Six months ago, Helen Colla left Victoria for the sunny shores of Samoa. She has been working with Don Bosco College and Vocational Technical Centre to help the College obtain accreditation for it’s technical programs. By providing nationally recognised, accredited courses, the college will offer students the best possible opportunity to transition into employment. One the most important steps towards this goal is building a relationship between Helen and the teaching staff at the college. This step takes time and it takes a willingness to engage in the local culture. Read about Helen’s experience attending the recent funeral of a Matai – a village chief – and her observations about how the Samoan funeral customs differ from our own.
I had the wonderful and unexpected opportunity to go to a funeral here in Samoa. It was the funeral of a cousin of one of the teachers here at Don Bosco and I was visiting her home over the holidays. The family warmly welcomed me and allowed me to be a part of this important occasion. Funerals are a very different occasion here in Samoa compared to funerals in Australia.
The funeral was for a Matai – village chief, and it was a big occasion.
Relatives had to come from all around Samoa and from overseas. Prior to the day, the family of the Matai gathered to organise their ‘contributions’ to pay for the funeral. They collectively donated tinned fish, handmade woven mats and money that would be handed out to all those who assisted with the funeral. This was managed by the family as a whole, but overseen by the elders of the family. Family members helped digging the grave and preparing the food as well.
At approximately 8am on the day, everyone gathered at the church for the eulogies and the mass. It was a lovely ceremonial mass. Afterwards, everyone walked from the church to the Fale where the grave site was prepared, in front of the home of one of the relatives of the deceased. The front of the Fale looks out over the village. A really lovely spot. The service continued there as they placed the deceased into the grave. He was removed from the coffin. They reuse the coffin. The deceased was then covered with mats and wreaths and decorations made of plastic flowers. As the day went on, the grave was sealed with slabs of concrete and more concrete poured and smoothed over the top. This was all completed before the end of the day and done by the men of the family.
Once the deceased was laid in the grave, I thought it was all over. But then some shouting and singing started from across the other side of the village. A procession of village matais came through the village to the grave site with someone leading the group, heralding their arrival. They placed palm fronds at the gravesite. This was a gathering of the village matais to pay their respects to the deceased and his family. Speeches were given. Responses were given from family out of respect for the matais.
Then the family gathered in one fale and commenced handing out the contributions and lunch to various people in another fale ( ie. payment for funeral duties are handled on the day straight after the funeral). A wonderful ‘dance’ between the 2 fales commenced with the giving of ‘payment’, receiving of ‘payment’ and the speeches of thanks and respect, going back and forth across the way between the 2 fales. It was raining but that didn’t stop anyone. Both men and women of the family participated in giving of the ‘payment’. But it seemed that only men and matais gave the speeches of thanks and respect. A piglet and a large sow were butchered and handed out to the matais out of respect by the family during the course of the day. Once the ‘payments’ were completed the family moved to the other fale and relaxed, finished all of the family business and ate lunch. By early-afternoon it was all over. I feel very privileged to have been able to experience so many wonderful new sights and sounds. It was a day I shall always remember.
To support Helen and the team at Don Bosco as they work towards becoming an accredited institution, donate here.
To visit the college and see the trades programs for yourself, join our Encounter to Samoa in 2019.