According to Wendt, Samoan culture believes strongly in va, or the space between. He claims that va is “the betweenness, not empty space, not space that separates, but space that relates, that holds separate entities and things together in the Unity-that-is-All, the space that is context, giving meaning to things”(402). Tatau and malu for the Samoan communities then becomes their va, or space between. Correspondingly, it is significant then that the boy in Wendt’s short story gets his tatau in the “space between his thumb and forefinger” (18). Additionally, the boy’s presence becomes the “space between” for the prisoners.
In proving that the tatau and the malu are essentially the va, or space between for Samoan cultures, it is important to reflect upon the power of each. Wendt says that, “tatauing is part of everything else that is the people, the aiga, the village, the community, the environment, the atua, and the cosmos” (403). Their presence is therefore overwhelming, and intricately intertwined with the people. Futhermore, all of these elements (people, village, community, environment, atua and cosmos) are the glue that holds separate beings and entities together, and gives substance to their interactions. Thus, in the tatau representing these relationships, it essentially becomes a tangible bridge, or conception of the space between. The tatau then evolves into something physical, a visible connector, or space between generations, families, identities, sexualities and many other entities that does not separate but unite.
In identifying with this abstraction of the “space between” it is imperative to note that the boy in Wendt’s short story “The Cross of Soot” receives his unfinished tatau “at the space between his thumb and forefinger” (18). The disposable thumb is characteristic of humans, whereas the four separate fingers are characteristic to other animals in nature. The tatau being placed in the space between humanity and nature becomes the connector of these two separate entities. This idea is reiterated when Wendt writes, “So when you are tatauing the blood, the self, you are reconnecting it to the earth, reaffirming that you are earth” (409). The boy’s actual tatau as well as its location therefore become the space between for him as the link between humanity and nature, or his beginning roots.
For Wendt, the boy in “The Cross of Soot” has also become the va, or space between, for the prisoners. His ignorance persistently serves as a source of laughter for the convicts. For example, “knowing that the boy didn’t understand what rape was, the old man chuckled” (11).The boy is clearly a symbol of innocence in not understanding rape, whereas the old man does have knowledge of rape which highlights his experience. The boy then serves as the space between the painful transition from innocence to experience, young to old through his own laughter when uncomfortable and the laughter he generates from the prisoners. Thus, his presence for the prisoners allows laughter, which serves as the space between what once was and the pain of “end[ing] in nothingness.” The boy gives meaning, context and substance to the prisoners, just as the tatau does for the Samoan people.