Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Friday Feast and Sunday Church

Greetings from Penrhyn!

Now that you have been waiting two days to hear about the Feast that we attended on Friday, I hope I can do it justice! I will also tell you a bit about attending church this morning (Sunday).

We will not soon forget the feast, and neither will the guest of honour, who was feted, blessed, and showered with good wishes from friends and family (from both villages and as far away as NZ). The hall (long and narrow) was nearly ready when we came ashore an hour early; we were able to help set out some chairs, but otherwise everything was done (Max had come earlier with two 9V batteries for the cordless mikes: it was nice to be able to contribute). Louvered windows on three sides let in what breeze there was, but those in the know came with a fan. The food was arrayed on a buffet table along the fourth wall. The U-shaped head table was heaped with food and decorated with garlands and flowers.

With half an hour to go, the last of the ladies went home to change (the benefit of living close by), and Benjamin held court with the local children. No one spoke very much, but there was lots of laughter (although they learn English at school, I wasn't sure how much they spoke). A baby is a lot of work on passage, but he sure earns his keep as an icebreaker! At 3pm exactly, the band began (three singers, keyboard, and drum machine). The guest of honour, decked out in a colourful shirt and a garland of flowers, was led to the center of the head table. There followed nearly an hour of speeches, singing (a capella in many parts), and presentations of gifts and telegrams. All of the proceedings were in Maori, with the exception of the odd "Happy 21st Birthday" and the singing of "Happy Birthday" followed by "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow". There were even some rousing "Hip Hip Hoorays" to raise the roof. Sam was presented with two extraordinarily detailed carved wall plaques, hand made with love on the island. One had a pair of dolphins and the other seemed to have an inset carved bust of Sam. In what we are finding to be a typical juxtaposition of the traditional with the modern in Penrhyn, since we were sitting towards the back of the room, at times the easiest way see the proceedings was to look at the screen of one of the many iPads and tablets being held up to record the event!

Once the formalities were completed, the buffet was uncovered and the feasting began. This being a birthday party, cake was first; one official cake had been decorated, and it was augmented by about a dozen round cakes pre-sliced into generous wedges. We had hardly finished our pieces when Max and I were ushered to the head table, where two additional chairs had been pulled up. Victoria and Johnathan found a piece of ground to sit on, but there was no shying away to the back corner for the Fluenta grownups (or Benjamin - we sat him with us in his new booster chair). I am sure that we didn't even try all the dishes on the table in front of us, there were so many, but we ate rice, raw fish, roasted pork, coconut dumplings, and sausages, and I also saw whole lobsters, pork stew, bread, and donuts. When asked later what their favourite part of the meal was, both children commented on the donuts!

Following the meal, the mike was handed around again, this time for more informal speeches; most of the men took the opportunity to wish Sam well as he officially enters the adult phase of his life (I understand that now he is allowed / encouraged to find a wife and get married). Finally, everyone who had been eating outside was invited back to the hall and the minister closed with a prayer and a blessing. The band continued to play while the food was shared (to take home) with most of the guests, the chairs were stacked, and the hall was swept. When we went back to the dinghy some time later, all the ladies were sitting on the ground in front of Rio's house washing the dishes, and we were invited to take food back to our boat.

This gives you a description of the proceedings, but it is hard to capture the experience of the senses - the heat of the room, the warmth of the welcome, the coolness of our neighbour's fan (the nurse, with whom I had grated coconut), the colourful shirts, dresses, and hats (family groups would have clothing of the same pattern so they could be identified), the flowers (garlanded on heads, fastened to hair and hats, in vases, growing outside), the sound of the music (from traditional call-and-response in many parts to modern synthesizer cover songs), the taste of the different foods, the smell of the frangipani - in this celebration of the life and future of one young man, we also experienced the celebration of a community and a way of being.

That same welcoming spirit was in evidence after church this morning when we were invited to the minister's house for lunch. Backing up a little bit, we had a quiet day yesterday during which we got some boat jobs done (Max went up the mast for a rig inspection,fixed the cockpit mike and dove on the rudder for a bolt inspection, and re-set the ball bearings on the traveller [we have a really nice Harken 4-to-1 traveller but one of the bolts on the end block sheared and let loose many of its ball bearings. I had to use the screw extractor to pull out the old bolt still stuck in the block and use the tap to clean up the threads. I do not have enough ball bearings to rebuild it all so it is now a 2-to-1 purchase on the stbd side and 4-to-1 on the port side] in the meantime). We were just about to start BBQ'ing the Tuna from Rio when he came with a Trevally that he had just caught (filleted by Johnathan; it was our dinner tonight).

When we arrived at the church this morning, there were maybe a dozen people in the church (whitewashed stone outside with varnished wood, inlaid with intricate patterns, inside) and they were already singing. It turns out that this is just what people do when they have time to pass: they sing. At 1000, the church filled up completely with the arrival of the Sunday School and the choir.

In advance of the service, we had been given strict instructions on the dress code for the adults (ladies wear hats & skirts, and cover their shoulders; men wear collared shirts and long pants), and the timings (church starts at 10:00, but we should be there around 9:30). Check, check. What we didn't know was that there was a dress code for babies too (they have to be dressed ...) and we had brought our little heat-rash-covered baby in just a diaper. When he began to howl in protest at being hidden under the wrap, he and I stepped out for a moment so we wouldn't disturb the service. I soon found out that, unlike the church in Bora Bora (where there were women and children coming and going throughout the service), the door at this church is one-way; once they leave, parishioners stay out. A gentleman followed me to the front steps, and suggested that I take Benjamin home. Max and the children stayed in the sanctuary, and I found a palm tree that offered some shade, as well as a view of the church. It felt a bit like eating humble pie, to be someone who has attended church all her life now on the outside looking in; however, on the bright side, I was able to enjoy the sound of the singing, the feel of the breeze (alternating warm from the island and cool from the ocean), and the roar of the surf while I waited. Thankfully, the service was only an hour long. Of course, noisy Benjamin was sound asleep five minutes after I went outside, and slept through the rest of the service... better luck next time! It seemed that no harm was done, but we will endeavour to be more aware in the future.

As I mentioned, we were invited to the minister's home for lunch (he told us that he has hosted all the cruisers who have come to Penrhyn for Sunday lunch). Once again, we were shown gracious hospitality, and ate fried fish, rice, sausages, noodles, and bread. The adults and our family ate first, then the children were served second. In yet another juxtaposition of tradition and modernity, it turns out that several of our new friends are on Facebook, and a picture of the kids with them is already gathering lots of comments! After coffee and a chat (during which it was arranged that Max would come back on Monday to see if he could fix part of the sound system) we headed back to the boat.

Sunday is strictly observed as a day of rest, and most people were lying down as we walked through the village to the dinghy. We kept the same thoughtful, quiet feeling on Fluenta throughout the rest of the day, and we all finished the afternoon grateful for a Sabbath pause. I would like this to become a regular part of our week! Dinner was BBQ'd trevally with rice and carrots (we still have a bag in the fridge, but we are getting to the end of our fresh produce) and then we watched an episode of BBC South Pacific together (I mention this because screen evenings of any kind were so rare at home!)

Benjamin is now standing for +/-20 seconds at a time, and then carrying on to the floor as if nothing extraordinary had just happened. He figured out how to climb up to the first step of the companionway stairs a few days ago, and now he has started to experiment with climbing higher. Needless to say, mounting the baby gates is a top priority for tomorrow (Victoria and I prototyped on Saturday, and now we are ready to drill) and we are considering the options for blocking the stairs (the question is, is it more dangerous for Benjamin to fall because he climbed too high, or for one of the rest of us to fall because we forgot that the steps were blocked ...) I am sure we will keep you posted.

Well, as ever, our emails are "feast of famine" ... I hope you enjoyed this little note about the feast!

We will stay here for another week or so, and then start heading across the lagoon to wait for weather to go to Suwarrow. We are glad we came north from Bora Bora (ie out of our way) as Penrhyn is certainly worth the visit :) It is also fun being somewhere where hardly any cruisers visit.

Much love to all,
At 9/10/2014 3:07 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 08°57.50'S 157°55.72'W
At 9/10/2014 3:07 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 08°57.50'S 157°55.72'W

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