Christopher McCune September 29, 2010
EN 384D.01: Travel Literature Presentation: Part III
Tales of the Tikongs:
Using Humor to Question the Norms
Tales of the Tikongs, by Epeli Hau'ofa, was the first travel novel that we read as a class in which humor played an effective and incredibly important role. However, the humor in this book is not just a source of entertainment and amusement for the reader, but is also Hau'ofa's primary tool for making poignant comments and criticisms about both the island people and the foreign forces of imperialism and development. Hau'ofa's hilarious sense of humor allows him to critique our western society and institutions, as well as the flaws and shortcomings of his own people, the natives of the South Pacific. By creating ridiculously flawed characters, Hau'ofa makes us question the many ridiculous aspects of our society, including, especially, those things which we consider the "norms." Also, by using humor as the vehicle for these critiques, Hau'ofa is able to soften his blows, so that the reader, instead of taking offense to his critiques, remains amused, open-minded, and contemplative throughout the course of the book.
One of the most interesting aspects of this novel was that it brought to life a country and a culture that is largely overlooked in both literary and world affairs. Tikong, though a fictional island, is representative of Hau'ofa native island country, Tonga. Not surprisingly, I knew nothing of Tonga, not even its existence, before reading Hau'ofa's novel. Tales of the Tikongs brought this, otherwise unknown, South Pacific culture and history to life for me in a way that demanded my attention. I think this speaks strongly to the power of travel literature, as a both a way of transporting the reader and as a voice for countries and places that, long overlooked, have traditionally lacked one. Only by traveling to Tikong, was I able to put my own culture in proper perspective. Hau'ofa taught me to question and remain open to the wildly varying ways in which the different cultures of the world all view their own customs, institutions, and society to be what is "right" or "normal." There is no one culture that will ever be "right," and, certainly, there is no culture that is immune to the sharp wit and careful criticism of Hau'ofa.