Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tattoo & Identity

In "Tatauing the Post- Colonial Body", Albert Wendt describes the importance of the tatau, which is most clearly demonstrated when he describes his visualization of "the post- colonial body as an actual human body, a naked body which need [s] 'clothing' " (399). Wendt believes that the tattoo/ tatau is as essential to the human being as clothing, shelter, or food. It is a source of identity for the islanders who possess these markings.

Wendt explains the importance of the tattoo for women prior to marriage. Once again, he draws a parallel between clothing and the tattoo. He writes, " [You are] clothed not to cover your nakedness but to show you are ready for life, for adulthood, and for service to your community, that you have triumphed over physical pain and are now ready to face the demands of life, and ultimately to master the most demanding of activities: language and oratory" (401). The men, who often went into battle as warriors, felt the tattoo was a means of protection. Wendt then preceeds to describe the tattoo as a sort of text. Thus, the tattoo is not only a rite of passage, but it also tells a life story, and thus, it must be finished.

Ultimately, the tattoo, as previously stated, is a form of identity for both men and women, although the purposes for tattoos varies with gender. Wendt writes, "Tatauing is a part of everything else that is the people, the aiga, the village, the community, the environment, the atua, the cosmos" (403). Thus, the tattoo connects the marked person with their surroundings and makes them a part of the whole.

In the "Cross of Soot", Wendt describes the importance of the tattoo for men. The young boy acquires strength and knowledge when he is tattooed by the older man. The boy admires Samsoni's eagle tattoo and sees it as a symbol of manhood and strength, which makes him desire a tattoo for himself. In addition, he admires the general attitude of the older men of the prison, and wishes to emulate their brave behavior. At first, Tagi is hesitant to tattoo the boy, as it is likely that he will feel a great deal of pain, but ultimately, the boy proceeds with it, and is filled with courage admist the pain. Wendt explains that the rewards of tattoos are plentiful, but that one of the most important rewards is the strength that is gained through pain, while acquiring the tattoo. This courage gained through pain is very important to the male gender. At the end of the story, the boy's mother is very pleased that the boy can finally look into her eyes like a true man of courage. It is clear that the tattoo has this effect on him, thus illustrating the ability of the tattoo to transform an individual amidst the greater community.

Therefore, the tattoo stands for many things, and each individual marking has many meanings, but ultimately, they represent certain values amongst the men and women of varying cultures. For men, the tattoo is a symbol of strength, wisdom, and maturity. For women, it can be a symbol of duty and fidelity pre- marriage. While these respective purposes may be very traditional or even close- minded to some, they are extremely powerful and define a person for life. In Fiegel's They Who Do Not Grieve, one is able to catch a glimpse of the tattoo's significance for women of the Pacific Islands, similar to the way that Wendt describes the tattoo process for men in "The Cross of Soot". Ultimately, it is apparent that an unfinished tattoo can be a lifetime of shame for the women In They Who Do Not Grieve, but that possession of a tattoo has the power to change an individual, or community, forever. It is a story, a branding, a status symbol, a blood tie to the family and community. It is that and so much more. Outsiders may view the tattooed islanders as untamed because of their markings, but the natives understand the necessity of embracing the tattoo's significance. Maybe travelers will never fully understand this way of life, but authors like Wendt and Fiegel help expose their world to those who do not know if it.

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