By Vairella Lohia
An entry in the Cleland Award for Heritage Literature
Rakalasi is a term used by the people of Motuan villages to describe the ceremony of bringing the first born child out of a house after a long period of two to three months – a cultural practice builds and strengthens relationship the man, woman and child.
It is the man’s family who decides the date of the ceremony and what will happen. This information is shared with the woman’s family and both families prepare by raising money or committing to cook a number of dishes which will be presented on the day of the ceremony.
At the same time, elderly women from both families prepare the mother and the child to come out of the house.
The elders take the lead in these cultural practices. Traditionally, women would go to the gardens to harvest crops, including bananas, yams, tapioka, taro, fresh greens and tomatoes, while the men go hunting and fishing the day before the ceremony.
At the time of the ceremony, many wear their clan traditional bilas as a sign of their identity – the men will wear their necklace made from pigs’ tusks and the woman will wear their grass skirts.
In village settings the mother would don traditional bilas, however today it is more common to have modern garments tailored for the occasion.
As the ceremony commences the man’s family display their contributions. The women bring their cooked food, raw garden produce and a pig, while the men will present the money, though the traditional kina and toea shell money have long since been replaced with modern currency.
Now it is the turn of the woman’s family who bring their contributions of food to the exchange. They are expected to bring an equal number of prepared dishes, but it is not necessary to bring a big or garden food – this part of the ceremony is always the obligation of the paternal family.
The Rakalasi ceremony concludes once the mother and child are brought out to both families.
The cultural practice is conducted to build and strengthen good relationships between families, it gives a man status and standing in the communities, and shows the value and worth of a woman and her first born.