I attended my first Tongan funeral yesterday. Tongan funerals are really different to ones in Australia. I found the whole experience rather perplexing!
To start with, I had never even met the person who died. He was the brother of one of the men I work with. In Australia, unless you are close to the deceased or very close to their immediate family, you wouldn’t go to the funeral. In Tonga, if you are in anyway connected to the family, you attend the funeral. Pretty much all of my work office went.
Do you like my mat? (Its not really mine… thanks to Evelyn for lending it.) It’s actually called a taʻovala, a mat tied around the waist with a rope called a Kafa. They’re worn by men and women, at all formal occasions like weddings and meetings. A lot of men wear them to work everyday (like my hubby) but in a much smaller version.
This mat got very itchy and hot, especially as my work friends tied it extremely tight. I passed out for a few seconds in the middle of what I thought was the eulogy but turned out to just be a super long prayer, so no one noticed.
There was no exact time for the funeral because the funeral is made up of a series of small ceremonies before the burial. I think anyway. The whole day was in Tongan.
We turned up at 11am and had to wait outside for ages.
Then we were ushered into a room where three men were sitting cross legged on the ground, to whom we presented gifts and other woven mats. Then there was a discussion between the speaker for our group and the men, which I think was our group explaining who we are and why we were at the funeral, and the men accepting our gifts and our presence.
Outside again, with more waiting.
When it was our turn to have the service, we went inside the chapel and a short service commenced. After the service, everyone lines up to view the deceased and kiss the body. I declined to kiss the body of a deceased person I had never met. That was going a little bit far for me.
Then we waited outside some more.
When it was indicated that it was our turn to eat, we all sat down at long tables and were served food the family had prepared. (Which had been sitting outside in the sun for many hours… not good for my food poisoning prone stomach). The food is not the same as a wake, its not for people to bring food for the family to offer comfort. In Tonga, the family has to feed the people who come to the funeral.
And then we had the rest of the day off work. So I went swimming at the wharf.
Two of my work friends and I in our funeral attire; Tivinia is on the left and Mele is on the right.