Where’s my White Sunday?

Manuia lava le lotu tamaiti Samoa!

Up and down New Zealand today, Samoan children dressed in their Sunday’s best (which happens to be all in white) have been celebrating white sunday 2011. It’s funny that “lotu tamaiti” is translated into “White Sunday” in English, because quite literally it means, “the children’s service.” It’s the one day of the year that our cultural hierarchy is flipped upside down, where children take the pre-eminence at the church altar, and are given the opportunity to finally eat first and are regaled with the finest selection of foods and receive gifts from their parents. It’s not to say that our parents don’t love us on any other day of the year. It’s just that on this fine Sunday in October every year our parents dedicate the day and church service to us. The children. (ok I’m not exactly a child am I)

In Samoa for instance, some children liken it to being better than Christmas. Due to the international dateline situation (that the Samoan government will forcibly rectify this year) Samoa will be celebrating White Sunday tomorrow. All Children have white sunday in Samoa. But there are a group of Samoan kids that will miss out this year in New Zealand. (Although I believe it is changing slowly), I for one, was one of those kids.

Every year as my fellow Samoanians got ready for white sunday by learning their “tauloto’s” and countless numbers of people would make the usual procession to our house to have their white sunday outfits made by uncle (he’s a very popular designer among the Samoan community), I would be asked on white sunday eve (if there is such a thing) to make a cup of tea for the visitors, or a strong coffee for my Mother, Aunt and Uncle who would work all through the night so that everyone would be able to compete in the “Puletasi wars” that accompany every Samoan Congregational gathering. The next morning, after everyone had their outfits, my household would sleep in and recharge while Samoan children were knocking at the knees, trying to make sure that their speeches were said just right and try to avoid any adverse effects from hitting the wrong note quite literally.

There was no White Sunday for me ever. My older siblings at least had the experience of a White Sunday when they were very young as they were born in Samoa. Not me. For some reason, Catholics (up until recently) don’t celebrate White Sunday. So me familia would never plan anything for White Sunday.

I remember asking my Mum once why we didn’t do White Sunday. She said, cause we are Catholic. As if that would mean anything to me. But that’s as much of an explanation I ever got for anything from my Mum. That’s because I know she didn’t really know herself. Just like the time I tried to ask her why the girls drag the long ie lavalava when they present the su’a at important gatherings. She just responded it’s the ie e ka’i ai le su’a. (It’s the material that goes with the presentation), “I know that, but what does that mean?” I responded. “It means be quiet or I’ll sai sai you with the ie” My Mum replied. (I’ll tie you up in the ie if you aren’t quiet). Therein ended my interest in the age old ceremony. I learned much later on that my Mum wasn’t exactly an expert on Samoan tradition. She admitted to me that she even failed Samoan at school. “Oh that’s not such a bad thing Mum, I know lots of Palagi’s that fail at English!” My mum just laughed and said, “well I don’t know any Samoans who fail at English so you better not be like a palagi in that way”. Lucky I never was. Or she may have tied me up in the ie lavalava!

But I find little reason why Catholics don’t do it in New Zealand besides the fact that unlike the other Samoan Churches in New Zealand, we didn’t build a new church based along ethnic likes like the EFKS did (Congregrational Chrstian Church of Samoa) when everyone migrated from Samoa. So we just did what the palagi’s did I suppose. Which makes sense. All the Catholic Ekalesia’s only really gained momentum in the late 80’s and 90’s in New Zealand. And at this point my Mum had a real disdain for anything Samoan and Church mixed together. So we were never allowed to go to Samoan Sunday School and in the end my Mum even barred us from joining the Samoan group! Which is strange because my Mum was an international Polynesian dancer. She spent numerous years across the Sea of Japan from where I am now, near the Japanese city Sendai.The city that was devastated by the Tsunami on March 9th this year. There her OE started, and near there mine did too.

But I digress. So the real reason why I wrote this blog was to ask where my White Sunday had gone to? Why did I and my Catholic friends have to miss out? Well to be honest, in the end we didn’t miss out on much. We got our first holy communion parties, confirmation parties, and if you’re Samoan there was always Sunday to’onai regardless of whether it was white sunday or not.

One of my fondest memories of growing up Samoan was Sunday Feasts spent with the family. Having my non-Samoan friends join in and getting them to love Samoan food and styles was one of the happiest legacies that to’onai’s have left behind for me. Also, I will always remember the Sunday to’onai’s with my cousins where we got to eat outside on a beautiful day in Auckland on the deck, while the oldies were inside gossiping about who knows what.

So even though I never got a White Sunday, I definitely got a uniquely Samoan Sunday every week of my life. And that above all is what I’ll be forever grateful for.

Happy White Sunday Samoa from the great city of Seoul!

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