During my visit to the island of Lifou, I came across a wedding. The wedding venue was huge and I was invited to eat and drink with guests in a relaxed atmosphere. As I explored the different food stalls, I met Victor, with whom I had a long exchange to understand the traditional system of marriage, which lasts 1 month!
Firstly, who is getting married?
On the island of Lifou, we have three districts. Each district has a great leader who conducts the business of the people. To help him in his task, he relies on the local heads who are responsible for the villages. In this instance, it is the wedding of a small leader in Wé, which is in the downtown district.
I’m amazed by the amount of food available, and I was told that it was sufficient for a whole month!
Indeed, the village offers 1 month of breakfasts, lunches and dinners. These meals are offered in passing to you, and also to other tribes that come with presents throughout the month.
Can you explain to me about this ceremony I attended earlier in the chiefdom (venue)?
First, it is a tribe from the region of Lexo. It has a special relationship with our village. Indeed, in ancient times one of the great leaders decided to eliminate all members of the family belonging to the head of the region of Lexo, in order to reign absolute control of the north of the small island. All family members were executed except one woman. The latter escaped and took refuge in our village. The baby she was pregnant with was protected for 20 years, then the child became man and returned to the land of his family to regain the power stolen from them. To thank our village, the tribe of Lexo cultivates a field every 20 years and gives us all the crops. The passage of this tribe is therefore a major event in this period before the wedding.
What is the ceremony like?
The reception of the tribe is a succession of dancing and singing to welcome. The highlight of the traditional ceremony is when the tribe guest gives gifts such as several meters of cloth, kilos of rice, many vegetables, and especially money and yams (sweet potatoes). The harvest of these corresponded to the period of past weddings, which runs from May to September. The amount offered by the tribe was around 8,000 Euros. This procedure is repeated for the rest of the month.
We are now one week from the wedding day. What could happen next week?
Next Friday (before marriage) is the day of the maternal uncles of the groom. They are always present on the day of the births, marriages and burials of their sisters’ sons. They bring large sums of money ranging from 4,000 to 8,000 Euros. On Saturday, the family of the bride, invites their family friends to their house for a farewell party before the bride goes onto live in the village of her groom. The bride's family receives from each guest a yam, between 10 and 20 Euros and a dress regardless of sizes, as the dresses collected could be distributed by the bride.
These are very large amounts of money raised! I guess money does not go exclusively to married!
Only if the money is not fully spent on the wedding. On the wedding day, after the Catholic or Protestant ceremony, the wedding hall will begin the celebration of marriage with more than 3,500 people, including the presence of police and a rescue service. Guests can also donate money to the family! The total sum is divided into three parts – firstly for the marriage (the lowest tier of the three), the second for the family of the bride (to thank them for educating their daughter) and the third is for guests of the bride only. We believe that the family and the entourage of the bride are crucial in the education of the girl, so a portion of the money they deserve.
And what about the husband's family?
The husband's family and their guests do not have a part in this unfortunately! It becomes a competition, with whom giving the most, since the sums are announced in public!
Does it not compromise the values of traditional marriage?
Absolutely! We are currently looking at this problem. A ceiling of gifts may be a good solution – compared with before where simple gifts of fabric and yams were commonplace.