A Mark of Community
For Pacific Islanders, the feeling of community reigns supreme over the sense of independence. As described by Epeli Hau’ofa in “A Sea of Islands”, this is an odd concept for foreigners, especially Europeans and Americans, who look at Oceania as an underdeveloped and isolated set of islands. In reality, Oceania is comprised of a “sea of islands…in which things are seen in the totality of their relationships” (Hau’ofa, 31). This means that the people of the islands all have interconnected histories, traditions, and identities. One of the most prominent traditions of Oceania is tatauing, which is described in Wendt’s article, “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body”, and his short story, “The Cross of Soot”.
Both of Wendt’s pieces view tatau as a mark of identity to the Pacific Island culture and community. In “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body”, Wendt describes the meaning and history behind tatau and malu. Like Hau’ofa, Wendt tells how foreigners commonly criticize this ritual and shows their closed-mindedness. However, if foreigners began to learn how tatau is not simply a bodily decoration, but a symbol of one’s identity, familial history, protection, and community, they may view it differently. Wendt describes the va, which is the space between that holds separate entities together, which is “crucial in communal cultures that value group unity more than individualism” (Wendt, 402). Again, this shows the value that Pacific Islanders place on community. In Wendt’s short story, he describes his personal experience with his first tatau, but does it through third-person narration. Although it may seem strange to a foreigner that a young boy is friends with a group of older prisoners, the young boy perceives the prisoners as his community. Additionally, when the new prisoner, Tagi, tattoos the boy, many people would be repulsed (Wendt, 19). However, the young boy sees it as a way of both he and Tagi being accepted into the community. The three readings show that the customs of Pacific Islanders, such as the practice of tatau, should not be something that foreigners think of as a “mark of savagery”, but as a mark of community and cultural identity.