Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Universal Traits

Tales of the Tikongs is a story about the suppression and containment of the native peoples of Tiko, a fictional island in the Pacific. The idea of colonialism has been a problem in certain countries for years. I remember reading certain books like Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart which focus on the evils of colonialism and the negative effects it can have on the native people. In Hau’ofa’s book, though, he points out certain harmful aspects of the British colonization but he does it in a way that is different from Joseph Conrad or Chinua Achebe. While their books are more serious in tone and obviously illustrate which side they believe to be “right”, Hau’ofa openly mocks both the natives and the Englishmen. This method of humor is very effective because in his sarcastic tone, Hau’ofa essentially gets down to the very aspects of human nature. One of the major themes in this book, or any book about colonialism, is the idea of the struggle between change and tradition. In the story ‘The Second Coming’ in which Sailosi adopts the lifestyles of the British, the speaker says, “Sailosi was glad that he looked and sounded like such a true Briton” (49). However, later on in the story he abandons his accent and tries to preserve the true ways of his life in Tiko, yet at the same time criticizes his colleagues for wearing lipstick when he himself keeps a subscription to Playboy magazine! Hau’ofa’s ability to create these hypocritical characters is impressive and although they are slightly scornful at times, they still illustrate the many ways in which one person can suppress another.

In my opinion, the last story of the book is the most important; here, Hau’ofa really shows the influence that more powerful and wealthy individuals have over the native Tikongs. There are characters like Manu who realize the drawbacks of development but there are characters like Ole Pacifikiwei who give themselves over to “the supreme task of development through foreign aid” (93). We see that Ole is at first demoralized by the idea of losing his self respect as his friend tells him, “Self-respect is a luxury we can’t afford; we have no choice but to shelve it for a while. When we’re developed, then we’ll do something about dignity and self-respect…” (86). Although the author mocks Ole for giving himself up to foreign powers, it is still something that has happened in real places and continues to happen. The last image of the book is of Ole as a “permanent, first rate, expert beggar” (93) which is sad because Tiko is not a real place and therefore, this story could take place anywhere at any time.

We’ve talked a lot about what it is to be an individual and the purpose of one’s own life, especially in Black Rainbow, and I think these ideas are important here as well. Each story in this book shows characters that clearly have a goal, whether it’s Sharky who wants to take advantage of ever poor native he meets, Manu whose obvious goal is to reject any form of development, or Pulu who just wants to increase his livestock. While these goals may be silly to the author or even to the reader, they are important to each individual and give them some sort of purpose, something which was lacking in Black Rainbow. When thinking about the question of what it means to be human, I think Hau’ofa answers this to some extent in this novel. For example, temptation exists everywhere within this book, even among religious members. No matter where you come from or what you look like, people are always going to be tempted by things, either good or bad; this is a fact of life. Humans sin every day and constantly err but this is what makes us human. Hau’ofa points out certain aspects of the human mentality such as the desire to develop and expand one’s own nation, which is an aspiration that exists everywhere. People have always longed for wealth, fame, and power, like Bobeep, and even if pointing out the flaws of his characters, Hau’ofa reveals characteristics of humans that are truly universal.

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