Updated: Aug 4, 2019
When you wake up you step outside into the garden and feel the wind and sun in your face. It’s a brand new day and peaceful morning. Sparrows are chirping, the palm leaves are dancing in the wind and the whole village is awkwardly silent. Suddenly, bells start ringing non-stop for five minutes. OH! It’s White Sunday!
This is the day that you have been waiting for. Every three to eighteen year old at the village participates. You get to show off your new little snow white dress, wear the best taovala that our adoring great grandmother made and be treated as a princess for once. There you are rushing with your pals to church humming eiki koe ofa aau as you go.
Today is a special day for all children including you. We receive gifts such as new clothing or school supplies. It is a day to acknowledge and celebrate childhood as well as the three months of being stuck in church every night practising.
You take the seat of honour which is sequinned with ngatu and kie by the old ladies. The church is heaven but the audience is terrifying. Everyone is laying their eye on you. But you hide the nerves behind your timid smile.
The first part of the ceremony starts. People are all on their feet singing and paying their respects “HU MAI ‘EIKI”. Everyone lifts their voice and sings softly till earth and heaven ring. The sound is so smooth and sweet. You can feel the spirit moving inside your heart. Everyone outside stands still until the song has finished then they rush inside. As soon as the song has finished the priest starts talking. It’s been two hours now, some of the children are falling asleep on each other’s arms. And you are just waiting there for the priest to say the “emeni.”
After this special ceremony you just can’t wait to get home. Your grandparents have prepared food in an umu at the yard of our household while your brothers are hunting our pigs and chickens roaming the streets before becoming dinner. Your favourite dishes are lu sipi, chicken, pork and yam. For dessert you will have faikakai and coconut juice. You are the first person to be served food at family meal time and it’s a pleasure.
You enjoy the delicious food which fixes your mood and makes you as happy as a child receiving a shiny trophy. It's all about the juicy taste. Someone told you once that food feeds the soul. You love its texture and crunch.
Now you’re lying there with your full tummy trying to catch your breath while waiting for the second part of the day. It’s now 4:00pm. You are heading back to church for part two of the day calling your neighbour’s friend to join you. This is the only day that the church is full of visitors, families and friends. It’s like a cinema.
The ceremony starts but you are waiting outside, shaking and thrilled to enter. It takes your voice to imbue them with the shades of deeper meaning. You step onto the stage and give it your all. Start the rapping and the clapping, start the humming and the drumming, start the snipping and the snapping, let’s give a welcome cheer. You accept the spotlight not as a blinding piece of equipment, but as a sun shining on you, bringing you to life.
Parents shed tears when the re-enactments and the creative dance become emotional and giggle when the drama is funny. Your parents are so overjoyed to see how marvellous you are.
The ceremony is over. The church is empty. It feels like it has been abandoned by people. The scent of gardenias still bursts at every corner. But you are just hanging there trying to deny the fact that today is over. There you are, walking home with a broken heart.
Now you're too fired up to go to sleep. Alone you sit at the wooden chair by the couch. It’s after midnight. A bunch of flowers stares at you and the house is still. Your legs hang lethargically and your body starts to droop but bed does not beckon because that would finally signal your day was over. Your mind drifts drowsily over the events of the day and you smile a little as you remember the special moments: the dress, the seat of honour, the food. You close your eyes and put the smile inside because you know you got through it all. White Sunday is over for another year.