Friday, May 2, 2008

Do you know what the cow is for?

Some how I doubt that this is a question teachers in the States have to ask their students.

I am sitting under a tree outside my school. With me is Year 11.1. They are supposed to be having computer studies class right now, but their teacher didn't come to school today. When I walked into the room they all asked in desperation if there was a test. Apparently that had been on the lesson plan, but I had no test to give them. I also had no computer lab to take them to. Visinia was teaching 12.1 upstairs in the lab I usually use and Emere had taken the key to the downstairs lab with him last night. Since he wasn't at school today, I couldn't get into that lab.

I decided to give the students a free study period, but it was just too hot in their classroom. So that is why I am sitting under a tree outside my school with a group of Year 11.1 students when I have to ask a student, "Do you know what the cow is for?"

Sometime just before we gathered under the tree someone had deposited what looks to be an entire cow outside my school. It had already been butchered a little, there was no longer any hide on it. Several of the boys from my Year 13 classes are hacking away at this cow with machetes, chopping it into smaller pieces (pieces that are still pretty darn large, let me tell you). This is hot work and they are dripping in sweat as they hack away at the cow and then haul away large chunks to the back of a pick-up truck.

There was just an announcement during interval about all the things my school is providing for the rugby tour ($22,000 tala, fine mats, coolers of fish and food from the umu [though how they fly all this food to Australia is a question I must ponder another day]), so I am assuming this is somehow rugby tour related.

The students tell me the cow is from Savai'i. We have several students and teachers from our sister school in Savai'i staying at our school this week because they are part of the rugby tour. I wonder if these guys from Savai'i have brought the cow.

After much confusion I discover that I am way off base. The cow is from Sekaio's mom's funeral. The pule's secretary is Sekaio. His mother died and the funeral was today in Savai'i. The teachers at my school all chipped in $30 tala to buy a fine mat to send for the funeral. But in typical fa'alavelave fashion I think we got back more than we sent.

Am I getting ahead of myself here? Let me stop and do some explaining.

Fa'alavelave [fah-ah-lah-vey-lah-vey] is the word used for any major life event, but usually means a funeral in my experience. When there is a funeral people send all sorts of gifts (also called, fa'alavelave). They send fine mats and canned fish and money and cooked pigs and whatnot. When the fa'alavelave ends the head of the family divides up the gifts among the family and guests according to complex rules and hierarchies.

So that is how my school sent a fine mat to Sekaio's mom's funeral and in return there is a cow being butchered by students in the school yard.

Like I said, probably not something likely to happen to a teacher in the States.

— Sara

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