Christianity stands strong on Tuvalu and yesterday was the yearly celebration for the baptism of the first Christian chief on the island Nanumea. It was a celebration on good Tuvaluan style: Flower crowns, food and dance battles until sunrise.
Nanumea is the largest island community represented in the main island and capital Funafuti and the most northern of the the nine islands. All island communities have their own Maniapa or community centre. This is where all the community celebrations and events take place. We went to the function with Pula and her family: mother, son and her sisters children.
The families sit together on carpets made of Pandanus (a local tree) leaves. Some inside the Maniapa, others right outside. Inside in the open house, was a circle with the old Prime Minister Matia Toafa and other chiefs of the families of the community (like the principal of the university) and their families.
First, the pastor made the prayers and all took off their flower crown. We got speeches from Matia and some other members of the community. Then there was a long ceremony where the Fatele-teacher (Fatele is the traditional dance) checked that all the male dancers were dressed correctly. He made fun of everyone that had forgotten something and everybody laughed.
Then we could eat. All the families had brought an enormous picnic (that would never fit in a basket). Pula and her mother had made papaya and cucumber salad (Pula was first in the veggie-line yesterday – read more here), deep fried banana chips and bread fruit, boiled cassava, more fresh papaya, fried rice with sausages, boiled rice, fried sausages, two roasted chickens, one big pan with chicken and cabbage and one bowl of raw fish. On top of all this, the dancers that we had made fun of earlier, came with at least 2 kilos of boiled beef. Florent and I had made chicken in coconut milk and curry. We were just four grown ups and four kids (but fortunately more came along later). The kids got squash and we got a coconut each.
Then, the dance-competition started (Fatele). Two teams: Labour Power and Tuifito had prepared a number of acts – just with a drum (that looks as a table), songs and dance. There was two judges, one representing each team.
The acts were overwhelming and increased in intensity and complexity as the hours (!) passed. The competition continued for over 2 hours before the floor was opened for everybody.
It was culture conservation in practise. The old men continued to drum on the tables, a couple of grown ups and a whole bunch of kids were singing and dancing: Every song has its own dance.
After this there was a tea-break (at midnight). We ate chocolate and biscuits and then Florent and I went home. The rest of Nanumea, young and old, continued the party and dancing until dawn.