On Sat. Mar. 16, we had our first real experience of the culture of Kiribati, the Relief Society birthday celebration. Believe it or not the sisters here have a so called RS uniform, yellow tibuta (sibuta) or top, and a blue skirt, so it was a sea of yellow looking in the chapel at the stake center.
We first had a spiritual meeting sharing the history of RS, and then some testimonies, but it was all in Kiribati, so I didn’t understand a word. Elder Rasmussen and I were on the stand as new missionaries, and finally one of the brethren sitting behind me leaned forward and translated part of the last talk. At least the songs are sung in English, but that’s because the hymn book hasn’t been translated yet. After an hour meeting we went into the maneaba, which is an open air cultural hall, for dancing and eating. It was two stakes combined so we had fourteen wards and each was assigned to do a dance. When we went in there were some chairs set up at one end where the food was where they had all of the men and women guests sit. Elder Rasmussen ended up front and center next to the Minister of Education, a lady who is a member of the church. She is currently acting as the president of the country, because the president is out of town. At first I sat on the floor with the sisters from our ward, but I didn’t last long. Sitting cross legged with a grass skirt on doesn’t work for me yet, so I joined the women guests in the chairs. Thankfully we were the fourth group to dance and could remove the grass skirt.
While a group is dancing it is customary for a couple of ladies to walk through the group and them with perfume and put baby powder on their feet signifying they are doing a great job. I don’t know how good I was but I did get sprayed and my feet powdered. I think it’s really to cut down on all the body odor from that many people sweating. At noon they took a break and let all of the men and guests eat. When I looked at the food, I made a quick survey as to what I dared eat. I did eat a chicken leg, rice, squash, banana, cherry tomato, and a piece of Sister Shaw’s cake. I stayed away from what looked like an octopus tentacle and the raw fish and other items I couldn’t identify. It was plenty to fill me up.
The dancing continued. After about four dances, the dancers that just performed would grab the men and guests to dance for five or so minutes. The event did not end till 3:30 and then the women and children sitting on the floor around the maneaba were allowed to eat sitting on the floor where they were. Interesting tradition. I appreciate the respect they have for the men and guests, but making the women and children wait that long…… I think I’d be asking about women’s rights. But it’s their culture and who am I to interfere. Elder Rasmussen ended up dancing a lot, once with just him and the Minister of Education. When we left the eating and dancing continued. That truly is their only form of entertainment on the island.
I can’t remember ever being so tired, hot and sweaty. While we were performing, the sweat was rolling down my face, and burning my eyes because of the salt. I went for several hours without going to the bathroom. I think I just sweated it all out.