Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tattoos as Clothing that Speaks to the Rest of the World

In Wendt’s “The Cross of Soot” he tells the story of a boy who grows up and comes into his own through his interaction with prisoners in a jail near his home. The boy seems to look up to Samasoni and he greatly admires his tattoo of an eagle, leading him to ask Tagi to tattoo him with a star. Although Tagi leaves the boy before he can finish his tattoo so it ends up being a cross instead of a complete star, the experience of tattooing has a profound effect on the boy. When the boy goes to return home, “He paused on the other side and looked back as if he had forgotten something – as if he had crossed from one world to another, from one age to the next” (20). When his mother questions him about where he has been and why he now has the cross tattoo, the boy realizes that for the first time in his life he doesn’t fear her anger, and he realizes this is because “he had changed, grown up” (20).

The boy’s tattoo clearly reflects his journey of growing up and becoming an adult, but I found this particularly interesting in light of the way Wendt describes tattooing in his paper “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body.” He talks about how for Samoans the tatau and malu clothe them more than actual clothing does, so much so that they require little clothing in addition to their tattoos. However, it is not the fact the tattoos physically cover the body of the Samoans, for they are full body tattoos, that is important. Rather they exist “to show you are ready for life, for adulthood and service to your community, that you have triumphed over physical pain and are now ready to face the demands of life” (400). This idea seems very relevant to the boy. He endures the pain of the tattoo and once he has it he is marked as an adult and acts as such. It seems as if the tattoo acts as an external marker to indicate the completion of an important internal journey to the rest of the community.

Having the tattoo lets everyone else know what the individual has gone through and indicates that they have developed an identity and should therefore be treated with respect. I think that this idea explains why Wendt would tattoo the post-colonial body. He wants other nations to respect the journey that the Pacific has gone through in the process of creating an identity. The tattooing process represents the way in which the Pacific has defined itself, incorporating pieces of other cultures into it as its grown but still retaining an unique identity that it created as opposed to adopting an identity that was forced on it. Both the boy and the post-colonial body wear their tattoos with pride because they signify to the world the important internal travel they have undergone.

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