Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Christianity & The Masses

Like Wendt’s Black Rainbow, Tales of the Tikongs is a cutting decry of the Western colonization and subjugation of indigenous peoples. Unlike the darker elements of Black Rainbow, however, Hau’ofa uses humor to attack and characterize the distinct loss of culture. The bureaucracy, racism, crime, and corruption that come along with colonization are each cleverly attacked by Hau’ofa, but he reserves the vast majority of his venom for Christianity, or at least Tiko’s version of it. Christianity in Tales of the Tikongs is a perversion of the true message and beliefs of the religion. Hau’ofa stresses this point over and over again throughout the narrative. The Pacific interpretation of the religion is a sect of manipulation, profit, and power, its sacred verses wielded as a weapon by certain unscrupulous preachers over the native population.

Nowhere is Christianity more vilified than in the chapter entitled ‘Bopeep’s Bells’. Here the reader is treated to Hau’ofa’s step by step description of how one might achieve religious power in Tiko. His Holiness, as Bopeep comes to call himself, is able to lead people, as well as make enormous amounts of money, simply because he has an astute ear. It is a South Pacific version of the folkloric ‘Pied Piper’ tale. Bopeep rings his bell and the denizens of Tiko come running. Hau’ofa writes, “It soon dawned upon Toki that like his little animals his fellow islanders were thoroughly conditioned by church bells summoning them for spiritual sustenance” (76). The description of his parishioners is like something from a George A. Romero zombie film. The masses sense the bell and follow, seemingly without any common sense.

If Hau’ofa uses humor to attack Christianity in ‘Bobeep’s Bells’, he uses pathos in the story ‘Blessed are the Meek’ a depressing vignette about Puku, a Tikong who cannot catch a break. It seems as if he was predestined for suffering, as Hau’ofa writes, “Puku came into the world on a rainy day” (69). Just as it rained on his birthday, so too does it rain for every other day of Puku’s life. Despite that, he retains his faith. While at a job interview, Puku says, “The Lord’s been kind to me sir” (73) even though this is blatantly false. Hau’ofa leaves the audience with “He gives and gives in return for which he receives words: of … encouragement to continue suffering through life as Christ did so long ago and, best of all, of assurances of eternal rewards in Life Hereafter” (74). Like so many suffering Christians before him, Puku is able to bear the sorrows and struggles of his life by concentrating on the glories of the next life. Because of this, some might view Christianity as a benefit, as something that gives people hope. But it seems that Hau’ofa is arguing that the lack of importance Puku places on his earthly life is dooming him to misery. If Puku, as well as the other religious citizens of Tiko, suffer the barbs of oppression without struggle, then is there any hope for them? Can they retain their identity?

Standing at odds with the all-encompassing Christianity of the land is Manu, who acts as a sort of protector of the native religion, the “ancient gods” (18). Following his introduction, Manu is immediately defined as a nonbeliever. Hau’ofa writes, “Everyone goes to church; everyone, that is, except Manu” (2). In the following chapter, the author writes, ‘Religion and Education Destroy Original Wisdom’ cry the letters of the back of Manu’s shirt” (7). His loathing of Christianity is so entrenched that Manu literally wears it on his sleeve.

But for all his prophesying and complaining, and despite his considerable fame, it seems that Manu is largely ignored by his countrymen. He is mildly successful in enlisting Pulu and Ti as his disciples, but the rest of the island population, while seemingly tolerant of his message, largely ignores it. The audience knows this by the simple fact that Christianity is still the dominant religion at the closing of the story, as well as the fact that Manu rages against Christianity without any true companions. He carries his cross, so to speak, entirely alone. What then is Hau’ofa saying? Is resistance futile or can one man make a difference? For Manu and the Tikong’s sake, we should hope it is the latter.

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