If you were going to select a time to get married, most Americans wouldn't even consider getting hitched in a church wedding at 10am on a Tuesday. However, that's a great time for Tongans to get married.
The tradition of weekday marriages stems back to an ancient belief that some days (like Saturday) are unlucky. Consequently, you won't find many Tongans getting married on the weekend.
And even a "traditional" church wedding is not traditional by US standards. This week, I had a chance to observe my first wedding in Tonga. It was the marriage of my landlords daughter, whose name is Na'a.
While the Tongans may be superstitious about the day to get married, they don't have any superstitions about the groom and the bride seeing each other before the ceremony. In fact, it would be impossible.
The wedding begins when the bride and groom go to the courthouse to get their marriage license. That is done just before the church service.
Only a few people are allowed inside the courtroom when the marriage documents are signed. But family and friends wait outside then join a procession of Tapa covered cars to the church. (Tapa is traditional Tonga cloth that is pounded from the bark of Mulberry trees)
Once at the church, the bride and groom enter together along with their family members.
After the procession, the groom goes to one side of the church and the bride to the other. However, like an American wedding, emotions run high as you can see in this photo of the proud parents, my landlords, Kepu and Save.
Eventually the bridge and groom are brought together, rings are exchanged and they are pronounced husband and wife.
But because this is conservative Tonga, this is no kiss. Only a brief Tongan hug. After the service, everyone comes outside to congratulate the couple and take photos. Interestingly, in most of the photos the bride and groom are not standing next to each other. In Tonga you will almost never seem any display of affection between men and women in public. Even in church the men and women do not sit together, so it was no surprise to find the couple not holding hands or even standing together.
After the service it was back to the house and time to eat. James and I didn't attend the feast as we had a going away lunch for our fellow volunteer Sarah.
The next volunteer to complete her service is my good friend Sarah. Sarah was actually the very first person I ever communicated with in Tonga, long before I met any of my fellow volunteers. I found her e-mail address online and we started e-mailing. I had no idea back then that I would end up living in Vava'u and that we would become such great friends.
The lunch was pretty low key. The other volunteers will still see her again, but because I'm leaving to go on a bank trip to Ha'apai, this was my chance to say good-bye.
Sarah has been our activity planner in Vava'u. She's the one responsible for organizing many of the camping and sailing trips along with get-togethers and volunteer meetings. She will certainly be missed. She's also very involved in her village like and has been a really good volunteer.
I've also now become online friends with Sarah's mom back in Connecticut. She started reading my blog, then we exchanged some e-mail and now we are friends on Facebook. I even briefly said hello to her on the phone Tuesday.
And if Stan looks a bit different in this photo, it is because after more than 14 months in Peace Corps, he finally got his hair cut (Watch Video)..
Ha'apai and USA Bound
As mentioned above, I am leaving for the Ha'apai Island group in about an hour. I'll be spending the next nine days conducting workshops on three outer islands. These are some of the most remote islands in Tonga and depending on the weather it may take us 12-14 hours each way by boat to get to one of them.
From there I'm heading to the main island of Tongatapu. I'll be going to Fua'amotu to spend a weekend with my first homestay family. Then on December 16th, , I'm heading to the USA for the holidays. I'll be spending 10 days in Northern Virginia with my family and then 10 days in South Florida at my house. It will be my first trip back to the USA since I left 15 months ago. I return to Tonga on January 8th, 2009 to begin my second year of volunteer service.