Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Growth Through Tattooing

Albert Wendt, in his writings of tattooing and the post-colonial body, draws connections with the physical body, tattooing, and animal imagery. He writes of the importance of tattooing in Samoan culture as a coming of maturity and presenting it as a civilized, necessary practice for the culture. Wendt further connects the tattoos and their symbolic representations beyond that of animalistic to a larger meaning. His implications are that of a greater purpose for tattoos and he furthers the definition of images inked on the body for current generations.

In The Cross of Soot, Wendt compares his characters to that of animals in a way that makes them appear slightly less than human, particularly in their confines of the jail. Here the characters themselves become that of the animal description that they are paired with. Wendt writes, “He snaked himself under the barbed-wire fence,” (The Cross of Soot 8). Wendt makes his character out to be that of an animal rather than that of a civilized, mature man. This mature, humanity is gained however, through the boy’s getting of a tattoo. The boy feels, “as if he had crossed from one world to another, from one age to the next,” (The Cross of Soot 20). Through the use of the tattoos, the character gains knowledge of maturity which separates him from an animal and allows him to wear an animal on his flesh rather than to be like one. He furthers this in his afterword on the post-colonial body stating that once, “you have triumphed over physical pain and now are ready to face the demands of life, and ultimately to master the most demanding of activities: language and oratory.” (Afterword: Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body 400). This demonstrates by wearing a pe’a or flying fox tatau, a boy can wear an animal in order to become fully grown or human.

Through his writings, Wendt expands the definition and understating of a tattoo or tatau. He connects the tattoo in a way that makes it civilized and beyond that necessary. This practice becomes that of a coming of age and overcoming of pain and strife. A tattoo or tatau, than can be seen as a story of importance or power. With these implications, Wendt works to undermine negative perceptions of current tattoos in American society by depicting their meanings and histories as they transform the inner person and their physical body.

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