The main reason I wanted to get my voice back was because of Saturday night. Christina had told us that Cia had arranged for a welcome feast for us! We would be able to meet the family – and in Kosraean terms, that meant the whole family. Christina also told us the food would be yuc na pwacye (delicious).
We were told to be there by about 6, and we got there shortly afterwards. This was one of the few occasions that I made sure I conformed to all Kosraean dress norms, making sure that I wore a skirt that fell below my knees and a top that covered my shoulders (I had not yet been able to find an appropriate Kosraean skirt of my own).
We recognized the immediate family (of course), but then were introduced to more. And more. And more again. Soon after, Aliksa announced that it was time to eat. He asked Morgan, Cia’s dad, to say grace. Afterward, as the honoured guests, Roy and I were allowed to go first, followed by Christina.
There was a lot of food.
And more food.
And more food!
If you’re wondering, yes, that’s fah fah on the right of the last picture. Cia’s father Morgan, being the “senior” ranking man in the family, had the privilege of making the fah fah for the feast.
After Roy, Christina and I got our food, then all the men served themselves, and finally the women and children. It is traditional in Kosrae to take your shoes off before entering a home.
We ate outside, which is standard in Kosrae. Really, not much happens inside. The food was served there, but almost all was prepared outside in the cookhouse. There is a fridge and a stove in the house, but due to the prohibitive cost of power only the fridge is used regularly. We ate outside because – well, there isn’t a table inside. Most Kosraean homes that we saw had very little furniture. The Sigrahs’ home had two couches, a TV stand (with TV), and a desk. There was a dresser/armoire in Christina’s room with a mattress and box spring, and another bedroom had a mattress only. All other rooms were bare, and most everyone sleeps on the floor. The Sigrahs had a tent set up in front of the house that covered the table and many chairs, and that is the social hub of the house.
The food – the food was wonderful. Sukiyaki and crab and ribs and chicken and and and…..plus they made sure to have some green tangerines for us because they had heard we really liked them (and insisted we take the rest home). The plate of watermelon? For me because they’d heard that I’d devoured the watermelon after the Mt. Oma hike. This is a good example of the “coconut wireless” on Kosrae – word just gets around about who you are and what you’re doing.
But what really made the evening special came after dinner. Once we had finished eating, Aliksa announced that it was time for Remarks. I didn’t know what Remarks were, but based on the seriousness that everyone got quite, I figured that there were very important indeed.
Aliksa then formally introduced Cia’s father, Morgan, to us again (we’d met Morgan several times by now), and said that he would officially welcome us to the island.
Morgan then spoke for several minutes. He started by thanking us for coming to Kosrae, to see our daughter and to see Kosrae. He thanked us for coming and for giving the family a reason to get together. He explained that the last time the family had gathered together had been for a sad reason – two months ago, Cia’s and Aliksa’s five year old daughter, Alicia, had suddenly passed away – and he thanked us for coming to Kosrae so we could give the family a reason to get together for a happy reason. He talked about how happy he was that we could share in Christina’s life there, and that he hoped we would see many wonderful things in Kosrae and have a wonderful vacation there.
Then Morgan introduced Cia’s side of the family – we met Kino, our tour guide from Mt. Oma again, as well as the nurse from the hospital who I had seen that morning, as well as many, many others. We shook hands and greeted each one, but the elders in particular we made the effort to get to them, shake them with both hands and say, “Kulo ma la lap”. (Thank you very much.) Most of them didn’t speak English, but I think in particular the older women at least appreciated the effort. Here’s a picture I took of the two matriarchs I took later in the evening.
(We found out from Aliksa as he was giving us a ride home that night that he’s a direct descendant of the last king of Kosrae – a great-great-grandson, I think.)
After Morgan finished, it was Aliksa’s dad’s turn – Tatsuo. Tatsuo didn’t speak much English, but formally indicated that his eldest son would speak for him. The eldest son re-iterated all the things that Morgan had said, and then introduced all the members of Aliksa’s side of the family.
There was a bit of silence, while everyone looked at us. Or more precisely, everyone looked at Roy. It became clear that Roy was expected to make some Remarks as well. And just like that, he stood up and made some. He thanked the family for welcoming us with such a wonderful feast. He thanked them for welcoming Christina into their home and their lives. He told them what a beautiful island Kosrae was and how there were so many things the US could learn from the way of life there. He told them that he felt we were all blessed by being at such a gathering with such wonderful warm people. All the while, Roy got smiles and nods, so I think he said all the right things.
Then – and then – they sang for us. The whole family. Morgan told them what song, and they sang for us. They sang us welcoming songs and friendship songs and traditional songs. All in five part harmony. I don’t think I will ever forget the harmony.
The only part that was not traditional was when they finished singing, I asked if they would all pose together for a picture so I could always remember the night.
They did, and I will.