Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hau'ofa's Plead for Moderation

Epeli Hau’ofa’s Tales of the Tikongs is a satirical work that employs humor to highlight cultural differences as well as shortcomings and, often times, failures. He focuses on the tiny island of Tiko, stationed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The island’s inhabitants are forced to contend with outside, “foreign” influences that threaten to destroy everything the tiny island practices. The single most recognizable similarity between books we have read thus far is the literary structure of Hau’ofa’s and Calvino’s. Both writers create their works with the hope of communicating intellectual positions: Calvino arguing for the similarity of cities and the importance of learning from one’s travels while Hau’ova plays with the loss of culture through globalization and modernization. Both pieces are created from smaller, individual stories that build the structure of the works. The individual stories are the framework for the eventual composition the writers are trying to construct. Moreover, throughout both, there are individual figures that the writer’s use for continuity from one tale to the next. Calvino uses the central figure of Marco Polo to create a linear, cohesive thread while Hau’ofa often relies on the character of Manu for continuation and unity by illustrating his extreme unrest with the approaching D-E-V-E-L-O-P-M-E-N-T and his fear of the unknown which guides most of his radical actions.

As previously stated, Hau’ofa is most concerned with the effect one culture has on another when the two are introduced to one another. He fears a loss of identity for the smaller, weaker civilization when influenced by a larger, more powerful culture. This notion and consequent warnings against it are most clearly defined in the tale of “The Big Bullshit” (p. 57). Hau’ofa does not denounce all change as bad or insufferable but rather argues for change in moderation and without a sacrifice of culture one already sustains. In this particular tale, Pulu is unsatisfied with “the largest collection of scrawny small animals in the whole of Saisaipe” that he as amassed for himself (p. 58). He overhears two ladies talking about another native, Ohule, who had just returned from Tulisi where he had been granted one cow and one bull for his mocked interest in beginning his own herd. Pulu was struck by this notion of amassing more wealth since he began to concern himself with “bigger ends”. He ultimately gains three cows of his own as well as one bull.

It is at this point that Hau’ofa fully establishes the warning for the reader. As soon as Pulu becomes discontent with his position in Saisaipe, he loses sight of moderation, only setting his sights on gaining profits. Pulu loses his son, his collection of small animals and two of his cattle because of religious or cultural practices surrounding funeral measures. Pulu then goes so far as to “implore the Almighty to inflict no more deaths on his family until he had built up his vanishing herd” (p. 62). He is not concerned with the well-being of his family out of love or devotion to them but rather realizes that he cannot spare either of his two remaining cattle for the mourning period that accompanies a death. Hau’ofa is ultimately getting at the dangers that surround capitalism and the ever-growing need for more. He is not necessarily denouncing the entire institution as corrupt; however, he does seem to approach the notion of amassing great materialistic wealth with extreme caution. Pulu eventually loses all, settling his sights on beginning another collection of small, scrawny animals. He has gained nothing but lost much.

Hau’ofa is not suggesting that cultures should not come in contact with one another. It is a way for ideas to be spread and beliefs to be communicated and analyzed. Through interaction, new practices can be achieved that benefit both camps. However, he is arguing that when one is overwhelmingly dominant, the other has a great deal to lose if it cannot contend with the former and hold to its original identity. He fears that small cultures similar to those of islands in the Pacific will lose their placement in the world, will lose what is important in their societies and their history will be forgotten. Tales of the Tikongs absolutely stresses moderation while hinting that interaction is beneficial but once that interaction becomes oppression all is lost.

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