I have never heard ‘Happy Birthday’ sung as beautifully. Fifty adults stood and sang to a one-year-old, as though they meant every word of all three verses. Their voices came together for the occasion not because they were professional singers who had rehearsed, but because they were used to singing in their disparate churches and other groups, and the sound was powerful. The singers were family or friends of the child’s parents—some had come from Fiji for this important milestone in the little girl’s life. The baby was dressed in a traditional tapa dress and was held up by a relative facing the group during the song. Most of the other speeches and prayers were in Fijian, but the birthday song was sung in English so I could add my voice. The birthday song become something more than usual. It wished happiness and good fortune, but in the context it was sung it also pledged a community’s support for a new member.
As a former anthropology student, I know that many cultures wait until a baby is one to fully recognize him or her as a member of the community. It has to do with childhood mortality traditionally being so high. But, I saw first- hand another reason. By the first birthday a baby seems conscious of the whole group being focused on her, at lease during the song. This must have a lasting effect on the baby and the adult participants.
To be honest, I have no idea what the various religious and family elders said in Fijian. Their tone was reverential, so I assume they were calling for everyone to watch out for the baby’s best interests. I did understand the English thanksgiving prayer for such a beautiful baby’s birth.
This support is what everyone must want for every child. It was a nice touch to come out and proclaim it so clearly!