10 March 2015
Wendt & Hau’ofa’s Perception of the Pacific Islands
In Epeli Hau’ofa’s “Our Sea of Islands,” he discusses the ways in which imperial nations belittle the island nations of the Pacific. He argues that these imperial powers are the ones who made the Pacific Islands into what they are today, a scattering of tiny and isolated islands who can only survive through the aid of larger and wealthier nations. In his own words, Hau’ofa describes that this sort of language of belittlement turns into a smallness of mind, both on the part of the imperialists as well as the natives. If a person is constantly told something about themselves, eventually they will start to believe it. Through this, the imperial powers are able to ensure dependency on the part of the natives.
In this sense, imperial nations seem to be nothing but bullies. They move in on this nations for their own gain, whether it be a beneficial location for a naval base, or so they can capitalize on resources, or to further promote their ideals and spread them throughout the world. However, in both Hau’ofa’s “Our Sea of Islands” and Wendt’s “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body,” they attempt to give power and pride back to the natives of the land. They discuss ideas that would go over the heads of westerners; how the ocean acts as a connection rather than a division, how tattoo can act as clothing in itself as it is a sign of great strength and protection, or how these natives are able to ignore boundaries between nations. These are all ideas that the western world does not necessarily subscribe to, but just because we may not understand them does not make them wrong.
It is very interesting to think about the implications of tattoos in our society as opposed to the Pacific islands. There can be a bit of a stigma attached to tattoos in American society; more than once, I’ve been told that if I get a tattoo, I should get it in a place where it would not be seen during a job interview or when I’m walking down the aisle at my wedding. My dad has told me time and again that he would disown any of us if we got tattoos, as he associates them largely with the bad neighborhood in Queens that he grew up in. To him, they are a sign of low education and aggression. However, the tatau culture that Wendt discusses has incredible meaning attached to it. He states, “in a deep psychological, mythological, symbolic way, tatauing is the act of printing or scripting a genealogical-spiritual-philosophical text on the blood” (409). These are not tattoos that one might get on a whim after drinking too much one night; they are a rite of passage, a symbol of strength and unity, and hold a deep spiritual connection as well. These are all things that western culture can understand to an extent, but because it manifests itself in a different way we tend to think of it as uncivilized. However, our culture is known to get silly tattoos for seemingly no reason. In this way, imperial nations might consider learning something from smaller nations. Cultural differences abound in this world, and we all have something we can learn from one another. Our way might not always be the best way, and it is important to open our minds in order to grow and learn with one another. As the art of tatau aims to symbolize, we are all the same human beings at our core.