“Tevutevu” By Sasha Posthuma-Grbic Matanalailai
Wedding Ceremony, tick!… Wedding Reception, tick!… That’s often where wedding proceedings stop and normal life continues… but not for us. Such was the blessing of finding the love of my life in Fiji, and we have counted our blessings ever since. It is this injection of a completely foreign, intricate and ancient culture that has filled my soul with more warmth than I ever hoped to attain. The blessing extended to all the friends and family from Australia who were able to witness the expression in its raw and rich beauty.
“Tevu”, in Fijian, literally means to “spread”. The “Tevutevu”, or “Spreading of the mats” is an ancient Fijian tradition carried out at weddings. The families of the bride and groom come together in a ceremony that symbolizes the “giving away” of the bride, to the grooms family, and the beginning of a new family group. Both Tony and I were dressed in Tapa cloth (or Masi), both of which outfits were lovingly prepared and donated by Tony’s incredible Grandmother, Mrs Maryanne Devoe who put aside part of her pension cheque each week for years to afford such high quality Masi, with a predominantly dark brown pigment that is representative of Tony’s chiefly bloodlines. Devastatingly, Granny passed away in November, and missed out on seeing us dressed up as husband and wife.
Traditionally, the mothers of both sides prepare a set of mats for their son/daughter, which are combined and spread in a very deliberate and thoughtful way by the women. Tony’s beautiful mother Aggie took on this responsibility for both Tony and myself, on behalf of my late mother Zorana Grbic. I was once told that the spreading of the mats was symbolic of our mothers “making our bed” for the last time, and it was now our duty as adults in marriage to “make our own bed” as the heads of a newly formed family group… a sentiment I have since embraced and love for is many levels of meaning.
Families from both sides also gather and donate bedding such as sheets, blankets, pillows and mosquito nets, all the things required to set up a new home as husband and wife. I was presented to Tony’s family, dressed and wrapped in Masi, with a Tabua (whales tooth) around my neck, bales of material, and drums of kerosene by my side. A Tabua is the most highly regarded and treasured item in Fijian culture, and is presented sparingly during significant ceremonies throughout life. Bales of material and kerosene were items essential for survival in past times, and still are in many villages throughout Fiji. The material is made into clothing, and kerosene is used to power stoves and lamps, to feed the family and light the home. These items act as a form of “dowry” that is later distributed at the discretion of the elders and heads of the clan.
The thought of sitting there, literally wrapped in such ancient meaningful culture, brings tears to my eyes just as much now, as it did on the day. The Fijian people live and breathe a culture that is fulfilled everyday with such admirable passion, obligation, and perseverance, and is as diverse and colourful as the fabrics they dress themselves in. The respect they have for their culture, and each other, is unlike anything I have seen and is something that I feel so grateful to now have living within our newly formed family.
Our “Kai valagi” guests (people from a land far away) jumped at the opportunity to have traditional Fijian outfits tailor made for each specific family group. Dressing up in “Kala vata” (same colour) is the tradition where families purchase meters and meters of the same “Bula” fabric and have an outfit sewn for every member of the family. It brought us both so much joy to look out at the crowd and see the smiling faces of loved ones amongst a myriad of vibrant colours, fabrics and designs… and it made the week of running to and from the fabric store and tailor all worth it.
The formal proceedings are concluded with husband and wife being undressed by a significant member of each others family. Tony’s Masi garments were removed by my cousin Anna, and mine by Tony’s sister Rosie, who both, as per tradition, then became the owners of these pieces. The Masi is then replaced with our own “Kala Vata” outfits which I had made in my mothers favourite colour, a deep,vibrant red. It was then time to relax (as only Fijians know how), and enjoy the traditional dances prepared by Tony’s family. This was followed by one last “Kana” (feast) shared with all our guests. It was at that moment that we finally sat back, took in a big deep breath and appreciated all that had taken place to bring us to this moment.
Vinaka vakalevu to our huge family and dear friends, there are no words to describe how fortunate we feel to have you in our lives. To those who were there, thank you, and to those who couldn’t be there, you were greatly missed.
We live in constant awe of what life has to offer, if you’re only willing to accept it and open yourself to it’s infinite possibilities.
Above all, vinaka vakalevu to you my husband, for showing me a whole new world and living by my side in this beautiful mess we call life.