Thursday, April 4, 2013


We expected Easter to be a big deal, as most of the events here on one's social calendar have to do with church. There were school holidays on Good Friday and the following Monday, and we made sure that we were here for the whole weekend. We were ready to experience everything that a Tongan Easter had to offer. Typically with big events and holidays, we choose to see what's going on at the Wesleyan church, it being by far the biggest, with many families that we are close to.

Leading up to it, a few folks had told us that every Easter, the Wesleyans have an "Easter Camp" for the kids that lasts the entire weekend. Having both grown up in Oklahoma, Alissa and I are pretty well acquainted with the idea of "church camp". It's not our first rodeo. So, we were intrigued with what the Tongan equivalent would hold for us.

First of all, let's get straight what is meant by the word "kid" in Tonga. By cultural definition, a kid is anyone who is not married. So, the festivities of Easter Camp would be the same for toddlers and 25 year old dudes (which still really only means about 30 people). We see this funny cultural difference as another one of those things with a good side and a bad side. It makes for a neat sense of togetherness and non-discrimination based on age. But clearly, the needs of a 20 year old and 5 year old, especially spiritually, are vastly different.

Anyways, for the most part, most of what went on was pretty typical for a normal weekend. Just a whole lot more of everything. There was obviously a bunch of church services: every day of Easter week plus three per day on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. There was skit practice and "action song" practice (picture pseudo-sign language done to pre-recorded cheesy Christian music) which also happens most nights of the week. There was a lot of feasting, which I like, if only because it means I am guaranteed a chance to eat meat. And there was, of course, lots of kava drinking with the youth and men at sporadic times during the day.

However, there were a couple of unique things that happened that especially stood out. The first was what was called the "'a'ahi ki he kau vaivai" (visit to the weak people). I'd never heard this term before, and it turned out to be pretty cool. Basically, the whole crew of church "kids" walked around, visiting, singing songs, and sharing bible verses with the old and infirmed members of the church in their homes. It was a neat thing to experience, and we ended up meeting a lady -the mother of one of our neighbors- who we didn't even know existed until a week ago. She's in her 80s, and too weak to come to church, or really, leave her house. She was really sweet, and it was a cool blessing to get to meet her.

The last unique aspect of Easter Camp- really the one thing that made it truly a "camp"- was that everyone slept together, in a central place - the girls in the church, the guys in the Wesleyan hall. There was, of course, the typical kava circle going at one end of the hall, and around bedtime, the mothers showed up with their boys with mats and blankets for them to sleep on. The kava circle continued late into the night, as it always does, as the boys, 4 years old and up, enjoyed their sleepover at the other end of the room. My mind drew funny comparisons to worried American mothers dropping their kids off at sleepovers with sleeping bags and overnight supplies.

The Tongans loved it, and kept remarking "fakalata" (which means contented or satisfied). Whereas an American might feel this way snuggled into their couch with a movie and pizza, the communal mind of a Tongan see it as this: the more people there are, the better everything is. Sleeping at home in your own bed? That sounds ok... But sharing a room with dozens of people? Yes please!

A final funny memory that sticks out to me was the choosing of one of the oldest youth boys to be the "polisi" (police). This basically meant they were in charge of making sure that the kids were quiet and not doing anything naughty during the night. I thoroughly enjoyed recounting to them my experience of being the polisi - school lock ins and camp with my middle schoolers came readily to mind.


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