Death at a Funeral, and Lots of Women Dancing
WorldTeach volunteer Laura has only a few months left on the island of Pohnpei in Micronesia.
I can’t begin to fathom that I have less than three months left here on Pohnpei. This year has turned out to be one of the calmest moments of my life, filled with many moments of thinking and just being. It is commonly said that Pohnpeians are “expert sitters”, as life here can often be slow, calm, and at times all you can do is just sit and take it all in (and at many times there’s honestly nothing else to do). If anything, this place has taught me to just relax, which can be expected from living on an island for a year. I’m a bit nervous to transition back into the mainland lifestyle, especially being a full-time teacher back in the US. It is quite literally the opposite of my experience here, which consists of loose lesson planning, much flexibility as school is bound to be cancelled at least once a week, and expecting that up to 50% of my students won’t show up on a consistent basis. The biggest thing I’ll take from here is learning to be flexible as a teacher, and just go with the flow of your class, wherever that may take you.
Anyways, back to the point of this blog post. Last week, I was able to participate in some really cool aspects of Pohnpeian culture, aside from the biggest staple of the culture which is sakau. A friend’s host grandfather had recently passed away, and I had the experience of attending one day of the funeral. Yes, I said one day, as Pohnpeian funerals usually last around 8 days with each having different traditions and practices. And since everyone on this island is basically related, when someone dies in a village, life as they know it stops for 8 days. Everyone takes off work, school, etc. to help with the preparations and give their respects to the family.
So we headed out to Palikir, which is about a 15 minute drive from where I live. The families residence was far back in the jungle, so we had a bumpy ride but we finally arrived around noon. My first few glimpses and smells were that of women preparing food like rice and taro, the men washing and preparing the sakau, and a few of the younger men carrying in two pigs that were tied to large poles by their feet. Of course they were still alive at this point, and were clearly distraught and squealing loud enough for neighbors for miles to hear, but noone blinked an eye because they have seen this a million times before. As my grandma even said (from her experience of growing up on a farm in Wisconsin) “it’s part of life”. So we had our few respectful sips of the slimy, mucky sakau (this was very strong sakau, meant for funerals) and watched as they killed and prepared the pigs for the local oven called an uhm which is made from stacking coconut shells and hot rocks off the fire. All of the little boys were so interested in butchering the pigs as they crowded around and tried to learn the ways so in a few years, they would be able to do it themselves. There were also some sea turtles, but thankfully they were killed before I got there (that would be hard for me to watch). We stayed for a couple hours, paying our respects to the family and taking in the cultural experience. It was then that they started carrying in two more live pigs, in which I bowed out and called it a day and headed back to the “city”.
|Everyone’s so excited to watch!|
The rest of my day was filled with significantly less animal deaths, as I headed to the PICS track to the big celebration for International Women’s Day. Women were gathered together from all areas of Pohnpei, the Mwoakillese, Sokeh’s, women of Madolenihmw and many more. Each different group wore beautiful costumes of bright, colorful, flowery muumuu‘s and traditional dress. I watched as they all took turns going up in front of the audience and higher seated titles (like village officials, Embassy employees, and governors) to perform choreographed dances. My favorite was that of the Mwoakillese women, who performed a traditional dance that told of how to pick the local breadfruit from the trees and prepare them for eating. It was a great celebration, and one that highlighted the beauty of the local island women and their traditions and customs.
|Loved their costumes!|
Describing this culture can be difficult, as one cannot really explain all the odds and ends of everything you see here. There’s a lot of odd things, a lot of surprising things, but in the end, a lot of things that you grow to become comfortable to. As the year is coming to a fast ending, I am finding myself having feelings of not wanting to leave my routine that I have settled into here. Yes, there are so many things that I miss back in the US, but I’ve gotten used to my simple life here. My daily routine of waking up to roosters crowing, walking to school and seeing the tropical flowers, going to the grocery stores just to see it not stocked with essential items again but resorting to our usual meal of local fish and pasta, and having the relaxing feeling that if something didn’t get done today it’s okay because we can do it tomorrow. “Island time” has definitely found a way into my lifestyle.
Anyways, it’s time to settle down to bed with my Netflix for the night. Yes, I still get Netflix here! (I’m currently watching the complete Friends series 🙂 Keep an eye out for my next blog post soon- it’s gonna be a fun one!
Pwohng Mwahu (pong-mwau; goodnight)
-WorldTeach volunteer Laura
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