Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The oppressed and the oppressor

The form of Epeli Hau’ofa’s Tales of the Tikongs is a refreshing way to create an essentially serious piece. The diction is unmistakably humorous while the context consists of issues holding tremendous weight and substance. Every angle of imperialism is recognized, dissected, scrutinized, and objectified. Thus, according to the various stories revealed by Hau’ofa, in his opinion the tidal wave of D-E-V-E-L-O-P-M-E-N-T crashes down on all who participate. The break up of individual stories to make the whole is closely correlated with Calvino’s invisible cities, yet unlike the positive, sharing, relationship formed between paradoxes in Calvino’s piece, the relationships between Hau’ofa’s juxtapositions is similar to that of a parasite- feeding off of each other until the insides are left hallow.
One of the most vivid and satirical chapters within the novel entitled, Blessed are the Meek, reflects powerfully upon being the oppressor, as well as the oppressed in terms of this new relationship. These paradoxes are brilliantly portrayed through the life and characterization of Puku Leka, in which Hau’ofa takes the well known idiom of “walking tall” or having pride in oneself, and humorously makes it a literal conflict. He begins formulating this dark coexistence when he criticizes Americans for “walking tall” and taking “a giant step or two for mankind”(68). The combination of these idioms becomes potent for they degrade an American foundation, stating that all off their efforts inevitably will come up short in attempting to correct such intense crisis’s of the world, and even more so because no one asked them to interfere in the first place. Thus, the role of the oppressor is stabilized.
Puku Leka therefore contrasts the Americans, and walks short although he is tall. Thus as a physically tall man he symbolizes potential greatness and strength, yet in walking short he becomes the oppressed due to his meekness. What is additionally interesting about Puku is while he is oppressed he is simultaneously the oppressor, which seems impossible yet “in Tiko… everything is simultaneously possible and impossible”(68). Through his tale, the reader essentially learns that Puku is oppressed by his family, while he oppresses his wife. Both sides are graphically depicted through physical and unsettling beatings, but what is more disturbing is Puku’s embracing acceptance of each situation. In being oppressed, Puku considers himself “fortunate” to have had and elder sister and brother along with his mom and dad “to slap him into shape and to wring and squeeze him into the approved mould, always with loving rage” (69). Furthermore, as the oppressor, Puku believes in “slapping and belting Mrs Leka” he did a “job exemplarily done” (69).
Moreover, Hau’ofa criticizes the position of both the oppressor and the oppressed through the tiresome beatings, and what is compensated in return. As a result, Puku has nothing of desired value to show in both situations. As the oppressor his relationship with his wife is draining, sucking out (like a parasite) all of the vivacity and willfulness of her being with nothing to show but who is “boss.” This leeching effect is a direct correlation to what happens to a culture when it is imposed upon by another. Additionally, as the oppressed Puku loses his college education, his farm, lives in a shack, gets no job benefits, pays constant dues to the church and is burdened with family responsibilities. The roles that are lost or unfortunately gained make up a human identity. Therefore, like the narrator in Wendt’s Black Rainbow, Puku is drained of all possible conceptions of a former identity and as a result loses purpose, or substance in both sides of his endeavors leaving the waves to crash.
The idea of a dual devastation through imperialism is most powerfully seen when Hau’ofa writes, “And although he is a tall man he walks short, for his spirit is humbled and his back permanently bent” (74). Thus, through his dark relationship as the oppressor and the oppressed Puku is left as a diminished spirit, and a spineless human; one with out courage, or the will to break free of the parasite of D-E-V-E-L-O-P-M-E-N-T, or imperialism.

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