Letters from Tahiti: Jenni's wedding

Dear Mom, I won't go into detail about the incredible amount of misinformation I got. But I finally had to call the judge of the peace directly to find out what I needed to do to marry a Tahitian. (One advantage of a small country: Higher officials unavailable in the United States are available here.)

I missed not having you at the wedding, but at least you beat the heat. January is one of the hottest months, and the day of the wedding was no exception. Poor Dad and Angelo in their suits! By contrast, the guests were all dressed coolly and casually.

Our wedding was small by Tahitian standards: 20 people. Since most of Angelo's relatives are over a hundred miles away on Raiatea (near Bora Bora), only the immediate family made the trip to Moorea, plus a few others who live nearby on Tahiti. Otherwise there would have been two to three hundred people!

Tahitian weddings traditionally last two days, and the law allows for two days off from work with pay to get married. The first day is for family and friends, and the food is non-Tahitian for those palates that aren't used to it. The second day is for the family only, and is a Tahitian feast. We had roast pig, raw fish, taro, breadfruit, po'e, plantains.

In French Polynesia you have to be married at the mayor's for it to be legal. Then you can have a religious ceremony afterward if you wish. The civil wedding consisted of the mayor's reading us the marriage laws in French and Tahitian, and signing certificates. Before leaving, he gave us our Family Booklet, which contains our marriage certificate as well as blank birth certificates for 15 children! From there, we went to the church. The ceremony is the same as in English, but since French is the native tongue of neither of us, we took the coward's way out on the vows. Instead of repeating them after the minister, he read them to us, and we had to promise to fulfill them.

The reception was at a sister's. The decorations were Tahitian-style: a temporary covered terrace added onto the side of the house in case it rained (it didn't); posts wrapped in coconut tree leaves with flowers inserted into them; fronds hanging from the makeshift ceiling; flowers and greenery everywhere!

We were welcomed with flower garlands and leis, along with a speech. Since that was in Tahitian, I understood very little, but I did frequently catch the words ``welcome, you two.''

After only half an hour of standing and greeting and talking to guests, I had to sit down. My shoes were unbearable! I've gotten so used to my thongs.

There won't be any pictures of us feeding each other wedding cake. They don't do that, nor do they follow most of our other little traditions. No tossing the bouquet (I did have one), no garter, no superstitions about seeing the bride before the ceremony, etc.

Later, our Tahitian marriage name was announced. Usually the family picks the name of an ancestor, but we picked one from the Bible, which is always acceptable. And the name must be one no one else has, as this would be our new identity. Though we had known in advance what it would be, we weren't allowed to discuss it with nonfamily members beforehand.

Angelo's mother spoke in Tahitian, and a brother-in-law who knows some English translated for Dad and me. The gist was that Timeona (Simeon) was our new name, and we are no longer Angelo and Jenni, but Timeona Tane (man) and Timeona Vahine (woman).

Singing followed, to the accompaniment of guitar and banjo. Since I didn't know any of the words, I joined others who had put two spoons in an empty bottle, and tapped to the beat.

The major event the second day was the selection of the Tahitian names for our first male and female children. (Did I ever tell you that Angelo's is Kaina? No one in his family, and no one who knows him from Raiatea, calls him Angelo. They call him Kaina.) Our choices: Tihoni-Viriamu, or John-William, for John Williams the missionary who brought Christianity to Tahiti. He's popular. And Heinanui, no translation, for the first girl.

Feasting, storytelling, singing, spoon-tapping, and dancing followed, until the last guests left to catch the last boat home. The next day the flowers and temporary terrace were all gone. But we'll have the pictures in a couple of days, and relive the whole thing all over again! I'll send you copies.


Timeona Vahine

Tomorrow: Jenni writes about life in the Society Islands.

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