The Samoan baby shower is a little bit different than the typical baby shower you think of in America. It takes place after the baby is born, and is more a prayer service and ceremony to celebrate the birth of a healthy child. Everyone who wants to can come – there is no invite list, although it is typically important members of the community (usually at least one matai will show up) and close family and friends. With the exception of the matai(s) and the pastor, there are no men who come to the prayer. The father and all of the other men are in the back preparing the food for the guests. I have been to quite a few of these ceremonies, and I have only been to one in which the father was present during the prayer. When I asked my sister why the father doesn’t go, she said it is because he is so busy doing all of the chores (preparing the food, cleaning the house, etc) to prepare for the ceremony while the mom and the baby rest. It sounds like a pretty good set up to me. J
People come bearing gifts of money, items for the baby (like blankets, clothes or diapers) and laundry soap. Before you knock it, laundry soap is one of the most common gifts in Samoa – it is frequently a prize for bingo – and it is also one of the most useful things that a person can receive. When you do laundry by hand, almost every day, you can go through it pretty quickly. The pastor and his wife come to read a Bible passage (or 2 or 3, depending on who comes), give a short sermon, and say a prayer for the beginning of this new life. Even though I do not fully understand what the pastor says, I still get teary-eyed as I sit in the room full of people who have come to share their love for a new member of the community. Some things have no language barrier.
After the prayer, out comes the food. As with all other Samoan events, the food is served in a white, Styrofoam plate. Usually there is fried chicken, sausage, chicken curry, some sort of beef/veggie stir fry, and taro. After people have finished eating this, they bring out the tea and crackers or bread and butter. Everyone sits around drinking tea, talking and celebrating the baby.
This is an awesome cultural experience, no matter how well I know the family or the people at the ceremony. However, last week, my neighbor gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, whom she named Rebecca in my honor. Traditionally when a Peace Corps Volunteer is around, there will be quite a few babies named after them, if they are born during the Volunteer’s service. As this is the first baby named after me, it was the talk of the town. Everyone was mad it took so long for this to happen, but are also very excited that there will now forever be a little Rebecca running around. And let me tell you, it makes you feel pretty darn awesome to have someone named in your honor.