A Huge Event

Contributed by Ken Bultman
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Samoan weddings are generally a huge social event. Weddings are a time when the two families involved have different obligations and duties much like is traditional here in the U.S.

If you check out a book by Fay Calkin entitled "My Samoan Chief", you will find a definition for the term, 'Fa'alavelave'. Fay Calkin's simple translation is 'trouble'. Basically a fa'alavelave is an obligation charged to the members of a family that is involved with a wedding, funeral, or other occasion requiring money.

Weddings are fa'alavelaves because they can, like funerals, be very costly to the families involved.

To begin with both families must provide for the bride several wedding dresses from which she will select two to wear on her wedding day. Ideally one dress selected will come from each of the families but not always. One dress is worn for the wedding service itself. The second dress is worn to the reception afterward.

The wedding service itself will follow whatever traditions are dictated by the religion of the couple which in Samoa is either Christian (of many varieties), Mormon, and even Bahai.

Following the wedding service is a reception which are usually held out of doors for lack of large enough facilities in most areas. Generally property of the brides family is used for the reception and many tables are set out and covered with some type of awning to protect guests from sun and/or rain. Once the guests have arrived and are seated according to social status the bride in her second gown performs a traditional Samoan dance after which dinner may be served.

Meals served at weddings typically have a set menu. Both the weddings I attended in Samoa served the following meal:

piece of roast chicken quarter -or-
piece of roast pig (which part you recieved being dictated by your social position)
serving of canned corned beef
one or more peices of boiled taro in a coconut sauce
serving of Samoan chop suey made with bean noodles, corned beef, soy sauce and other ingredients
serving of macaroni salad
Meals are served by members of the two families involved, mostly older kids. Important guests are served by older members of the family to be certain they get what their status requires. The amount of food served is far beyond what most people would eat at a single sitting and so it is common for guests to bring along a child from their family with a basket in which they will put excess food into to send home with the child before they even eat. Near the end of the meal while everyone is still seated the best man makes his traditional speech and blessing for the couple. The best man's speech is followed by the cake.

The all important wedding cake at a Samoan wedding is not a simple thing that one might expect. Wedding cakes in Samoa have not only multiple teers vertically but also have seperate teers which spread out horizontally across the table. Not all of the cake is meant to be eaten at the reception. Most of the seperate teers are given away to guests of high social status.

gift giving at a wedding is a way of maintaining or establishing a families social standing in a village. At one wedding I attended 27 roast pigs were used. Some of these were served as part of the meal but the majority were given away along with fine matts and teers of the cake. People who receive gifts might include any of the following or all of them:

High chief(s) of the village(s) of the couple
Minister(s), Priests, etc.
Ranking members of the extended family, uncles, aunts
Parents of the groom
Principle and staff of the local school
Important guests
Other chiefs in attendance
All of this giving can be quite costly for families. Families will call upon all members of the extended family both in and outside of Samoa to help defray the costs involved in putting on a wedding.

The gift presentation is often followed by soome type of dance/party that can go on till late in the night.

One very traditional part of Samoan weddings probably is not seen very much any more. This was a test of the brides virginity.

Under the watchful eye of the women of the couples families the couple would enter an enclosure of hung sheets and within which they would have intercourse on clean white sheets. To pass the test, blood must appear on the sheets. Families wanting to avoid the shame involved with failure will often have a sharp knife and chicken available. Nobody does DNA testing of the blood to ascertain its origin. To the best of my knowledge which I admit is limited this part of weddings is no longer common, it is interesting though.

Overall weddings are large very fun productions. Samoan hospitality being what it is tourists who happen to be in a village during a wedding may get invited even though they don't know anyone there, this is not uncommon.

Thanks to Ken Bultman, Science Education, University of Wisconsin, Madison, for sharing this information.

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