Christopher McCune October 27, 2010
EN 384.01: Travel Literature Hau'ofa and Wendt Readings
Post-Colonial Oceanic Literature
Among the people of Oceania, tattooing is not just an art form, but also a way of defining one's identity, on a historical, familial, cultural, and personal level. As Samoan author Alfred Wendt explains, the tattoo is a source not of pride or adornment, but instead "has to do with identity, status, age, religious beliefs, and relationships to other art forms and the community." It makes sense, therefore, that the tattoo should play a major role as well in Oceania's search for identity in literature. In his speech "Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body," Wendt makes reference to the idea of tattooing the "body" of post-colonial literature. Wendt asks of literature, "By giving it a Somoan tatau, what am I doing, saying? I'm saying it is a body coming out of the Pacific, not a body being imposed on the Pacific. It is a blend, a new development, which I consider to be Pacific in heart, mind, spirit, and muscle; a blend in which influences from outside have been indigenized."
This idea of blending internal and external life, in order to develop a literature that is unique to the indigenous people of the Pacific, is also stated strongly in the work of Tongan author Epeli Hau'ofa. Applying this "blending" to the islands' economies, Hau'ofa rejects the deterministic, belittling view that post-colonial Oceania is dependent upon foreign aid for survival. Instead, Hau'ofa argues that Oceania is not a small group of "islands in a far sea, but rather a "sea of islands," with the ocean included and interconnecting the various land masses. Additionally, Hau'ofa stresses that the world and resources of Oceania encompasses all of the cities where its people go to work, including Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Canada. The people of Oceania work and contribute within these external societies, sending money home to support their families, friends, and communities.
Thus, we see that Oceania is a land not of dependency, but interdependency. Just as its people depend on one another for survival, so too does Pacific literature depend on the contributions of many different authors. Whether the author is Tongan, like Hau'ofa, or Samoan, like Wendt, Oceania's identity in literature is an interdependent one, compromised of contributions from the regions many different nations. The things that tie the region together, like the all-encompassing ocean surrounding them, and the central role of the tattoo in their cultures, unite this literature into one whole and infinitely more powerful genre.