Ashley Schumann and Toshi Palamo met in 2015 at a bar called “The Front Page,” both drunk, at the nation’s capital. Toshi was with his rugby team and Ashley was in town for work. It isn’t the most traditionally romantic story, but it set in motion a romance that has lasted many years.
They dated on and off for a long time after that fateful bar meeting. Even when they were “off,” they stayed in each other’s orbit. Seven years later, they finally said “yes” at the Yacht Club of Cape May, just a few miles from Ashley’s hometown of Wildwood Crest.
Toshi is from the American Samoa, and much of his family is Maori. “So I always knew our wedding would be a little different,” Ashley said. Their ceremony and reception were filled with Maori traditions that are rare here on the Jersey Shore.
Wedding guests got to experience a “Haka,” a traditional ceremonial dance filled with yelling, shirtless men, tattoos, and shouting. It’s visceral, it’s intimidating, but it is also a deep expression of respect and celebration within Māori culture.
Ashley and Toshi’s wedding at the Corinthian Yacht Club of Cape May celebrated their love and the merging of two families with distinct traditions and history.
“The dances were really powerful and moving,” Ashley said.
Women on Toshi’s side of the family danced the “Siva” – a long-standing Samoan dance characterized by subtle, graceful movements – as a welcome. Ashley was surrounded by dancers while guests threw money – including $100 bills – at her to manifest prosperity through the new marriage. “I found a $100 bill in my spanks when I was changing that night,” she said, laughing at the memory.
It was difficult for the men who danced the Haka to practice for long because so many of them live thousands of miles apart. To get it just right, they practiced until 3 or 4 a.m. during the two days leading up to the wedding.
Kaitlin Noel, the wedding photographer, captured thousands of photos of the dances. She had her work cut out for her; this wasn’t a motionless wedding. “90% of the time people were on the dance floor,” Ashley said. Local DJ Jason Mitchell spun a mix of Reggae and Latin dance music that kept the crowd engaged for hours.
Toshi’s family flew to Cape May County from places like New Zealand, New Guinea, and Hawaii. His family went above and beyond to bring special cultural touches to this Cape May wedding. One of his cousins performed a traditional hula dance; a family friend sent hundreds of hand-made Lei necklaces from the American Samoa to be worn by guests throughout the ceremony.
Though Leis are made of bright pink orchids, the necklaces were so well-constructed that they withstood a night of hearty dancing and celebration. Although Ashley and Toshi now live in Washington DC, it was important to them that the wedding take place on this beautiful peninsula.
The ceremony took place at the Corinthian Yacht Club of Cape May overlooking the Cape May Harbor, an essential inlet for the U.S. Coast Guard and a breathtaking backdrop teeming with ecological activity and boating vessels.
Ashley didn’t want a traditional wedding cake, so she worked with Cape May Macaroons, the Fudge Kitchen, Pop Goes the Baker, and Nauti Donuts to make an eclectic dessert bar filled with local treats. Ashley said that many guests told her it was the “best wedding they had ever been to,” and the competition for that is certainly stiff. “I wouldn’t change a single thing,” she said.