Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Anatomy of a "lafet"

In Bislama, a "lafet" [pronounced *laugh-it] is a special meal or get-together. Aiel (Lembinwen Village, Southwest Bay, Malekula) requested that we time this month's visit to coincide with his grand-daughter's 1st birthday (traditionally, the only birthday actually celebrated in Vanuatu - I assume that stems from the high infant mortality rate that under-developed countries tend to face).

Lafets are foundational to the Vanuatu culture, and while each one (weddings, funerals, circumcisions, going away parties, first yam harvest, etc.) has its unique attributes, the common bond is sharing food together.  Here are some of the things that went into baby Lexi's (named after our Alexis) 1st birthday celebration...

1. Aiel went through the village a few weeks in advance notifying everyone of the upcoming lafet. One of the provincial counselors lives in a nearby village, and volunteered to supply a 25kg bag of rice [rice is obviously a fairly modern introduction to Vanuatu, and still isn't farmed domestically - traditionally, root crops such as yams and taro would have been the primary dish for the meal].

2. Two days before the big event, Aiel's son, Jansen, went and talked to several of his friends about going on a pig hunt.  Seven or eight of them headed out early the next morning with about a dozen dogs, and sure enough came back just after lunch with a wild pig hanging upside down from a tree limb draped between their shoulders (yes, just like in the movies). The dogs tracked and chased down the pig, tangled it up long enough for one of the boys to run over and spear it with a machete.

3. They had "gutted" the swine in the bush, and quickly got to work skinning and piecing up the meat (basically into legs, ribs and head).

4. [This part, obviously, isn't quite so culturally-rooted] The Vanuatu Police Force Representative for Southwest Bay lives in the village (monthly salary means he's fairly well-off financially) and has a deep freezer that he powers for 6-8 hours a day with a gas-powered generator. When he heard about the celebration and the pig, he had several boys carry the freezer to Aiel's house to store the meat in overnight.  

5. Aiel and Jansen had built a skeletal-structure from tree limbs and bamboo a few days prior, and several of us worked together to extend a large tarpaulin over it as a roof. 

6. The boys who helped Jansen with the pig were invited over for dinner that night (a very common way to express gratitude for a day's work).

7. Early the next day (event day) everyone grabbed a make-shift cutting board (cut down a small tree, cut the trunk into segments, and made each one somewhat flat on each side) and a knife and went to town de-boning and dicing the pig meat. The meat was later added to vegetables and water for a soup to put over rice.

8. People slowly start to trickle in, some bringing food, some decorating the shelter, some making cakes, some cutting firewood, some cutting vegetables, some tending the fire, and some cooking the rice and soup.

9. By nightfall, we were ready for a party. Aiel did most of the speaking, thanking everyone for their participation and recounting some of the events of Lexi's birth. It was very obvious that her future spiritual well-being if of the utmost interest to him, and I was proud of him for making that known.

10. After Lexi cut the cake (with a generous assist from mom), all the kids gathered around a sang happy birthday, with a second verse of "happy long-life to you."  Then, everyone lined up to shake hands with the birthday girl and give her a present - all very practical things such as dishes, soap, powder and clothing. After everyone (I would guess that there were about 100 people there) had some cake, the food was served (and by the way, everyone knows to bring their own plates and forks to a lafet).

11.  Lots of visiting, eating, and being together.  Fun was had by all (and most people took home left-overs).

[Photos below - Bringing in the pig; showing the wound; firewood; what a birthday present from grandpa!; decorations; island-style cooking; dicing the meat; cake; decorations; Lexi 1 and Lexi 2; birthday girl; washing pots and pans the next morning.]


We originally titled our blog "afta" with a plan to keep folks up to date on what is happening. Seeing that we haven't posted in over a month (getting close to two months), some must be asking "well, what happened 'afta' that last post?!?"

Our family spent the month of June in Vila. I assisted Scott Richards who came over from the States in association with his teaching of two PIBC classes.  That primarily entailed traveling out to Epau each am, and then picking up / dropping off students in Vila in the pm. We also scheduled the month in Vila because our now-Stateside teammates, Aaron and Cindy Baker, made a two week trip to Vanuatu (spending most of that time in their old home village in Tanna).

Since returning to Malekula at the first of July, we've been in "wrapping up mode." I am finishing up a series of lessons that we began as a congregation last year on the OT books, a series on Proverbs with the youth, a series on leadership with the men, and Shawnda is finishing up a series on Christian Living with the ladies. She has also been finishing up her first full year of homeschooling the kids. We made one more trip for the year down to Southwest Bay to visit the Christians there.

In between, we've been packing up, throwing away, giving away and selling things, in preparation for our upcoming five month time in the US (primarily as Visiting Missionaries at Oklahoma Christian University and visiting/reporting to supporters). Though, Lord willing, we'll be returning to Vanuatu early next year, we do feel a certain sense of loss as move on from this chapter in our lives. Living in the village for the past few years has changed us in almost every area of life, and we are very grateful for the experience. We pray that God has been glorified by our efforts, and that the lives that have been touched by the gospel will continue to grow and mature in faith and good works.

We are scheduled to return to Vila on Monday, and then head towards the States on Saturday.  We are to have a long weekend in Ripon, CA with supporters there, and then be in Denver for a week.  We are to arrive in OKC on August 13, and school starts August 26. I have my first lecture scheduled for September 4, and must admit that its a little intimidating - I've been about as far removed from academia as possible over the past several years.  The good news is, most of my speaking will entail talking about Vanuatu, which shouldn't be too much of a problem!

We are looking forward to seeing most of you this Fall, and pray God's blessings on you richly. It is our intention to keep the blog going (more frequently with more consistent internet access, hopefully!) to share our OC and travel experiences.  Tankyu tumas mo lukim yu...