After reading Epeli Hau’ofa’s, Tales of the Tikongs, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, I feel that I have gained a greater insight into cultural differences and discrimination. Although the writers approach cultural discrimination quite differently, both Hau’ofa and King are advocating for acceptance of cultural disparities. Hau’ofa approaches the subject in a satirical manner, and is simply pointing out that there are problems in all cultures, while King’s letter is more like a manifesto in which he presents the problems in society and gives a solution to them.
In Epeli Hau’ofa’s novel, we are transported to the Pacific Island town of Tiko, in which the work ethic is relaxed, religion and family are deeply valued, and “development” is feared. Essentially, “Tiko goes in the opposite direction, all on its own” (1). Throughout the novel we are presented with several hysterical Tiko natives, such as Sione, who plays cards and gets massages at work; Ika, who is forced into becoming a fisherman; Ti, who only sins in pairs, and Pulu, who has dreams of raising cattle, but falls short. However, even though Hau’ofa pokes fun at the traditions, work ethic, and culture of Pacific Island culture, he simultaneously draws out the flaws of the culture of foreign influences, which include Australia, New Zealand, and England. The foreign advisors want to push the Pacific Islanders into development, yet continuously fail to give them the proper tools and training necessary for it. For example, Sharky, or Mr. Lowe, from Australia, is not only demeaning towards Ika, but he also equips Ika with unfamiliar fishing gear and then “dropped him and forgot about his existence” (23). When Ika tries to contact Sharky, he is unavailable, and we again see the problems with the foreign advisors such as an unsuccessful bureaucracy and gossiping secretaries (24-25). Ultimately, Hau’ofa is illustrating that no culture is ideal, but he does not venture to solve the problems of the cultural differences.
Likewise, King points out the problem with cultural discrimination, but then also calls for action. King states that for centuries, African Americans have been discriminated against and treated with a sense of “nobodiness” (4). However, unlike Hau’ofa, King outlines a plan of action to overcome this adversity. King calls for a nonviolent campaign against discrimination, which includes identification of the injustices, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action. Since the first three steps of the campaign did not garner change, King reasons that he is now in the Birmingham jail as a part of direct action. King sees the injustice in his world, and brings about a plan to fix it.
Both Hau’ofa and King can be considered agents of social awareness. Hau’ofa is critiquing several cultures, while King is stirring up action among African Americans. Ultimately, both make readers aware of social injustices and the need for change.
After reading Tales of the Tikongs and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, and performing my service-learning at Tunbridge Public Charter School, I began to think about the social injustices in our world today. At Tunbridge, I work in a self-contained classroom with seven children ranging from first to fourth grade. All of the children have different learning disabilities, and all will probably face adversity because of these disabilities. The children are all respectful, kind-hearted, and talented in their own ways. Yet, like the Tikongs and African Americans, the students are treated differently because of their disparities. Although it is necessary for the students to be in a self-contained class, this increases the separation between “typical” and “atypical” students, and therefore increases the social injustice that the learning disabled children may face.
Going to Tunbridge Charter School made me feel “transported” into a new realm, much like when reading Tales of the Tikongs. For the past two summers, I have worked in self-contained preschool classrooms, so I thought I knew what to expect when arriving at Tunbridge. However, I was shocked to see the stark differences between the two schools. The private preschool I work for at home is in an affluent town, and each class is full of toys, tactile and kinesthetic therapy programs, and several teachers and aids. At Tunbridge, on the other hand, the classrooms are simpler, with a few toys, books and only one classroom teacher. These differences made me think of the differences between the simple life of the Tikongs and the more modern life of the foreign aids. Like the two cultures, both schools have their issues and there is no perfect way of teaching the students.