Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Power of the Tatau

In Albert Wendt’s “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body”, he gives the reader a real sense of what it means to be tataued. Being tataued is a sign of respect and pride for your land; the word also means appropriate or fitting, as Wendt points out to us. Although many other cultures do not fully comprehend the meaning and the beauty behind the tatau itself, as Wendt discusses how tataued people have been called “naked savages”, this essay successfully conveys the importance and the magnitude of receiving this tradition. As Wendt points out, tatau is considered a form of clothing, “the most desired and highest status clothing anyone could wear”. Furthermore, the tatau is a rite of passage, preparing the receiver for the pain and obstacles that will befall them during their lives. Just as Hau’oa points out in his essay that belittlement and degradation of Pacific cultures will no longer be permitted, Wendt tries to demonstrate the ways that age old traditions, like tatauing, are essential to Samoan culture.

“Despite the enormous pain, afterwards you will swell with pride.” Even though this process can be painful and daunting, Wendt points out that it is something that represents who you are; it not only embodies past generations and their stories, but it characterizes the individual as well. An interesting aspect of this essay is that despite the risk of actual death, such as AIDS, people have continued to be tataued; it is such a powerful force than nothing is able to stop it. Those who truly believe in its meaning would not fear the risk of death, which shows the extraordinary power of the tatau itself.

As we have discussed in class, it is far worse to have only a half tatau, than to never have received it at all, like Lalolagi who brought shame to her family for years. Yet, it is interesting that Albert Wendt himself does not seem to be self-conscious of the fact that his tatau is incomplete. He calls himself a coward, but does not seem to be shamed by the incident, perhaps because it was such an important part of his life, something worth writing a story about. In “The Cross of Soot”, it is truly evident the effect a tatau can have on someone, even on a small boy. Wendt’s story corresponds to the idea that this process is indeed a rite of passage as we see this boy, once innocent and timid, become confident and self-aware. “The boy sat for a long time clutching his hand as though he was holding something precious”; in reality, the boy is holding something precious or sacred because it symbolizes his step from innocence to experience. The story itself even says, “He had changed, grown up.” Although this incident was relatively short and took place in a rather depressing place, the impact is everlasting, just like the tatau.

Samoan cultures are unable to eradicate the tradition of tatau because of all that it stands for and represents. It is not merely a mark on one’s body, but it is a story, a name, an identity, and a mark of nationalism. “Tatauing is part of everything else that is the people…the village, the community, the environment, and the cosmos.” Not only this, but the tatau does not die when you die; instead, it continues on to your children and generations to follow. Therefore, it is a passageway of connecting not only the person to the land, but also a connection of familial and personal history.

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