In Langa, family is everything, and the definition of family is broad and inclusive. The neighbor’s little boy who drops by the kitchen for his third breakfast of the day, just as food is placed on the table, is family; so is the 4 year old girl staying over for an undetermined length of time while her parents work in the city; and by some stroke of luck, so are we.
In the US, we have 2nd cousins once removed. Here
nothing is removed. Everyone you meet is called sister or brother, every elder is referred to respectfully as ibu and bapak, mother and father. Anyone will be happy to push a warm cup of sweet coffee grown in their yard into your hands, saying with actions rather than words, “whatever is mine is yours as well.”
The broad definition of family extends beyond this life and into the next as well, as ancestors are also any important part of family life, rituals, and traditions. Totems of the ancestors – the female bhaga, represented by a miniature version of a home, for women are the ones who hold the family together in this matriarchal society, and the male nga’dhu, in the conical form of a warrior with hands bearing spears so that he may protect the family – one for each clan, preside over the central square of each village.
Since we, Dragons, have come to be considered family here in Langa, we were invited by Egen and his parents into their Sa’o – the traditional sacred house in the center of almost every home in Langa. The Sa’o houses important ritual objects used for ceremonies that connect the community to their heritage. It is also the space in which a family will gather to discuss important matters, or to knock on stones embedded in the ground to reach a far away relative who is needed at home – the knocks resound in their hearts and calling them home. It is the shape of the Sa’o that is mimicked by the bhaga, the female ancestor totems, and it is at the heart of every traditional home. It is a true honor to be invited inside.
Bapak Irenious, an elder in the village who presides over ceremonies, showed us around the village explaining the significance of traditional objects and then ushered us into the Sa’o through a doorway built low so that anyone who enters must bow in deference to the sanctity of the space.
We bowed, both to honor the traditions we were growing to respect and in gratitude at having found a home, and a large, loving family here in Langa.