Living here for a year now, I often wonder what has imprinted itself....what will I take with me, what will I leave behind. What things will stick, and will I want them to?
One thing that has grown on me over time is this idea of giving a "fakamalo". At every important event, from church to holidays to birthdays, etc, there is a time for anyone present at said event to give a little speech. A "fakamalo" literally translates as, "to give thanks, to be grateful, to feel or express gratitude, to praise or congratulate". By no means is everyone required to speak, but the floor is open to anyone who might wish to.
Oftentimes I find these speeches to be very tiresome, as the hierarchy in Tongan culture dictates that every important person be thanked individually, and oftentimes it feels that there's not much genuineness in these speeches. It is also expected that you will cry. It is a bizarre thing to witness, but I've seen grown men pinching themselves to make the tears fall.
That aside, sometimes the speeches are a riot, a one man show, a straight up comedy act. Oftentimes long fables or parables are told, many times juicy gossip and merciless teasing happens. This too is sad for me-fakamalos are a hard thing to follow where I'm at in my language, but boy, Tongans know how to laugh and once they get going you so desperately want in on it.
Today was the first day of testing for our class six students. Once their tests were finished, the students, the students' families, and the teachers sat down together to enjoy a feast made by two of the class six students' parents. At the end of the feast, amidst all of the other fakamalo's, the two students whose parents prepared the feast gave their first ever fakamalo. It was such this rite of passage thing. I was so proud of my two boys, so happy to be here to observe this little coming of age thing.
It's a beautiful thing, really- To be so accountable to a town that raised you, that knows you, that's hoping for you, that has seen you fail and succeed, that has walked through life with you. So beautiful this time of "fakamalos", which I also think of as a storytelling time.
I want this to be apart of our family culture in the future. Want us to finish dinner at a family gathering and put off the movie or the games, and just tell stories, express gratitude. It's another part of the intimacy of this place that I don't wanna shake off when our time comes to leave.