Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tatau as Past and Future

Wendt in his “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body” describes the tatau as one of the most important practices of the Samoan culture, as the collective symbol for everything that makes up one’s life. In getting a tatau or a malu, a man or woman sacrifices his or her life for the Samoan community, allowing the body and the final design to be forever a record of communal or familial history. The tatauing process is therefore a painful experience that represents an appreciation for the past and for one’s culture as well as it represents an individual’s own journey or recognition of his or her place in the world. The tatau or malu becomes a record of one’s development, marking his or her acceptance of what has occurred as well as one’s openness to what will happen and what future will be passed on to the next generations.

The tatauing process coincides greatly with the idea that only after one accepts and learns from the past or from history can he or she grow and achieve individual greatness. Malu of Fiegel’s Those Who Do Not Grieve shows this understanding and therefore a new sense of self-development when she translates her grandmother’s and her mother’s pasts into a beautiful and hopeful future. And Wendt himself depicts a journey similar to that of the tatau in his short story “The Cross of Soot” in which the boy receives through the cross tataued into his hand the sorrow and grief of the prison men and becomes a grown boy that can finally look into his mother’s scolding eyes; the boy becomes, through the experiences of the men that are relayed and tataued to him, a more mature being. Although the men of the prison may not have another chance to alter their pasts or start anew, the boy represents a fresh start for them all, a symbol of the positive communal future that awaits them through the boy and his life experiences. Wendt portrays, through his seemingly lighthearted short story and essay, the significance of community and of the tradition of the tatau, no matter how small the tatau itself may be. The tatau is a form of travel for the individual and for the whole, a journey that can never end because it’s tradition will forever be passed on to those who are willing to accept.

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