Friday, March 18, 2011

Did I ever tell you about the time...

...I joined the Mormons in a waltz and it made me famous?

Every year, the Mormon women groups in Tonga organize a dance show. Each church prepares its own dance, and then they all come together to perform. Last year, we square danced. This year, we waltzed.

The Mormon women in Ha’ano worked to pair up people who wanted to join. Pairing up partners was an event in itself. Tongan culture forbids people who are blood-related, even very, very distantly, from dancing together (and watching movies together, and sleeping in the same house, and so on), so there was a lot of shuffling around to find appropriate partners. We ended up with 8 pairs of people – 12 Mormons and 4 others who wanted to join (like me) or were obligated to join because they needed more guys.

A woman in the village did the choreography, and a couple of youths learned the dance to teach the rest of us. We practiced almost every night for two weeks. It wasn’t a waltz like those in the days of yore, but rather a kind of shuffle with some twirls, some Tongan moves, and lots of curtseying/bowing.

Our outfits were exceptional. The men were to wear black suits with ties and shoes. Most men don’t own any part of a suit besides a white shirt, so, after borrowing around, they were appropriately dressed, but with shoes that didn’t fit and ties emblazoned with the seal of another church.

The women were to wear yellow satin, floor-length gowns. I don’t know how Tonga ended up with so much yellow satin (some factory in China probably just sent all the leftovers to Tonga, and that was the only fabric in the Tongan stores for 6 months), but a handful of women in the village whipped out the eight dresses in a couple of days.

The show was on Thursday night, so we went to town after my morning classes. We took two boats, filled with bedding, food, and clothes for one night in town. It was very sunny, and since Tongans do everything possible to avoid the sun, I saw Tongans with baby clothes, leaves, and cardboard boxes on their heads.

There’s a house in town for people who come from Ha’ano and need a place to sleep. It’s a simple house: one room, tin walls and roof, no electricity. That’s where the women slept. But since related people can’t sleep in the same place, the men had to sleep in the kitchen, a separate house.

We ate a feast right before we got ready for the show. Roasted pig, fried chicken, chop suey, sweet potatoes, yam, breadfruit, lu, corned beef, custard pie. Exactly what I want to eat before dancing.

At the show, there were probably about 400 people from 10 different Mormon churches all around Ha’apai. There were different kinds of Tongan dances, a “Hawaiian” dance (did you know Hawaiians dance with pom-poms?), and our waltz.

As we walked out onto the tennis court stage to perform, people cheered for friends, but I heard a lot of “Malie Pele!” or “Go Pele!” I didn’t know many of these people who were in the audience, but word spreads fast when a palangi is doing something with Tongans.

Soon, pretty much everyone there knew who the white girl was. After the dance, everyone was calling me by name, asking me if I am dating my dance partner and when we are going to get married.

The next few days in town, everyone I saw would tell me how great my dancing was and if I had a boyfriend. If someone didn’t know my name, my job, my village, someone near us would jump in the conversation to tell my story.

It was a fun, and funny, experience. And, as pictures are worth a thousand words, I’m trying to get them uploaded.

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