Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Warning for Travelers

Epeli Hau'Ofa's Tales of the Tikongs successfully provides its audience with an entertaining, yet truthful window into the lives of a small Pacific Island. Hau'Ofa presents the island of Tiko within a colonial context, often citing the influence of countries such as Australia, New Zealand, England, and even the United States. These civilized countries hope to enlighten, so to say, the people of underdeveloped places such as Tiko, but their intentions go horribly awry, much like the intentions of the Tribunal in Wendt's Black Rainbow. Hau'Ofa highlights the results of globalization and expansion through humor and detailed character sketches. Ultimately, we learn that traveling is something to be cherished, yet that it should come with a warning for all who embark on a journey with a mission. That warning is highlighted by Hau'Ofa throughout his short novel.

The short sketches of the citizens of Tiko give the reader an opportunity to see firsthand the disasterous effects of colonialism. For example, we see Ika being misled by the Australian Sharky, who tricks him into expanding his fishing business. Hau'Ofa writes, "As soon as he got his fishing equipment, and got himself thoroughly in debt, Sharky dropped him and forgot about his existence" (23). Ika is perfectly happy working limited hours with minimal pay. Sharky entices him with the promise of a better life, when in reality, his life is satisfactory the way it is.

Likewise, Pulu is given a flawed bull by officials in New Zealand. At first, he is very thankful for this gift, so much so that he "bowed his head and thanked God for the people of New Zealand, asking Him to keep them generous and to make him, Pulu B. Makau, the biggest cattleman in Saisaipe and beyond" ( Hau'Ofa 60). This man, similar to Ika, has hopes of becoming a more renowned man of society with a fortune and a plethora of other things to brag about. However, his hopes and dreams are shattered when he finds out that his bull cannot mate, and that therefore, he cannot produce calves.

The effects of colonialism are further exemplified in the chapter "Blessed are the Meek". At the very beginning of this chapter, Hau'Ofa highlights the essential difference between the colonizer and the colonized. He writes, "It is said that an American likes to walk tall even though he may be short, and that he occasionally takes a giant step or two for mankind, even though mankind may not have asked him to" ( Hau'Ofa 68). His opinion of America is made very explicit in this passage. Hau'Ofa feels that help, when it is not asked for, can be more disasterous than helpful. This has been the essential problem with most colonizing countries. Hau'Ofa also expounds his opinion on colonized countries. He writes, " A Tikong, on the other hand, tends to walk short even though he may be tall, and will not take even a dwarfish step if he can help it" (Hau'Ofa 68). Thus, the colonized country, although it may struggle to stand on its own two feet, is very humble. Hau'Ofa's writing indicates that the efforts of smaller, more undeveloped countries may not necessarily be enlightened or worthy of praise, but that their traditions should be more critically studied by larger countries, and that they should be more cautious of where they tread. These countries, such as the United States, should not overlook the culture at hand as well its desires, which is often the case. Hau'Ofa uses Puku as an example of a truly humble man, whom "walks short" (74). The title of the chapter seems very appropriate for the praise Hau'Ofa feels is due to these marginalized people.

In the chapter "The Glorious Pacific Way", Hau'Ofa seems to emphasize his beliefs about colonization most prominently. He uses the character of Ole Pasifikiwei in order to illustrate a character who ultimately forfeits a bit of his own desires to the colonizer in hopes of a better life for both himself and his country, similar to Ika and Pulu. Ole desires only a file cabinet and typewriter, but the powerful diplomat Mr. Minte cannot give this to him. He says, "You have to ask for something more directly relevant" (85). How much more relevant can Ole's request be? He has the noble goal of preserving the Pacific culture, which is the diplomat's purpose in the first place. Ironically, Mr. Minte works in the MERCY building. Hau'Ofa's ironic writing reaches a pinnacle as he describes the fate of Ole. He is left with no choice but to adhere to the requests of Mr. Minte, which are altogether ridiculous. Ole has absolutely no say in any goals of his, and is ultimately left up to the 'mercy' of the colonizer. Hau'Ofa writes, " He [Ole] has since shelved his original sense of self- respect and has assumed another, more attuned to his new, permanent role as a first- rate, expert beggar" (93). Perhaps Ole would have been better off scrounging up what he could to preserve his own culture. Why, of all things, would he have to rely on a foreigner for this? This is the ironic situation that Hau'Ofa so creatively crafts throughout his masterpiece, which yeilds a warning for all who embark on a journey with a mission, especially colonizing countries. The reader, although entertained, is left with a burning sense of anger. We are left asking these essential questions: why?, how?

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