By Polynesian Cultural Blogger Bobby Akoi, Jr.
One of my favorite times of the year is celebrating a wedding of a couple. I’ve been to almost every ethnic wedding you can think of and had the awesome privilege of marrying some of them. But I can honestly say that there is no wedding like a Polynesian wedding. I can tell you it ain’t no piece of cake or cookie.
Tongan weddings and receptions have always intrigued me. The families seem to put all their eggs in one wedding. It’s normal to have between 5-15 people in the wedding line, and that’s just on the bride’s side. Although the weddings & receptions today have incorporated the western culture, I love how their cultural traditions still remain strong.
Traditionally, Tongan weddings comprise of a number of traditional steps or phases:
1. Friendship (fai kaume’a)
2. Dating (‘a’a)
3. Man ask for permission to get married (faitohi)
4. Celebration before the wedding (fakalelea)
5. The wedding day (ma’utohi)
Step 1: Friendship
A young man meets a girl and is interested in her. He then takes the chance to ask her honestly for her friendship and if the girl accepts, then their relationship starts.
Step 2: Dating
This is when they actually date each other. The man must always go to the girl’s home and ask permission from her parents to take her out or to enter the home. To develop their relationship, especially with the girl’s parents, this stage is critical.
Step 3: Permission to get married
At this stage they get to know each other very well and the man has to make his proposal to the girl’s dad or her uncle which is known as the ‘Ulumotu’a, the Head of the Extended family. This phase may include the gifting of food, tapa and mats to the family of the bride-to-be. If the proposal is accepted, they will decide on the date of the wedding.
Step 4: Fakalelea
Fakalelea is the celebration before the wedding. Tongan weddings generally take three days. This is done to show that everyone is truly happy for the marriage to take place. There is also a lot of dancing and exchanging of other foods and gifts between the families.
Step 5: The Wedding Day
This is the BIG DAY for the couple to be united as one. One of the many famous traditions known to Tongans is the making of tapa cloth. A wedding couple will have to wear special Tongan ta’ovala made of tapa cloth and mats. Way back in the old days when there was a wedding, most of the wedding attire were made out of tapa cloth. Every piece of tapa has its own meaning. It may be a symbol that represents the family, or something that has to do with the royal family. There’s a lot of hard work for the women in preparing for the big day. But I have never heard any of the women complain, because in the end isn’t it all worth it?
The wedding reception will include speeches, gift giving, dancing, singing, and the best part lots and lots of food to fill one’s stomach.
Oh, and did I mention the roast pig?
Or the fancy wedding cake?