This story is from Sunday magazine in the Sunday Star Times
White Sunday is a highlight in the calendar sartorially as well as spiritually writes Taualofa Totua. Photographer Geoffery Matautia took his camera to EFKS Magele | Sisifo in Mangere, EFKS Henderson and Manurewa Methodist Church to document the impeccable looks and what they represent.
White Sunday. Weeks of memorising lengthy bible verses and learning to project the perfect amount of gusto and volume into the Lord’s word. (If it’s not passionately overdone, do you even love Jesus?)
Days practising peses or hymns in Samoan and sometimes in English. Feeling the glare of your mum, dad, aunties, grandparents and more each time you make a mistake during White Sunday practice. Hours of planning this year’s chosen Bible story. Carefully selected to highlight key messages, where every child from the toddlers to the teenagers can take part, (excessive drama and costumes guaranteed).
Every spare moment on weekends spent in South Auckland fabric shops with mum. Searching for or sewing the most immaculate White Sunday outfit ever.
All before White Sunday itself has even commenced.
White Sunday is a celebration of all children. The occasion is held annually and is unique to a few Moana Oceania communities, including Samoa, Tonga and Tokelau. Each nation celebrates White Sunday differently.
In Samoa, the second Sunday of October is reserved for White Sunday. It is a national holiday for all - everyone gets the Monday off work and school too. Today, the tradition continues to thrive here in Aotearoa through various Samoan church communities.
Historically, Samoan culture and Christianity have overlapped since the arrival of palagi missionaries in the Pacific from the West. Lotu Tamaiti translated is Children’s Service, and was introduced to Samoa in the 19th century by the London Missionary Society. Since then, it has been observed by all Christian churches in Samoa.
What makes Samoa’s Lotu Tamaiti? As long as a child can talk, public speaking and performing are expected. It’s an event where some children thrive and transform into talented actors, gifted singers or lively comedians and others are traumatised by stage fright.
After enduring an anxiety-inducing show, standing in front of an entire congregation and performing for their parents, kids reap the rewards after the service with a decadent feed shared with their loved ones. Kids also receive special gifts and accept privileges such as being served food before their elders as the guests of honour.
As for dress, Samoan kids will never repeat their White Sunday clothes. Donning your Sunday best in a Samoan context is about representing your family and honouring God. Each year, a brand new darling outfit is crafted or bought, sometimes accessorised with red ribbon. Children can wear cultural fits - a two piece outfit named puletasi for girls and a button-up shirt paired with an ie faitaga for boys. Some parents choose more modern wear. Either works, but all children must wear white.
On White Sunday, there is so much for people to be grateful for. It is a day for families to give thanks for the children in their life and a reminder for everyone to treasure who they are.
The Asiata family
Gadiel (far right): “It's not everyday attire, you know, wearing a lavalava, wearing a puletasi, it signifies who we are as Samoans and paying homage to our parents as well that came here. It's how we were brought up.”
“This ofu is to celebrate all the kids for Jesus and celebrate everybody in the church for White Sunday.”
Jerese (on left)
“Although we wear white practically every Sunday, it's always different when it comes to White Sunday. It’s quite significant and I do it to support the kids and Sunday school teachers but there's a rule. If you're not married and don't have kids of your own, you're still going to do White Sunday.
You usually buy a new outfit each year and so for this year, I went with an old style hence the puffy sleeves. There are definitely trends that are coming back, but I bought this because it was the cheapest that I could find and the most convenient as I left it until yesterday.”
“It’s culture and tradition. I’ve been at this church for 20-odd years but have recently come back. White Sunday is good for the kids and a good opportunity for my kids to learn the language.”
“My outfit is a representation of youth. Whenever we wear white, everyone knows we are the young kids, we are the ones who learn from the older generation, like the faifeau [church minister] and spread it to the kids.”
“This is my first year being a teacher so to me it means responsibility. I came through traditional EFKS and it’s so different to how we have now, but it’s been good because those of us who have come from traditional EFKS have our own unique perspective of how it should look like.”
Rev Martin (on right) and Toreka (on left)
Rev Martin: “For me the White Sunday ofu is an expression of our culture and faith. I think the original intention, white represents purity, the purity of children. And that's what it means to me.”
Toreka: “It's our Sunday best. It’s our way of reflecting on giving our best for God and a lot of us express it quite differently. The purity thing definitely comes from the whole colour but as you can see you’ll see a lot of children express themselves quite differently. For us women, we always try to find the best white material and it's just an expression of love for our culture and faith as well.”
“My White Sunday ofu represents that we’re all children of God here, that's our purpose to serve him, glorify his name. It's a good opportunity to be able to still glorify his name, even at my age and getting the young ones to learn more about God.”
“I don’t go to church much but when I do, I take pride in what I wear because I want to respect our culture and God. I wouldn't dare to wear pants to White Sunday, out of respect for my parents and culture, it's just how we were brought up.”