Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Samoan Soot

Far from the dystopia illustrated in Black Rainbow, Albert Wendt provides a humbling coming-of –age tale in his short story “The Cross of Soot.” The unnamed protagonist, referred to simply as “the boy,” embarks on a journey away from the warmth of his home towards the confines of a cold prison compound. The people he encounters at the prison are surprisingly welcoming, however; allowing the kid to spend (or rather repeat) a day in a life way past his years. In accordance with our last discussion, we see that the classroom may not be the proper place of learning for some. After the death of his headmaster, the boy prefers to travel towards the prison in search of life’s lessons. He learns how to scrape breadfruit from the old man, how to roll cigarettes on behalf of Samasoni, and how to defend himself at the hands of the playful policeman. Yet the most important lesson (as well as the least expected) is taught to the boy by Tagi, a murderer on the cusp of facing justice.
As opposed to Those Who Do Not Grieve, receiving an incomplete tattoo brings the boy one step further on his journey to becoming a man. Yes, tattoos are definitely a sign of age; however, his mark instills a deep philosophical lesson. Tagi proves to the boy that the pains of life do not all appear at once, and instead complete our picture over time. Pain will undoubtedly appear in our lives, yet it is so crucial because it provides the most powerful lessons. The story has intense religious undertones as well, as Wendt illustrates Jesus’ ability to appear to us individually at the most random of moments, always being sure to leave his mark. Tagi is absolutely aware of his fate, and although it is undesirable, he approaches the end of his journey with no complaints. He spreads knowledge (and even gains some from the boy) up until his final moments, remaining well aware of the fact that journey to understanding life ends at death.
In the second reading, “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body,” Wendt explores the historical aspects of the Samoan tattoo culture and highlights just how important the practice is for the unnerved outsider. Wendt explains that the native words for blood and for earth are the same – either “eleele” or “palapala.” He goes on to say, “Our blood, which keeps us alive, is earth. So when you are tatauing the blood, the self, you are reconnecting it to the earth, reaffirming that you are earth, genetically and genealogically” (409). At the end of this chapter Wendt reveals to his reader that he himself has a small cross tattooed on the back of his hand. Whether or not he is actually the little boy in “Cross of Soot,” Wendt is aware that his own journey, his short time on Earth is one marked by pain. The pain is necessary though, for just as in the case of a tattoo, it is a mark that only the individual can bare. We must remain humble along our journey, even in the face of hardships, and accept the end when the time comes.

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