Crash course: family fun, culture and dating

I thought killing a pig was an unparalleled event, but here is an activity the whole family can enjoy: pig castration. A pig is tied tightly around the waist with a rope as the forty or so other pigs my host family owns scream at the animal, even biting it almost cannibalistically. The entire family—Kelepi the father, Una the mother, Gunisi the 10-yr-old, Suli the 7-yr-old and Laveni the 3-yr-old—all come outside to see what they can find to throw at the shrieking napping pigs, whether it be coconuts, sticks, rocks, laundry, or parts of an old car battery. Finally, when enough pigs have scattered and before more can return to biting the tied up pig, Kelepi picks the animal up and carries it by the snout as Una holds its back legs, bringing it outside the fenced area. Kelepi stands on the pig’s head, and Una, Suli and Gunisi stand on their respective legs so Kelepi can cut out the testicles with one of the few precious kitchen knives, slicing small slits and squeezing until each pops out. He generously feeds both to the dogs as Laveni continues to throw rocks. And when the procedure is done, Una and Kelepi carry the little boy back to the pen to join its fellow piggies. Turns out castrating a pig allows it to grow ridiculously big, and they do. Think small donkey, or mini horse. But a pig. And the family had so much fun.

Last Saturday was culture day, the performance of the three girls dancing a traditional dance, as I sang with pretty much my whole town and then did a traditional supportive dance behind them. (The thing I said we were practicing for.) I only had to wear a necklace and skirt made of leaves outside my normal tupenu and ta’ovala, the traditional skirt and mat I must wear to all formal or working events. The girls however had to wear special dresses: one, a purple velour outfit with shells and stars marking her nipples; another, simply a mat; and the third something in between. They also had to bask themselves in baby oil, as during a Tongan dance at a big event, people in the crowd come on stage and stick money to your body as a sign of support. For a girl, if the money doesn’t stick, she is not a virgin. Luckily, all Palangis (sorry, the Tongan word for white people) are assumed to be non-virgin whores so they stick the money in their bras and skirts instead, or in my case in my shirt or skirt. The traditional way to feel like a stripper.

So a little new gossip, as Tongans love talking and the coconut wireless ensures nothing stays a secret. One of my host parents’ children stays with Kelepi’s youngest sister who works at the school where I will eventually be working on the main island. She is married to a Tongan from America, but the oldest sister in the family was previously married to the same man, a marriage that ended because she died of AIDS two years ago. And now the youngest is married to the same man, and has just had a child of her own. Make of that what you will.

The whole dating scene is ridiculous. For a place where nothing is OK—in fact a sister and brother sleeping under the same roof is one of the biggest taboos, and texting on the phone is considered dating—a lot seems to be going on. Pre-marital pregnancies up the wazoo (the most in the Pacific) and an allowable three divorces per man (more is unacceptable and illegal!). Strange.


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