have to be high-value. Any family who has taken rank in the chief system gets a higher value mat while younger or unranked people get lower value mats. People who live further away don’t necessarily get low-value mats but if they didn’t show up to the las kakae, they might get booted down on the importance list. The priority ranking was truly baffling.

HUGE heap of mats.

By the end of the 3 hours, we had 108 labeled mats and 3 deemed unacceptable to give out. We then had to go back through that huge stack of mats and double check the names to be sure that no one was forgotten. They checked the two lists against each other and we were off, back up to the nakamal.

Sharing out the mats went the same as it had for the groom. That process with 108 mats took about another 3 hours. I got bored and wandered off to read a magazine for awhile. I came back and they were still at it. The aunties who were standing in support of Leslyn were mostly sitting in support by then and some were actually breastfeeding, eating or changing diapers in support of Leslyn. Still, they stayed through to the end. We had to have the generator on to finish it.
Both ceremonies ended with another round of food, given in a leaf because the nakamal was full of kava-drunk men, and a lot of kava for the men.
Halfway done, half still to go out.

The sharing of red mats is not necessarily supposed to happen back-to-back like that, but because the villages are geographically close and relationally close, they did them together. That way families related to both the girl and the boy only had to come once. Don’t think too hard about families being related to both the bride and groom. It is a small island with complex family structures that extend out to third and fourth cousins.

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