One of the more unique things about Tongan culture is the overwhelming influence of Christianity. Often one of the first questions we get asked is about religion, and folks usually skip over asking if we are Christians and go straight to our preferred denomination. Add this to the influence of the absolute monarchy, and it is not surprising that most holidays, events, and social gatherings have some religious significance. A great example of this is a Tongan funeral - a "putu." Since we've been living in our small host village of Fatumu, there have been two putus - which is fairly uncommon, it being a village of only 80 families.
It has been fascinating observing this unique cultural event. The neatest part to me was actually the days leading up to the funeral day. On those days, everyone in the village dresses in black to signify mourning with the family. And at night, the villagers take shifts riding the bus to the mortuary in town and hold continuous prayer meetings for the family that consist of spontaneous praying and hymn singing. Then, on the day of the funeral, the entire village along with extended family from out of town, gathers for an all day ritual of praying, singing, fellowship, and eating. It is not even a question whether or not school will be closed or if working folks will stay home. Wholehearted support of the mourning family has simply woven itself into the culture of the nation. A beautiful notion.
As with most developing, rural countries, community plays much more of a part of daily life than we are used to. Even so, I was still struck with this beautiful example of how the church community should function in the lives of hurting people. I don't know the culture near well enough to feel out how much of these types of activities are heartfelt or just simply cultural - a question that, I'm sure, will continue to come up during our time here. Yet, I couldn't help feeling wholly inspired and convicted by the communal support of the Tongan people.
'Ofa atu (love to you)