Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Mark of Community

In his piece entitled, Our Sea of Islands, Epeli Hau’ofa draws a distinction between the Western definition of Oceania and the native one. He proclaims, “The is a world of difference between viewing the Pacific as ‘islands in a far sea’ and as ‘a sea of islands.’” (Hau’ofa 31). The European definition connotes a feeling of alienation in the sense that it creates a distance between the Pacific islands and the rest of the world. As Hau’ofa points out, it implies that the communities in the Pacific are far and few in between. On the contrary, the native definition of ‘a sea of islands’ forms an image of the Pacific as an extremely large and vibrant community. It makes them feel more connected and less isolated. He discusses the tendency of the West to feel the need to prescribe macro level improvements to the economies of the Islands. However, Hau’ofa explains that these people fail to take “account of the social centrality of the ancient practice of reciprocity” (35). He goes on to say, “This is not dependency but interdependency” (35). Hau’ofa’s argument is that the people of Oceania are drawn together through familial and cultural bonds despite the vast seas between the islands. Thus affirms his use of the phrase, “Our sea of islands.”

            Wendt similarly discusses the role of native community in his two works. He touches upon the significance of the tattoo for the communities in the Pacific. He tries to cut out the role of the Pacific Islands in the post-colonial world, calling it the ‘post-colonial body.’ Of this body he writes, “It is a body ‘becoming’ defining itself, clearing space for itself among and alongside other bodies, in this case alongside other literatures. By giving it a Samoan tatau, what am I doing” (Wendt 410). Wendt believes the tattoo and literature have the same function in helping cultures shape their identities. In the beginning of the piece he writes how tattoos are considering a form of clothing in Samoan culture so in a sense, literature also acts as clothing to cultures. He also discusses how the pain of receiving the tattoo plays a significant role in the value of the mark and writing cultural literature similarly brings about pain because it forces both writer and reader to confront all aspects of any given culture. In his short story, “The Cross of Soot,” Wendt recounts a story from his youth in which a prisoner gives him an unfinished tattoo and then is taken away, presumably to put to death. The boy originally asked for a star tattoo on his hand but is left with a cross. When his mother questions him about who gave him the tattoo the boy replies, “’Jesus, and he’s never coming back. Never. He left me only this.’ He held up his hand, proudly.” (Wendt, 20). The story ends with boy proclaiming that Jesus is the man who tattooed him. This identifies the bond formed between Tagi and the boy and is akin to the cultural community that Hau’ofa discusses. The boy comes away from the experience marked by his relationship with the prisoner, by his religion, and by his culture.

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