Late last week friends of ours from another Kovol village came and said “hey, we’re going to do a bride price exchange ceremony next week. Would you guys be interested in coming to see?” Of course, we were!
The village in question is a 2 to 2 1/2 hour hike away and so it was going to be a long day! We knew we were asking a lot of our children who had only been in Kovol for 2 weeks. We’ve been taking them to the nearby hamlets so they get used to hiking on the mountains and the routine of hanging out in a village. We’d been doing 20 minute hikes and an hour or so at the village. So 5 hours of hiking and a few hours of village in the middle was a big ask! The whole team was going though and so we would be able to focus on the party atmosphere of all the kids hiking and playing together.
The hiking went really well. I ended up having to carry Oscar on my back 80% of the time while Gerdine carried Alice and Rhett carried Millie. Oscar enjoyed playing with the kids, and had a little nap on my lap next to the fire when it all became a little much, and the girls had a smoky sleep in a Kovol house. We felt a little guilty putting our girls in such a smoky environment – but that’s just the norm here. At least it’s just the once and it’s not all day every day from birth as it is for people who live here!
So, to the exchange ceremony (or pengam). From what I understood (and I stand to be corrected here) there isn’t a big ceremony for the actual wedding day of a couple. The groom’s family though have a debt to pay to the bride’s family for her. When the couple’s kids are small they start to think about the pengam and they raise a pig for it. When the kids are big (3-4) it’s time to pay the bride price because the bride has shown her worth by being a fruitful mother (and hasn’t run off with any handsome strangers).
The groom’s family then arrange a gift for the bride’s family to “pay them back for being pooed and weed on” (as in the hard work of raising the bride from birth). Those were the words used to explain the payment to me! The pig is included in the payment along with other food, tobacco, beetlenut, town goods and money. The bride’s family also give a gift. I couldn’t keep track of the amounts to figure out who gave more, but with the bulk of the gifts being edible (and perishable) the big idea seemed to be to just throw a party to celebrate the successful marriage.
Then of course it’s time to kill the pigs. As soon as we saw the posts coming to tie up the pigs we knew what was coming. We didn’t quite prepare Oscar for the brutality of what happened next though! The idea is pretty humane, you shoot the pig in the heart with an arrow. Unfortunately for both piggies the arrow hit their ribs and didn’t get their heart, meaning the backup was employed – being whacked in the head repeatedly with a stick. These pigs stubbornly clung to life and ended up being smashed in the head upwards of 20 times… We should have guessed Oscar would find it a bit frightening.
With the pigs dead (or you know, breathing shallowly) it was time for the exchange. Speeches along the lines of “We’re all happy here, no one should say anything bad about this marriage” (my best guess from the snatches I understood), and then it was feasting time.
The pigs need butchering first of course, but I’ll spare you the pictures. The first course is hunks of meat that get passed inside to be roasted on the fire. Fresh 🙂
The second course is meat cooked inside a bamboo.
The third course is meat cooked in a soup.
Eating meat together is the way to display that everyone is in harmony. Very importantly for a big event like this there needs to be enough meat for everyone to take some home afterwards, and so we went home with hunks of meat each.
Long days like this are the building blocks of our language learning strategy. Armed with photos and recordings we can fill the next week(s) learning all about the pengam. First of all for me is printing out a series of photos of each step of the event. I can then get a phrase that explains what’s happening in each picture, which also gets recorded. I then learn to ‘tell the story’ using those phrases learning new vocabulary and verbs along the way.
Getting short recordings of people explaining the event comes next where the work learning the vocabulary for the photo book gives the keys to understanding at least a bit of what’s said. That all gets archived for later when my language skills are better and I carry on “telling the story” with the photo book to practise using the language I gathered.
The obvious question then is when is it time for our own pengam? It’s time for me to raise my own pig so that when it’s big and fat I can invite my brother-in-law and other in-laws to come and watch me club it to death to celebrate 😀