2012, 09-12 End of the road, Pangia Tonga
In our travels there is a big difference between our time spent in big cities compared to that we spend in small villages. In cities everything blends together and the bits of culture become lost in the big picture but in the small towns it becomes easier to spot the differences and then easier to put them into a context we can understand. This clears the way to really see the culture behind the difference we observe which both bill and I find amazingly interesting. What is the point of traveling if you are not on the look out for the things that are truly different. It puts our own lives into context and open the door to unlimited possibilities. We do the things we do because that's the way we do things but there are other ways to do them that are just as valid.
Take burial for instance. Cemeteries have always fascinated us. In fact I have always been fascinated walking around through the headstones reading tiny snippets of other peoples lives. In Alaska we were amazed to find a cemetery in the village of Hoona where a huge proportion of the people buried there were well over a hundred years old when they died. Mexico had interesting roadside memorials and also the family plots that were taken care of by groups of family members on certain days of the year. Then too of course is the famous Day of the Dead celebration and the resulting art form of skeleton masks and figurines that are now famously collected.
French Polynesia showed us above ground crypts situated conveniently in front yards. Grandma and Grandpa remain important members of the family even after their passing. It is not unusual to see someone taking a nap on top of a crypt or the weeks washing laid out to dry across the smooth marble or concrete covers. Some families build large shade covers over massed group graves and we always wonder about real estate resale values if mom and dad are interred in the front yard. There are often elaborate marble headstones engraved with names and dates along with dates of military service. Scripture and poems are always popular and many have a built in vase for fresh or plastic flowers. Pictures were very popular in French Polynesia and in Samoa. Many had elaborate framed pictures of the deceased in their prime and some had a laser picture engraved into the marble.
In the town of Pangia in Tonga we noticed something we had never seen before. First, instead of the normal rectangle crypt shapes that usually fill the cemeteries Pangia had simple mounds of coral gravel over each body. The graves were not permanently marked with a headstone nor with planted signs of any kind indicating names or dates. Most had plastic flowers profusely "growing" out of the coral piles. But most interestingly off all were the quilts we saw there. Not all but many of the graves had a bed quilt left with the grave.
Some were left laying across the top of the grave and some had large wooden frames at their head with the quilt stretched across them. I was not able to question anyone in town about this -with my limited Tongan it seemed too intrusive a question. I did ask an Aussie woman who has lived here for many years but she had no answer for me. Are the quilts memorial quilts made for the occasion of death or are they the actual bed quilts removed for some symbolic purpose? In a society where so many have so little why would they give up such an item? Of those I saw some where obviously works of quilt art but others looked to be store bought with ruffles and printed flowers. Would a family buy a new quilt or take the time to make a new one piece by piece? Interesting.........I hate having questions like these left open and will ask if the opportunity ever arises. You'll be the next to know. Kat
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