Opinion Column

A burial and a baby 0

Dave Goulet

As I reported last week, I am in Samoa visiting my wife's family.

Today we attended a big ceremony to re-inter the remains of her grandfather, Anitelea, on the family's new land. The new tomb sits adjacent to an uncle's house.

Re-interment is a very solemn occasion for Samoans, both religiously and culturally. For the week leading up to the ceremony, the heads of the extended family met daily to discuss procedures, protocols and the menu for the day (a very important aspect of any Samoan event). There seemed to be more argument over the food budget than anything else.

The other concern was the design of the family uniforms. Yes, everyone had a specially tailored dress or shirt made for the occasion. Everyone except me, as I felt it an unnecessary expense to make a Don Cherry aloha shirt for just one use (I assure you, I would not be able to walk around in Toronto with the design chosen - well, maybe the Pride parade.)

The new tomb was made with cement - simple but elegant. This contrasted with the more elaborate ceremony. It began a day earlier with the digging up of Grandpa's remains from the old grave. The bones were carefully washed in holy water.

Why holy water? Because Samoans are very superstitious about ghosts and the displeased spirits of their ancestors. No one wanted to take any chances on offending Grandpa and inciting his spirit to haunt them. Some of the gathered clan were so frightened of ghostly contamination they refused to come within 10 yards of the bones. I was tempted to make a joke about "excellent soup bones" but as not everyone shares the sense of humour of undertakers' sons, I bit my tongue.

The official mass of reburial started at 9 a.m. - 10 a.m. Samoan time as two of the priests got lost trying to find the venue.

In addition to the mass, there were special presentations made of fine mats (woven from palm leaves), roast pigs and cold hard cash (a nod to modernization). These gifts were given from family to guests with much flourish and colourful speeches.

A feast was served for the 100 or so guests, with everyone getting their fill of pork, taro, lobster and ice cream. Samoan heaven.

It was a nice event for my kids to attend as it is a part of their heritage. They'll certainly remember the heat. We all sweated so much we could have rented ourselves out afterwards as salt blocks for cattle. It was so hot and muggy, I actually envied Grandpa Anitelea getting lowered into that cool, cool tomb.

I fared a little better at the other event attended the past week, which was the final vows ceremony of a Samoan nun. Though she has worked and lived with the Daughters of St. Paul in the U.S. for many years, she chose to profess her vows back in Samoa.

This service, mercifully, was held at sundown at a shrine atop a high hill that overlooks the ocean. It's called the Shrine of the Three Hearts (Jesus, Mary and Joseph).

It was built just a few years ago and I'd heard rumblings that it cost more than the indebted Archdiocese could afford.

I have to confess that it is a spectacular shrine, with terraced grounds and a lovely open concept church at the pinnacle. And that panoramic view of the Pacific is awe-inspiring, something a good shrine aspires to do.

The service was beautiful, particularly the singing of the nun making the vows, Sr. Faye. What an angelic set of pipes. Her two solos made your heart twang.

There was also an exuberant Samoan offertory procession with a lovely taupou (virgin) and whooping dancer escort.

After mass, you guessed it, it was time to eat. There were also more presentations (mats, pigs, cash, etc.). But for me the highlight was seeing a local celebrity. No, not a rugby star or political bigwigs, but Baby Miracle. This is a little girl who was born a year or so ago with severe facial deformities.

The doctors at the time told her parents not to feed her and to let her die. They refused as it was contrary to their faith in the dignity of life. Baby Miracle, as she was named, ended up travelling to the States for several complex surgeries.

She continues to thrive on the love showered on her by family and wellwishers.

As the little babe was wheeled past me in her stroller I felt a palpable spirit surrounding her - the only word that describes that feeling is "grace." It was so moving I got goosebumps.

Funny how I got goosebumps from a little babe, rather than a dead man's bones. There's probably something meaningful in that if I contemplate it - but I need a shower. And I think it's time to eat again.

Tally ho.