Dr. Juniper Ellis
EN 385D Post-Colonial Literature: Travel Literature
January 31, 2015
Traditional Injustice: Hau’ofa’s Tales of Tikongs, King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, and Ly-Shang Eng’s Just Response to Traditional Injustice
In Hau’ofa’s Tales of Tikongs, a chapter entitled “Blessed are the meek”, showcases traditional injustice being done to the hard-working Puku who is deprived from education and property. Romanticizing Puku as a meek sufferer who will receive his reward in heaven, the narration explains Puku must willingly accept the unjust traditions that marginalize and cripple him financial in earthy life. The narrator states, “Puku kept traditional company with rats, cockroaches, bugs of every description, and a thousand other tiny creatures of Lord’s creation” (Hau’ofa 71). These depictions make it seem like it was God’s divine will not unjust laws and people who determine Puku’s fate. Tradition also implies that it is unavoidable that he would live with lowly creatures that roll among in dirt. Puku and his relationship to the creatures seem to symbolize the digging and rolling around in the past, traditions ’s ashes and leftovers. It always seems implied that Puku deserves what he receives regardless of how less it is compared to his siblings and simply accept it as God’s will opposed to traditional injustice. This fact is emphasized when his father dies and his brother underserving inherits Puku’s farmland. The narration states, “ Then, his father died. And on the land on which Puku lived and worked went by right of the primogenital inheritance to his elder brother who lived in town, never worked on it, and had no intention of working on it” (71-72). Based on this corrupt inheritance law, Puku’s brother cheats him of Puku’s original land and even goes as far to give him a tiny plot for the dirty hut he was already suffering in. Puku believes he deserves this fate and rationalizes, “ he would be rewarded with an Estate in Heaven” (72). His damnation and justifying his plight as a compensation for his heavenly reward shows how psychologically scarring an unjust law can be to a human.
In Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, he explains how unjust laws rooted in tradition can be overturned without submitting to believing it is fate or believing one is inferior and deserves the suffering like Puku. King states, “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustice exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action” (1-2). To check for injustice in Puku’s case is simple. The facts of abuse of inheritance right is evident, the act of negotiation is overlooked by department head, self-purification is handled when he eventually breaks his back by working to the death on his hut land plot, but the direct action never took place. Even when he went to beg for a job from the Head Department of the farmland that was sold unjustly to this man, Pukka simply accepted it as his fate and did not challenge why the land he worked to cultivate was ripped out of his financial assets based on outdated, traditional rule. Another person who accepted being cheated by an elder based on a traditional hierarchy is Ly-Shang Eng. Her brother Ken was blessed with being the first-born male out of a Chinese immigrant family in America and received the burdening responsibility of being the traditional alpha male. Frightened and bullied as the 4th female of eight children, Ly-Shang’s resources for economic advancement and affection was poured into her eldest brother. Ly-Shang never graduated from college because of her limited English grammar and vocabulary; whileas, Ken graduated head of his class from medical school and became a doctor. Ly-Shang married and left her mother’s home to live with an Irishman in Bensalem. Ken grew up with the handsome interview clothes, a beautiful Chinese wife, three children, and no intention of interacting or visiting the mother who mold and whipped him through tradition to be a successful member of the American middle class. Ly-Shang and Ken’s mother grieves for her loss of youth, beauty, and her husband and lives alone in her Philadelphia Chinatown apartment. Ly-Shang unable to drive a car, takes the Septa bus, the L-22 train to Philly every Tuesday from 6am-5pm so she can hear this woman call her ugly, uneducated, and always inferior to her sons especially the eldest. Ly-Shang tells me, “Bitterness is backwards and forgiveness is forward”. Like a Tikong, she may accept some traditions towards crippling younger siblings from social mobility, but she take direct action by visiting. Unlike Peku who accept the struggle as God’s plan, Ly-Shang accepts the struggles as the result of sexism, ethnic paranoia, and a desperate attempt for her mother to advance her family’s financial future in the only way she knew how. Regardless of how unjustly she treated her children, Ly-Shang understood she loved them. Ly-Shang never lets the unjust favoritisms of tradition define her rather she re-defined herself as a non-traditionalist through initially travelling toward our home in Bensalem and travelling every Tuesday towards my grandmother whose wounds she still wishes to heal.
Hau'ofa, Epeli. "Blessed Are the Meek." Tales of Tikongs. Honolulu: U of Hawaii, 1983. 68-74. Print.
King, Martin Luther. "Letter from Birmingham Jail." 16 Apr. 1963: 1-12. http://www.africa.upenn.edu/articles_gen/letter_birmingham.html. Print.