3 February 2015
Tales of the Tikongs
The Right Time
I felt like an outsider the first day of my service at Tunbridge Public Charter School. The teacher didn’t realize I would come so early in the morning, so I sat in an empty classroom, clad with fourth grade decorations. I had forgotten what it was like to be in the presence of such innocence—tiny chairs, colorful walls, rules of respect and love across the moldings. I allowed my eyes to wonder around the classroom and to become reacquainted with the world that became so foreign.
On the vocabulary wall, there were words that I didn’t think I would see with students that weren’t even ten years old: “cancer”, “obliteration”, “reprimand”, and “genocide.” How can a mind so young even begin to understand such powerful and dark words? Should those words and those worlds be put on hold for an older age?
When my thoughts were finally interrupted by the sounds of very excited boys and girls who came into the classroom, I smiled and greeted my new friends. I sat and watched the young teacher proscribe assignment after assignment to these jubilant children. Shouldn’t their homework be to go out and play and enjoy this precious time before they actually have to care? But, then I thought to myself, when would be the right time to expose children to different cultures in the realm that they live in?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. advocates that there isn’t a “right time” to bring, “to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive” in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Undoubtedly, even the small child is aware that certain events happen that are unjust. Crime is most prevalent in our part of town and what can we do to understand it and provide a solution? Education. As Dr. King stated in his response to the priests on his “untimely” movement, it is hard to understand and fathom the experience of another culture to one who, “hasn’t suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.” Comparatively, until we are submersed into a culture we can’t begin to understand it. From my perspective, perhaps these students need to become aware of the injustices in their community in order to recognize it and conjure ideas to better their community.
Cultural identification is satirically portrayed in Epeli Hau’ofa’s Tales of the Tikongs. In this intriguing tale, specifically, the chapter, “Paths to Glory”, a guardian figure criticizes his son for his “cultured” experiences. He exclaims, “You think like a foreigner, you talk like a foreigner, and you act like a foreigner” (45) The entirety of the chapter is a criticism of the son having a different stand point, both physically and intellectually. But, why is the guardian figure so upset? The idea is contingent with the “anti-development theme” of the novel. While, the son is necessarily developing land, he is cultivating new ideas that seem contradictory to his upbringing, his inner most essence—his culture. This is an issue because if other nations, peoples, and communities maintain this mindset of segregation of cultures and ideas—social progress stands still.
Dr. King makes this connection clear. He doesn’t tell us to forget our culture and but to use it to propel us forward. He does this by uniting humankind in what he calls an, “inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” Furthermore he beautifully states, “Whatever affect one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea.” Thus, my thoughts on why the children were learning what I thought were too harsh of words for their age groups have come together. There is no need to wait. For if those children wait to expand their ideas on other cultures, their thoughts and visions will be trapped in the bubble of their home lives and communities. In other words, we shouldn’t be scared of cultural development, for if we can’t understand a community or a culture, we will never be able to move forward in social justice.