In Albert Wendt’s “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body,” I was pleasantly surprised after reading it to realize that he was completely wrong in stating that his paper was “bitsy and disjointed” because I couldn’t think of two words less applicable to a piece of writing. I found Wendt’s explanation of all things surrounding the tattoo (in tatau and malu form) made it as if a small spot in the vast topic of tattoo had been uncovered for me. While he did mention things about the process I’ve learned thus far (the shame, pain, culture of it all) I wasn’t scared or uneasy as I have been with out past few readings about the past, present, and future of the Samoan culture. Wendt’s approach was, however brutally honest, more simply stated than others have been.
One way that Wendt made it more interesting and not so terrifying was the emphasis of the modern culture of the tatau, the man walking around in short shorts showing of his pe’a to the world, and how it is still an incredibly respected and revered profession and event to undergo. Even though Wendt is obviously aware of the hardships that go on in the Samoan cultures, he chooses to embrace them but prove that his people have persevered and are still part of a vibrant land with its own past times that are continuously celebrated.
In the second section of Wendt’s paper, “Nakedness”, he brought up the idea of “the post-colonial body as an actual human body” (399). This seemed like an odd notion at first – of course the post-colonial body was human, what else would it be, even if he meant the body of an entire people. Then it made me think of the distinction of the prefixes to each of these phrases. Post-colonial body implies a body that came out of a brutal (or necessary and founded, depending how you look at it) movement while the human body brings to mind flesh, bone, and blood. The art of tatauing is about past, present, and future of a family, sharing their stories for generations to come, a never-ending storybook right there on your very own thighs. But, as we discussed in class last week, the fact that it is tapped into your skin, something fragile that is being proven strong, and something limited that is proving to relay a multitude of emotions to limitless generations and audiences, really means something.
In the section “Fair Skins”, Wendt states that we are so “fascinated with tattooing” because “it has to do with blood, human blood, with deliberately bleeding the human body” (409), which is an approach I’ve never taken. And to relate to my realization of the importance in the human body’s participation in tatauing, human blood can signify exactly the same thing: a limited resource in our bodies that we willingly give to benefit our past and futures. We have previously discussed that the process of tatauing is to prove that you are strong enough to handle life’s hardships and journey’s and Wendt adds on to that by saying that we are “testing it [blood] to see if it can bear the pain of being in a human body, of storying it, giving it human design, shape, form, and identity” (409). He says that our blood keeps us alive so basically, without its permission we wouldn’t be able to withstand the pain of the tatau or malu. It isn’t only our minds and bodies that must get through the pain of tattooing, but also the very thing that keeps us running every minute of every day, our blood, is tested to see if it can stand the pain of being in and supporting the human body.