I woke up early that morning to music blasting! I was so overcome with annoyance that I almost forgot what day it was. It was the day of my traditional engagement. A traditional Tongan engagement is called a fakama’u and includes the immediate and extended families of both the woman and suitor. My fakama’u was combined with the fakalēlea and blessing, another traditional part of the Tongan wedding ceremony, before our wedding in New Zealand.
Still in bed, I turned and looked out my window at the tops of the mei (breadfruit) trees swaying in the breeze. Reality slowly crept in as I realized that these were my last days as Miss Tuita and that I’d soon become Mrs. Filipe. A surge of emotion rose up from my chest into my throat as I remembered all the people I wished were there with me. My vision went blurry as my eyes welled up with tears. I felt them running down my face in a steady hot stream. I was thinking of my great aunt Palu Vava’u Cousins who had passed away a few months before. She had raised me since I was born and was a second mother to me. I felt like a child yearning for her mother. I imagined what she would have been doing if she were still alive and here by my side. She would have my clothes ironed and ready, lying on the bed. We were known for our funny quarrels and this morning wouldn’t have been any different. If she was here, we would be fighting over all sorts of things she’d want me to do. “But she’s not here!” A wave of nostalgic tears emerged with that whispering thought as I turned onto my other side facing the electric fan by my bed and letting the cool air console me. “Snap out of it Freddie” I told myself as I jumped out of bed to get ready for my day; which started with my hair appointment.
I made sure to wear a top that I could easily change out of after my hair was done. I rushed downstairs and met my cousin by the van. I quickly greeted everyone as I hopped into the van to drive to the hair salon. I was purposely trying to avoid all my relatives who wanted time with me. II felt very emotional that day and didn’t want to set everyone off in a fit of tears. My short walk from the front door to the vehicle had all the women outside jump up and dancing. I felt underdressed in my long top and leggings and this added to the swiftness of my departure. My hair took a little over an hour to style but it turned out more beautiful than I could have imagined I turned to the hair stylist, Baby Blue, and asked how much it would cost me. She looked at her masterpiece on my head and with a proud smile on her face she said it was her engagement gift to me. I gave her a big hug and kept waving at her while I walked out of the salon. My cousin and I drove back to finish getting dressed. I returned home to a multitude of women and all my young cousins sitting all over the verandah and outside on the grass, they jumped up and started to yell and dance as I approached the house. “I can’t believe this is for me,” I thought to myself.
I was always so used to being part of the group that celebrated someone else’s day. I was usually the one sitting with all the cousins and the women sipping on wine and whipping everyone up into a frenzy when I’d jump up and dance spontaneously. I felt my face go hot with embarrassment as I left the vehicle to rush into the house. The women were already running up to me and rolling around at my feet in happy madness. As the third daughter, I didn’t expect anything grand for any of the celebrations I’ve had in my life and this turned out to be more than I ever would have dreamed for myself.
I climbed the steps of our home to find my two sisters, the Hon. Fanetupouvava’u and the Hon. Halaevalu Moheofo, dressed and ready. I felt calm and relief wash over me when I saw them and we started to chat about what was happening. Our mother had prepared all our dresses, we were to wear the same style dresses in different colours; mine was orange. After I was dressed I walked out of my room wondering where everyone had gone. I found my youngest sister Moheofo sitting there watching TV. I looked at her small frame and thought to myself what it will be like when she has her big day. I promised myself in that moment that I’d be there for her like she was there for me.
She was alerted to my presence by one of the house girls sitting on the stairs watching tv with her. I stood there in bewilderment as she quickly got up and told me what instructions mum had left with her as she ushered me downstairs. She was to wait for me until I finished getting dressed then she was to take me downstairs to where our aunts were and they would tie on the traditional Kie (a specific type of Tongan mat) I’d wear. When we reached the dining room we turned the corner to find our older sister the Hon. Fanetupouvava’u standing there peeping out the window glowing with the beauty of motherhood; she was carrying with her 3rd child who I already felt a close connection to as a fellow “number 3” child myself. She turned to us rubbing her belly and said “gosh it’s hot! Anyways, all the aunties are waiting for you just outside to put on your mat.” Moheofo and I continued on our journey to where the aunts were.
I walked outside the dining room to find my mother’s first cousins and my father’s female cousins sitting and standing around a giant fine mat that was laid out on a table. This mat was a fine mat, or Kie Hingoa. My aunts guided me to the middle of the room where they all carefully held different parts of the Kie Hingoa to tie on me. My mother came to check on the progress of things and told me that her father King Tupou IV was the last person to wear the Kie Hingoa I was wearing. I felt humbled and wondered what I had done to deserve this honour. I forced myself to overcome the emotions I felt at that moment and turned to my father’s cousin Litia Petelo, and asked her why mum had me wear such a special mat, “Could I not have worn the other ta’ovalas (waist mats) that I was accustomed to wearing?” Litia turned to me and said in Tongan “Neongo pe ko e fika tolu koe, ka ko e ‘alo koe ‘o Pilolevu. Ko e toe ‘ai ke tui ‘e hai?” which means “Although you are the third child, you are still Pilolevu’s daughter! Who else can be more worthy of wearing this mat?” And with that, a burst of laughter rang out from all the aunts as I rolled my eyes. She had used my question to make a statement. My mother knew that I was marrying for love; having me wear one of the most prized family heirlooms and organizing this grand engagement illustrated her approval of Johnny and showed that she
and my family would treat our engagement with no less care than if I had married a noble’s son.