The ‘ava ceremony’ is one of Samoa’s most important and unique customs.
Performed at the beginning of all important occasions including the bestowal of a chiefly title (saofa'i), it is a gesture to welcome and acknowledge the coming together of a village, family or when welcoming special guests.
For the tradition to be sustained, the training of daughters of all chiefs to know how to prepare the ‘ava’ is paramount. But there are no formal schools for it.
For most Samoan girls, the only way to learn is to go through the actual process during a formal sitting.
Which is precisely what 12-year-old Lakisha Lomalasi Ulugia experienced last Saturday at Vaiusu.
Tall for her age, Lakisha, had to learn overnight how to prepare the ava for a chiefly bestowal ceremony.
“It wasn’t easy, learning how to sit behind the tanoa bowl and mix the ava,” she told Samoa Observer.
“You had to sit properly... like really stiff,” she said shyly.
She was coached by her mother, May Ulugia, who was well versed with these types of ceremonies especially growing up as the High Chief’s daughter.
Lakisha is a student at Ah Mu Academy. She is active in Sports and School activities but never anticipated that she will experience mixing the ava at a very young age.
“I admire the beautiful young women who are fortunate to mix the ava for the ceremonies I see on TV. I want to be Miss Samoa when I’m old enough, so this was very exciting for me.
“Yes I was nervous, but just being the one girl behind the ava bowl is an awesome experience. I’ve never been nervous my whole life.
“This was very important to my parents, so despite all odds and doubts in myself, I practiced all night to mix the ava properly.”
Lakisha said “and I have to say this was not easy.
“What I see on TV is very different and it appears the ava mixer just moves around the fau strainer but that is not the case.
“You have to actually mix the ava with the strainer, I had help from my uncles, the Tafau and Sui’ava and I think that made it easier.”
At her tender age, Lakisha is already talking to her parents about challenging the catwalk.
Her mother told the Samoa Observer their family is honored to have been involved in the ava ceremony in the manner where Lakisha gets to mix the ava.
“What was more unique about today is that she mixed the ava while her father Lomalasi received his Ulugia Chiefly title.
“This is something my daughter in 30 years from now can reflect back on and be happy that she was part of her father’s achievements in their family.”