Eat until you die! Kai ke mate! is a popular, joking phrase said at feasts that is somewhat similar to bon apetit.
This last Saturday, we went to the anniversary celebration of Mark's school, Hofangahau College, although we didn't eat til we died. Sometimes, too much roast pork makes us feel that way, though.
The day was centered around the noontime feast, but the real event started at 10am with a morning worship service underneath big red pavilion tents in front of the school. The guests of honour were all there, framed by braids of leaves and buckets of multicolored birds-of-paradise and bright pink waxy tropical flowers. The service was exactly the same format as any other church service, and when it was done, trucks started pulling up, laden with trays of food for the feast.
Many feasts are organized so that each family supplies a certain amount of food- in this case certain families were assigned "tables" of food, while others supplied five "trays" for each student in their family that attended the school. Prefects' families had to prepare the gift baskets for the guests of honour- large woven baskets filled with even more gourmet food- whole pigs, roast fish, and plenty of root crop.
The crowd, now four times bigger than it had been for the church service, sat down after all the food was laid out, and after the food blessing, dug in.
The hierarchy so prevalent in Tonga is especially noticeable at feasts; during the celebration, the guests of honour sat at one long table facing everyone else (think bride and groom's table at a traditional wedding) and had huge roast pig, fish soaked in coconut milk, lobster- all the most special foods at the feast. We were especially jealous of the bowls of ice cream they received after the main meal.
The rest of the tables were set up perpendicular to the head table, and the first of each table was set up with piles of food much like the guests of honour. Except, the food was just a little less special- we had roast pig, chop suey, curried noodles, and fried chicken. And, no ice cream.
Then, the farther tables, instead of being decorated and piled up with food, were bare, and each person sitting received an individual tray of food with primarily root crop and fried chicken.
There was busy silence for a while, and then the long, formulaic thank-you speeches started, thanking the guests of honour, the pastor, the principal, the head tutor, and expressing happiness at another year completed in the high school. The sound of the speeches barely masked the busy activity that was slowly clearing each table of food.
After the eating, the dancing started. At first, several older women went crazy in the middle of the "u" of tables, making up new words to the songs played by the school band, capering around, and generally drawing laughs from everyone.
At one point, I can't figure out what I was seeing, but I think one woman was rubbing cake over her face and dumping a bottle of juice over her head, to the great amusement of all.
The school band played song after song, each for a separate town on the island. Some towns dressed up some of the younger women and had them do the tau'olunga dance, and for each town's dance, the crowd ran up and tucked money into the dancers' clothing. In a sort of fundraising competition, at the end of each song, the MC would announce how much that town had earned for the school.
The final dances were the best ones; those practiced extensively by the school, and they were the most "traditional" and least impromptu. Two of Mark's students did a beautiful ta'olunga dance with heavily oiled arms and legs, and everyone ran up and stuck money to their oiled limbs.
The old joke is that if the money sticks, the girl's a virgin; an exercise in futility because the better dancer she is, more money she receives, and the less it sticks! Needless to say, only unmarried women are allowed to do the tau'olunga dance.
After the feast was officially closed by one of the guests of honour's thank you speech and prayer, everyone got out of there as fast as they could. Like every feast, as soon as the eating and show are done, there is absolutely positively no lingering. We were glad of the fact, because by this time it was cold and raining hard, so we gratefully rode back with the Hango staff.