Palm Sunday was a busy one. It is a big holiday on Ailuk and that means an opportunity for a gathering. Rev. "Pumpkin" Anious and Emily invited us to their church celebration. It started at 10:30. Bells are rung (actually emptied and sawed-off propane/scuba tanks that are hung from a tree and are struck with a hammer) to get people there "on time." There are three different sets of ringing – the first is the warning bell (at 10); the next is the get moving bell (10:15) and the last is the "be there" bell. (10:30) We arrived and were again given a fresh flower head wreath (Barbara) and flower lei (Michael) and escorted to the church by Anious. Luckily we weren't put in the front of the church. At these churches, the men sit on one side and the women on the other. The children usually sit up front (separated by sex). So Barbara was the only woman on the "man's side" of the aisle.
The service was all in Marshallese – with the occasional welcome and greeting to us. It seems each of the ministers/speakers made a point of speaking to us in English. There was a keyboard player and many songs during the service. It was a long affair lasting until 12:30. Then there was the special program for the day. It started with the little kids singing a few songs in a very unorganized way. It was quite funny to watch with the little ones more interested in the quarters they each held rather than in their singing. There were about 30 of them. After that, they all walked by a basket and dropped the quarters into it.
The next group was the youth group (13 to 25 year olds) and separated by sexes on stage. This group of about 20 sang some songs as well. They then walked off the stage, by the basket and each dropped in what looked like dish soap, bars of soap and other cleaning things. The youth were followed by the women's group who took to the stage (Emily included) and sang their hearts out, After a few tunes the 12 or so women walked by the basket and each dropped off a handicraft – mostly the beautiful turtles they are known for on this island.
Every so often during the program, a woman would toss out hand fulls of candy to the children who would run wild trying to get their piece of gum or candy. We saw the same thing on Liberation Day, so it must be a common ritual here.
The women were followed by the men's group – about 12 as well – spread out over the stage in a very casual, cool manner. One of their group acted as conductor and they gave us a few tunes. They left the stage and walked by the basket and Emily told me that they had donated a "pig."
The final performance was a mixed group of men, women and youth groups and sang in Marshallese "If you're happy clap your hands" and it was quite fun and animated. They walked by the basket on their exit and dropped off some cash.
This event and the various "donations" in the basket all go to support the pastor (Anious and Emily) and is quite heartfelt. You realize these people give what they can, and we were glad the pig didn't get brought in (either dead or alive!) Now it was about 2:30 and after words of prayer and thanks from Emily and Anious, the program was over. We were also invited to join the congregation for the meal that would follow. Barbara made a two cakes to donate to the festivities.
The meal, about 4 pm, had been worked on since the night before. A pig was roasted in an underground oven; men went out fishing and returned in the early morning to clean and prepare the fish; chicken were prepared and roasted in the oven; special rice and coconut milk "balls" were made (these are wrapped in intricately woven palm baskets; donuts were cooked; pans and pans of rice were cooked and a pandanus/flour concoction that is wrapped in leaves and baked in the underground oven are made. We were again seated at a place of honor at a table with Emily and Anious and served our food in beautiful traditional palm baskets. Our plates again were overloaded. The rest of the congregation, after we are served, then line up with big bowls or containers and get their food and the bowl is used to feed their family who all sit around it and dig in. A few speeches were made and Michael gave a thank you from us (translated by Emily).
We finally got back to the boat around 6 pm – it was a long day of church and socializing...but a very nice day.