Saturday, 9 April 2016

Reflections on the Inauguration of the Ulu, Head of Tokelau.

For the first month of our time in Fakaofo, the village were all busily occupied getting ready for the General Fono where the Tokelau head of Government would be inaugurated. The big day arrived when we'd been here exactly a month.
8th March 2016 - We got up at 6am, got everyone ready (it was pouring, so glad I had brought the uniforms in the night before off the washing line.) Headed off to catch the 7:30am Boat over to Fale, very full boat excited children, lots of familiar hand games going on (Lisa the warrior, Samaria Maria). Lots of people were sitting on each other’s knees as it was so full, so we rearranged our crew and moved over so there was a spare seat next to me (Chrissie) however no one felt brave enough to sit next to the palagi woman….as the seat became glaringly obviously empty and people continued to be piled on each other and squeezed in, I felt the shame/embarrassment rising in my cheeks, I know it wasn’t personal, we are still very new here, but it was an uncomfortable space.  We arrived at Fale and gathered with the other school children and teachers (Who all looked amazing in beautiful Puletasi and shirts made especially for the occasion) The school kids then walked up to the flag pole to have a practice, so Matt and I went and stood with others waiting for the day to begin. Rainy went with Meli, which was really great for him, didn’t know if he would go with the school kids or not. Somehow in the course of the day he lost his jandles ahh well.
School kids just off the boat at Fale
The school was ushered into the Fale Fono and stood waiting as the dignitaries arrived via golf cartsJ
While we were waiting near the back of the crowd, I spotted Paula, who had hosted us so generously in Samoa, it was lovely to say hello briefly. All the special guests started to arrive and were taken to their seats at the front of the Fale Fono, everyone dressed in red and white (colours we were told to wear) were suddenly directed to go and line up behind the school inside the Fale Fono, feeling uncertain, Matt and I went where we were told, following the others, women on one side and men the other, I sat quickly without thinking and realised I was right on the end of a line straight in front of the special guests, the Taupulega, Ulu (Tokelau head of Government) and Pulinuku (Mayor of Fakaofo), but I was at the back of the group which was facing to the flag pole at the side so that was a relief, we stood with the school and started to sing the national anthem (A beautiful song) as the Police raised the flag.
Seated in Fale Fono for ceremony-spot me at centre front-Red flower in my hair!
The school sounded lovely and I was proud of my kids. As we sat the group turned to the left, which meant now I was in the very front row of village women facing all the dignitaries and special guests….how did this happen, could I somehow move, I felt very conspicuous and totally in the wrong place. The ceremony started with a lovely prayer and them a sermon on the leadership of Joshua (a small part was in English) which was really moving. Then the choir (which I was in the front row of!!!) stood and the music started, thankfully a word sheet was handed out to everyone, so I did my best to follow along and get the Tokelauan right…It was a beautiful song and the village sung it so well, (I felt terrible as they had practiced hard and here was a stupid palagi women right up the front with no clue what she was doing). If the ground could have swallowed me right then it would have been great! Friends who have lived cross culturally all had said don’t worry you’ll make some cultural faux pas  along the way it’s all part of being a foreigner, making mistakes…but I just hadn’t thought it would happen so soon or in such a large group setting!! We sat cross legged for the rest of the formalities, so painful for us kiwis!! Then we moved to the side and the police came in to swear in the new Ulu. They looked amazing in their crisp white uniforms and they marched in formation to the front. (Made me remember watching my brother when He was in boys brigade marching in the colours) cool to watch. The Ulu was sworn in and the speeches then continued, thankfully, the choir left at this point to begin food preparations and get ready for the next part of the ceremony. I was so relieved to be out of the Fale Fono and now able to watch the rest of the formalities from the safety of the back of the crowd.
Ulu (Centre L) Pulenuku (centre R) and their wives. 
Rainy was still sitting with Mel’s but saw me move and came out to the back to find us; He had done very well for a 3year old kiwi kid. The rest of the school and preschool sat through many speeches and prayers as this significant day took place, it was probably 3 hrs of formalities, Tokelauan children are amazing at sitting quietly and waiting, especially in the heat. Our guys found it hard, they were hungry and thirsty and not understanding a lot of what was going on, but they felt privileged to be a part of it none the less. As the first part of the formalities was now over the children were ushered out and all given a bag of Bongo-like cheezles and chocolate milk each, they were all very happy, good to chat and stretch their legs. Drinking coconuts (Hua) were taken up to the dignitaries, Elders and special guests in a special ceremonial procession. The children came back and sat on the perimeter, while the gift giving began, this was a colourful combination of song and dance as first Nukunono (Handing over the Ulu position to Fakaofo) brought forward gifts, material, fishing nets, fans, money. Then it was Fakaofo’s turn, the performances were amazing, material, meters and meters of it, fishing nets painstakingly hand woven, money sewn into leis, beautiful hand woven mats and church fans were all brought forward and given to the new Ulu. It was a beautiful ceremony. The last two gifts were particularly special; one was an intricately carved and ornately decorated treasure box, exquisite in detail and beauty, the other a miniature vaka carved in traditional style.

Rainy by this stage had charmed, made friends with one of the young men driving the 6 persons golf cart, He had been hopped up, talked to so kindly and been given a chance to hold the steering wheel, He was stoked being the vehicle enthusiast that he is. This same young man was given instruction to bring the last two gifts (in the cart) to be presented, firstly however he passed the treasure box to Rainy and let him hold it, a very special privilege….I wish we had had our camera! After the formalities were over, the special guests went to the opening of the Mataliki the new Tokelauan boat for passage from Apia to all the Atolls, replacing the lady Naomi…so we won’t have to travel home on her-phew. I hear the new boat is lovely and we all look forward to going home on her at the end of the year.
Seniors waiting to preform

Such a beautiful performance-spot the palagi's

While this opening and tour was taking place we walked, led in song by the seniors from Tialeniu School (Mel’s and Ru included) to Te Papa – a gathering place at the edge of Fale, where a marquee had been set up for the feast. Everyone gathered and waited for the arrival of the guests. The senior school got ready for their performance and waited cross legged. The people of the village were busy in the kitchen and bringing out food to the tables. When the guests arrived and the grace had been said the seniors started their performance. They were amazing, in both song and dance, I was very proud of my two girls, fully participating and enjoying it, the guests were served then those of us observing were allowed to eat, a massive feast of lamb chops, pork, chicken, Taro, green bananas, fish, coleslaw (YUM) and potato salad, plus many others foods I don’t know the name for. We drank very sweet cold coffee or milo, and water or Tang (juice like Raro). The older children preformed the whole way through the meal (teachers too) then after everyone else had eaten, they were allowed to eat. As the guests dispersed and the tidy up began, people from the village were able to come and collect leftovers to take home, we felt very spoilt to get some chops and chicken and pork. Especially as we had not been involved in all the hard preparation work. We headed home at 4pm, tired from a full and fascinating day.
They all did so well!

Outside Te Papa watching the performance. (cold sweet coffee in my hand)


  1. Nice report "from within"!
    More pix and words about the day are here:

  2. Bless you Chrissie. I hope you have since discovered that the unoccupied seat next to you was merely a gesture of respect for you. A respect well-deserved based on your experiences and learnings with/of my people.