10 March 2015
Tatau: The Universal Legend
“I’m not going out with you if you are wearing that out.”
There he stood, my best friend and high school sweetheart outside my house waiting to pick me up to go to school. He was decked out in the most ridiculous get up. A tacky windbreaker that had in big block letters, “GERMANY” under an even bigger German flag. His draw-string bag had the Imperial Eagle. Even more ridiculous was the little German flags on his custom yellow, black, and red shoes.
“You’ve got to be kidding me, Andrew!” I thought, as he sincerely looked dumbfounded. How could he not look in the mirror and realized that this obsession has gone too far. “You’re American! Why is everything Germany this, Germany that? You are out of control!”
He reasoned that he was very prideful of his heritage, where he comes from. Although he is born in America, he felt connected to his culture if he wore German memorabilia.
Belonging to a culture and fitting into the community is represented by the decorations of the Pacific Island tattoos. As exhibited in, Tatuing the Post-Colonial Body and The Cross of Soot, by Albert Wendt, the tatau is more than a decoration; it is identity, the legend to the past, and the representation of the cultural community.
The beauty behind the tattoos from the Pacific Islands is that you don’t have to speak the language to understand. It is inaudible. More importantly, everyone can recognize the symbols and markings and understand. In, The Cross of Soot, Wendt describes himself as a boy having a strong admiration for the old man, who is portrayed as a father figure in the text. After gaining knowledge that the old man is a tattoo artist and inked Samasoni, he peaks interest in having a tattoo. Wendt, as most children often do, want to imitate their elders. But, the tattoo becomes more than just an attempt to be “one of the boys.” As Wendt describes it was, “as if he had crossed from one world to another, from one age to the next” (20).
The boy, although younger in age, does not experience a pain any different than the older men at the prison. The blood that seeps from underneath the needle, is the same blood as his comrades, or as Wendt describes in, Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body, “when you are tatuaing the blood, the self, you are reconnecting it to the earth, reaffirming that you are earth, genetically and genealogically” (409). Thus, when the boy is encouraged to be brave by Tagi when he grimaces through the pain, he is connected through to his prison friends. He belongs, for pain and bravery are universal feelings that each of those men have experienced before. Now even the boy along with the other men stem from a common ground of pain, hurt, and courage. In addition, he can always look to that spot on his hand and recall his experience.
Epeli Hau’ofa states in, Our Sea of Islands, that “smallness is a state of mind” (31). Thus, a tatau is not limited to the surface of the body. It is through the blood. And out from that blood seeps the hereditary blue print that had been passed down from generations and generations. That blood reaffirms the lines and crosses that the tattoo artist skillfully etches into the skin to represent that. The tatau connects history and family ties and is a visual representation of identity and the journey throughout one’s life. Although Andrew doesn’t wear (thank God!) his excessive Germany gear today, he may have been on to something. He was searching for a tangible connection to his culture. The same connection that tatau not only strives for, but also repeatedly succeeds in accomplishing.