Thursday, September 30, 2010
The article, "The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education" by Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, modernizes thic concept of Jesuit missionary work. Kolvenbach emphasizes the role that Jesuit universities must play in the world community, by demonstrating a strong commitment to justice and service. Reading this article, you can see a definite shift from the way Jesuit missionaries during the Age of Exploration thought and acted to how goals should be accomplished today. Kolvenbach writes, "Faithful to the Vatican Council, the COngregation wanted our preaching and teaching not to proselytize, not to impose our religion on others, but rather propose Jesus and his message of God's Kingdom in a spirit of love to everyone" (26). In the missions in South America, or other culturally different places, it is my understanding that there was less "proposing" and more "imposing." Due to the small amount of information then known about these New World natives, missionaries assumed that by coming in and converting the population to Christianity, they were in fact saving their souls and improving their lives. Kolvenbach openly points out that the history of the Jesuits' promotion of justice has not always been smooth. He mentions, "In some ears the relatively mild expression, 'promotion of justice,' echoes revolutionary, subversive and even violent language" (27). He hopes that while the basic mission is remaining the same, the way others perceive it is becoming more favorable.
As we well know, the Jesuit universities strive to develop the "whole person," forming students into positive contributions to society. Kolvenbach points out that "tomorrow's 'whole person' cannot be whole without an educated awareness of society and culture with which to contribute socially, generously, in the real world. Tomorrow's whole person must have, in brief, a well-educated solidarity" (34). Contact with our world community is an important part of a Jesuit education no matter what you're actually majoring in. As Kolvenbach says, "Every discipline, beyond its necessary specialization, must engage with human society, human life, and the environment in appropriate ways, cultivating moral concern about how people ought to live together" (36).
When reading this article, however, in my opinion, Kolvenbach seems to come across a little strong at points, specifically when he describes the service opportunities at a typical Jesuit university. He explains, "Our universities also boast a splendid variety of in-service programs, outreach programs, insertion programs, off-campus contracts and hands-on courses. These should not be too optional or peripheral, but at the core of every Jesuit university's program of studies" (35). Not that helping others isn't important, but if these programs are forced upon students, won't many of those students end up feeling resentful and as though this service is simply an unwanted obligation, rather than an act of kindness and goodwill? In another section, Kolvenbach states, "the students need the poor in order to learn" (37). Well, yes, interaction with the real world through the many service options availlable will indeed make a student aware of what is happening out in the world and what he or she can do to help. My problem with this statement is that Kolvenbach seems to imply that the Jesuit mission relies on the existence of poor people in order to function properly.
Perhaps I'm simply reading too much cynicism into this article. Ultimately, the Jesuits are really just trying to help us travel outside our own spheres of comfort and witness how other people in the world live. When and where it is possible to help them, we have an obligation to do so, as fellow members of the human race. As Kolvenbach puts it, "How can a booming economy, the most prosperour and global ever, still leave over half of humanity in poverty?" The answer: we can't; it is our responsibility to go out there and help.
Kolvenbach insists that a median position can exist between these two extremes -- a concept which reminded me of a recent article by Keith Fournier which calls for a "true humanism" that seeks a "just and human society" based in, and not separated from, the "objective truths" of Christianity (Fournier). Kolvenbach acknowledges how easily one’s religious beliefs can be partitioned from routine decision-making. His mention of a “Jesuit…medical school….producing…some of the most corrupt citizens in [Beirut]” seems analogous to Hau’ofa’s stories of a regular churchgoers like Sione who, though they listen all day Sunday to the preaching of Christian dogma, are corrupt businessmen throughout the rest of the week(23 – 4). I found Kolvenbach's call for reformation of such stunted religious viewpoints through a refocusing of Jesuit education a refreshing change from Hau’ofa’s less nuanced approach of presenting religion and social improvement as mutually exclusive.
Nevertheless, in reading Kolvenbach's description of an excellent professor at a Jesuit university being one who in his or her "research...[collaborates] with those in the Church and in society...who actively seek justice," I had reservations that this standard would leave some professors conflicted between a desire to remain as objective as possible in their studies and one compelling them to "[adopt] the point of view of those who suffer injustice" (37). For a scientist, journalist or sociologist, can the expression of "such an explicit option" be completely reconciled with a duty to "seek the truth" in an unbiased way (37)? In trying to work out this quandary for myself, I am reminded of Alasdair MacIntyre's position that facts cannot ever be divorced from morality, an idea extremely similar to Kolvenbach's statement that "no point of view is ever...value free" (37). In addition, as many have pointed out in relation to both journalism and the sciences, one's preferences influence the practice of one's discipline regardless of how one might try to remove his or herself from them. Those whose research is not influenced by an "option" for the poor will be influenced by other, perhaps less altruistic, biases (37).
Even in acknowledging this, however, I wonder if any kind of research can reflect reality accurately if the researcher is keeping even the most compassionate of biases in mind while conducting the research. I think that a researcher can be a compassionate citizen, just as I agree with Kolvenbach that being religious should not prevent one from being a compassionate citizen. However, my current, albeit tentative, belief is that a researcher must look to his or her duties as a citizen only after his or her research has been completed, at which point he or she can look back on objective data and draw moral conclusions from it.
Fournier, Keith. "Catholics Need Not Apply. Firing Professor Howell. Rise of Anti-Catholicism." Catholic Online. 19/07/2010. Web. 30/09/2010.
Hau'ofa, Epeli. Tales of the Tikongs. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1994. Print.
Kolvenbach, Peter-Hans. "The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education." Baltimore: Apprentice House, 2007. Print.
MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: Third Edition. United States: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008. Print.
I was luckier than my friends who were Lutheran and Methodist; I got to go to a soup kitchen for or requirement, with 6 friends I had known since 2nd grade.We all go to complain about it together. For six fifteen year olds, waking up at 6:30 AM to go to the city of Newark, NJ (did I mention it was freezing) was not on the list of any of our favorite activities. There was cheesy music on, and no heat in the SUV we were in. All I remember thinking at that point in time was, " Thank God I brought my CD player." This luxury item to many people in Newark, was the only distraction that we had, and kept taking turns with the entire trip. We entered the area that most upper-middle c;ass kids would refer to as the ghetto, at 10:30 AM. The church was plain looking, and the sisters who ran the soup kitchen had a guard dog. OK, I'll admit I thought that was kind of cool. By now my CD player was in my backpack, and I was thinking if we got jumped that'd be the first thing the person would grab.
We were all told to make a mixed salad out to of lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes. The only thing I remember my friend Deanna saying was, "Well at least you can see what vet school will be like." I replied that neutering a male dog, and chopping tomatoes were two very different things. We were told to put the salads on these long tables outside, and there were other food items as well;we each took a different station. Of course, we were all separated, which drove me crazy. In another blog for this week, someone talks about stepping out of their comfort zone, I definitely know how they feel.
On page 26 Kolvenbach talks about Christ suffering on the Cross, as being a Servant to his Father. Servant is the only word I can use to describe what we did, and how we were treated. The people were rude, and hostile. The children were the only ones in the room I could feel for. As Michael Jackson said, "I see God in the face of children." I now know what he meant. I felt a true sense of compassion for the people coming in.
St Ignatius talks about deeds being the Core of providing Love and not words. I see that now, in doing what I did. Did I have an eye opener? Of course. I had plenty of extras in my life that I didn't need. These people had a monthly check and lived in a dangerous area.
There was no talk on the way back. I had a horse show in Princeton so my head went to Mars in the van with no heat. Later in the month were all met at church as a group to draw, write about, and discuss our art work. We all said the same thing, how it truly was a DIFFERENT experience. I find it interesting that I am, involved in a Hunger and Homeless group on campus. I was spoiled and self involved back then. Now I have a more mature prospective on things. I want to do it because its an issue that isn't spoken about enough. Ironic? It possibly is, depending on which way you look at it. Maybe if i didn't have a prompt like this for thing week's blog, maybe i wouldn't have seen the irony.
Christopher McCune September 29, 2010
EN 384D.01: Travel Literature Presentation: Part III
Tales of the Tikongs:
Using Humor to Question the Norms
Tales of the Tikongs, by Epeli Hau'ofa, was the first travel novel that we read as a class in which humor played an effective and incredibly important role. However, the humor in this book is not just a source of entertainment and amusement for the reader, but is also Hau'ofa's primary tool for making poignant comments and criticisms about both the island people and the foreign forces of imperialism and development. Hau'ofa's hilarious sense of humor allows him to critique our western society and institutions, as well as the flaws and shortcomings of his own people, the natives of the South Pacific. By creating ridiculously flawed characters, Hau'ofa makes us question the many ridiculous aspects of our society, including, especially, those things which we consider the "norms." Also, by using humor as the vehicle for these critiques, Hau'ofa is able to soften his blows, so that the reader, instead of taking offense to his critiques, remains amused, open-minded, and contemplative throughout the course of the book.
One of the most interesting aspects of this novel was that it brought to life a country and a culture that is largely overlooked in both literary and world affairs. Tikong, though a fictional island, is representative of Hau'ofa native island country, Tonga. Not surprisingly, I knew nothing of Tonga, not even its existence, before reading Hau'ofa's novel. Tales of the Tikongs brought this, otherwise unknown, South Pacific culture and history to life for me in a way that demanded my attention. I think this speaks strongly to the power of travel literature, as a both a way of transporting the reader and as a voice for countries and places that, long overlooked, have traditionally lacked one. Only by traveling to Tikong, was I able to put my own culture in proper perspective. Hau'ofa taught me to question and remain open to the wildly varying ways in which the different cultures of the world all view their own customs, institutions, and society to be what is "right" or "normal." There is no one culture that will ever be "right," and, certainly, there is no culture that is immune to the sharp wit and careful criticism of Hau'ofa.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
During my time spent at both EBLO and Refugee project, I served as a mentor for young children. When I began my service at both sites, I considered myself a “volunteer.” However, at the end of my time spent with these children, I realized that I learned more from them than they learned from me. Every week, I would get to know the students on a personal level. As they shared with me their back-stories along with tales of the obstacles such as racism, poverty and violence they have faced and continue to face every day, I started to see the world from a whole new perspective, one a textbook could never teach.
For so long I was consumed with my own life and my own future that I did not realize the injustices within our world right now. As Kolvenbach writes, “injustice is rooted in a spiritual problem, and its solution requires a spiritual conversion of each one’s heart” (33). Although I have always considered myself a Catholic, I never felt as in touch with God as I did the two semesters I spent at EBLO and Refugee Youth Project. It’s been a year since I worked with those students, yet I still remember their faces, their names, and the stories they shared with me. I may not be able to tell you what I learned in Psychology freshman year, but I can tell you the hardships Turkish refugees face. Kolvenbach makes a strong point when he writes, “When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change” (34). If every one makes the choice to serve, to learn, and to experience with others, we may finally arrive at a more “just and humane society” (32).
Some may find that religion is the source of this inner spirituality while others may see otherwise. Although religion is almost always associated with spirituality, it is not always the final answer; religion can frame one’s spirituality but does not have to be the sole determinant characteristic. From my own personal experience, I am not a religious person but easily see in other’s lives the importance of religion. Attending Loyola has allowed me to view religion and spirituality as two separate yet connected entities, as two sources of individuality that can be independent or dependent of one another, depending on the individual. As a Jesuit institution, Loyola provides many opportunities for realizing one’s world purpose in that it encourages a broad range of service to the community, a well-rounded education system, and inner reflection. Almost every Loyola student finds a way to connect to the university community and to his or her self, proving that the Jesuit religious framework can allow students and others to find their specific forms of spirituality, whether completely connected or distantly connected to a religious meaning.
Kolvenbach’s essay, The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education, he includes the Jesuit dedication to the “service of faith and the promotion of justice” as a kind of motto to how the Jesuit community should interact with the world. According to Kolvenbach, this broad Jesuit principle applies to everyone for it allows every individual to have his or her own impact on the community: “The summary expression ‘the service of faith and the promotion of justice’ has all the characteristics of a world-conquering slogan, using a minimum of words to inspire a maximum of dynamic vision; but it runs the risk of ambiguity” (25). While the ambiguity is nice in that the slogan can apply to every individual, it can, for those who need structure, cause anxiety. Because the process of self-discovery can be a life-long journey, many seek structure in places that can hinder growth. In order to get past this anxiety, one has to just recognize that identity is an ever-changing form of travel and that one’s true self will not disappear but will further and further rise to the surface.
Tales of the Tikongs presents an example of a community of characters that rely completely on religion to provide life structure. Instead of accessing religion in a spiritual way, the characters force religion upon themselves and never truly recognize how they individually connect to the world. Religion becomes a form of conditioning rather than a spiritual experience. The Tikongs do not seek individuality or their own true forms of spirituality because they do not understand that identity can be separate from religion, that religion does not have to be one’s whole self. Because the characters get nothing out of their religious experiences except structure, they do not allow themselves to grow or travel. Unlike the Jesuit slogan and Loyola’s interpretation of this principle, Tiko and it’s community members do not recognize the greatness in flexibility and do not understand that spirituality is completely individual; they do not recognize the difference between religion and belief or religion and inner spirituality and therefore do not seek their individual identities.
Kolvenbach calls for education to, “’educate the whole person of solidarity for the real world,’” (Kolvenbach 34). This education in solidarity forces the student to take their learning beyond the class room and into the “real world” being beyond that of a person’s individual world or space into a space connected with others. Through this learning process students must physically travel beyond the confines of what they know and what is the space of their world, to go to that of other peoples’ worlds. The physical separation of each person’s world must be taken out of the equation in order for solidarity to be formed among the two parties. By serving others in their environment rather than staying within your own, the ties of separation or otherness can be broken down. This solidarity of people in itself is what truly makes up the real world and the space for social justice changes.
Kolvenbach furthers that “when the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change,” (Kolvenbach 34). This means that personal experience creates the space in a person’s mind to form this solidarity with others. I have personally experienced this space created within myself and changed the inner travel of thoughts and ideas through my own service experiences. Last fall I served at the Saturday school of the Education Based Latino Outreach Program and expanded my thoughts beyond what I believed I knew of the immigration community through my direct experience of what actually is. I worked with elementary school children all coming from different backgrounds but going to the school for the same reasons. They all needed extra assistance in school subjects, primarily being Math and English. Through this program I was able to interact with the students and help them with their needs as well as redefining the ideas in my own mind. I was able to mentally travel beyond with I thought I knew and learn through the children their stories of their families and their struggles. Immigration to America and in some case possibly non-illegal immigration became concepts that had never before been so important to me. The citizenship status of the families were not discussed for good reason, but in either case the immigration struggles of some families were evident through the children. Having lived in the United States all my life (at this point in time) I could not begin to understand some of this hardships some of these families had faced coming to a new country with entirely different customs. The program provided great insight to me of what it is like to share customs from two different cultures and the issues that arise from trying to merge these cultures. This concept is one that I had never truly contemplated much before. Only by having this direct experience with EBLO was I able to travel within the concepts of my own mind and open them, creating another place for thoughts to travel, filled with thoughts of these children and their families experiences.
Ever since I was young, I have been involved in community service of one kind or another. My church had required hours for religion class each year and my parents would plan family volunteering activities, but I always saw these as more of an obligation than anything else. I didn’t mind going and doing whatever activity I was supposed to but once my actual time there was over so was my experience. I thought that that simply going somewhere and helping out someone else who was disadvantaged in someway was all that community service was about, but last year the reality of what service experiences actually are finally clicked for me.
Last year though, I participated in Spring Break Outreach and went to New Orleans. I painted rooms and windows, plastered walls, planted trees, worked at a community center, and heard tales of devastation and struggle from people still trying to get their lives together five years after Hurricane Katrina. However, I later came to realize that the actual activities I participated weren’t as important as what they facilitated. Being in New Orleans for a whole week allowed me to really submerge myself in the experience, and I started trying to understand not what the people needed but why they were in this terrible situation in the first place. I started actually talking to them and trying to understand their lives rather than merely focusing on what I could physically do for them.
While I physically traveled somewhere for this experience, I think the more important form of travel I ended up engaging in was internal, and I didn’t end with my external journey. By going on this trip, I was able to recognize the importance of getting to know individual people and their circumstances prior to passing judgment on them, I grew to understand how great the injustices within this country can be, and I also learned new things about myself. I think that service can be a form of travel on numerous levels; you can travel physically to do service in another place and you can travel outside your comfort zone to serve people radically different than yourself, but the critical form of travel in service is the internal journey that it facilitates allowing you to grow as an individual.
In Peter-Hans Kolvenbach’s address, “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education” he expresses this same idea of service as a type of travel that ultimately results in personal growth. He states that only way for students to become responsible and justice-promoting individuals is to instill them with these values through direct experiences. Kolvenbach says, “Personal involvement with innocent suffering, with the injustice others suffer, is the catalyst for solidarity which then gives rise to intellectual inquiry and moral reflection” (34). The personal decision to work towards a just world cannot be made based solely on someone telling you that this is the right or moral thing to do; it is a choice and set of values that can only be adopted after personal insight and growth.
Service is presented as a means by which this personal growth can be achieved and by which students can grow to understand and work towards solving the immense injustices that exist in today’s world. It is important to note however, that service alone will not instill students with certain values or beliefs. This is the mistake I made when I was younger, believing that service is only about what you do. Rather, the internal travel that is sparked by service is the important aspect because this allows students to grow as individuals, understand the injustices on a deep level, and make the decision that something needs to be done about them. Kolvenbach says, “ the measure of Jesuit universities is not what our students do but who they become and the adult Christian responsibility they will exercise in the future towards their neighbor and their world” (35).
The Jesuits wish to instill their students with a sense of faith and also justice, and they have come to realize that these are not things that can be forced upon a person but rather things a person must come to embrace on their own. Kolvenbach suggests that service and first-hand experience with injustice are an important part of the Jesuit education because they facilitate and encourage students to participate in internal travel. Internal travel provides a means through which you can get to know yourself and develop your own personal values regardless of what they will be, and service is a good way to encourage and spark this internal journey.
According to Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, promotion of justice and service of faith is essential to our society. As members in a Jesuit university and, in my case, a former student to a Jesuit high school in Cleveland, Ohio, justice needs to become intertwined into our being. The only way possible for true justice to be integrated into someone’s life is through immersion into a world in need of service and faith; educating oneself of the world around us; and love that transcends outside us and into action: a journey for solidarity.
When I was at Saint Ignatius High School, service was everywhere you went. You’d go up the stairs and see a flyer for volunteering at the Arrupe House, the community service center on campus. You would be in class and hear announcements talking about coming down for homework club, a tutoring program for the children around the neighborhood. When it was free period and you finally had time to “relax” and “contemplate”, the door for the stall had perfect reading material taped on saying “ARRUPE SUMMER PROGRAM APPLICATIONS DUE! COUNSELORS NEEDED!” When Kolvenbach states on pg 26 that service and faith cannot mean anything other than to bring the counter-cultural gift of Christ to our world, I feel that my high school realized this belief and did whatever it could to make sure its students new that as well. As Kolvenbach tries to tell us, it is our duty to bring justice and faith to others. By just sitting in a classroom, not everything can be learned about the world. A textbook or a brochure can only draw a picture for you that is illustrative but fails to captivate the picture with real colors. I was able to take this to heart at school. When I first noticed the flyer for the Arrupe Summer Program, I realize that this was an opportunity for me to “follow Christ in his labors, on his terms and in his way.” (Pg 26) I saw it as something forcing me to step outside my comfort zone. I know that I needed to bring my faith through service. Unless I actually took initiative, I would be unable to bring about promotion of justice, what we are all called to do.
As I took the step to join the world outside my own, I needed to understand the world itself. I would have done absolutely nothing to help these children if I didn’t understand the world they were from. And our worlds could not be so different. For instance, I grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland in Lakewood, Ohio. I am an only child in which I am a spoiled brat and get everything I ask my parents that is reasonable. I have my own car, my own room, TV, and everything. Switch over now to a place that is probably only about 20 minutes away by road. These children lived in a home that suffers from domestic violence. They have to fight to get things that they need just to survive. They don’t have a father figure or a mother that is always there. Being educated about a world that I never thought possible was eye opening. I believe that my high school did a lot to teach me everything I needed to know before I took the job to be a counselor in the Arrupe Summer Program. According to Kolvenbach, the primary objective of the education is to make men and women for others, to understand that love must go beyond love for God but love for our neighbors. And this is hard to teach and take to heart. For instance, we were taught that the kids could be hard to deal with, that they may actually be cruel because that is all they know and have lived with. If I could do exactly what Kolvenbach suggests, I would not have had a problem dealing with these kids and it would have been extremely easy for me to love, to have agape for my neighbors. I would have been able to engage it constructively as Kolvenbach states. Being in the thick of it all, I was in the reality of the world and could become an adult of solidarity. It was not easy. At first, I hated the kids. They were loud, nasty, and constantly disrespected me. They would tell me often that I was nothing to them and did not need to listen to me at all. Even though I had the “personal involvement with innocent suffering”, it was becoming extremely difficult to have intellectual inquiry and moral reflection. Clearly, it would take something more for me to really take something out of the whole experience and begin a journey towards solidarity.
It was very hard for me to achieve true solidarity in the terms that Kolvenbach expresses. Through education, personal involvement, and understanding the world around us, we can achieve a love that extends beyond us. Even though I was having such a hard time with all the kids in my group, I needed to look beyond the situation. I needed to look beyond everything that was going on. I was slowly becoming aware of my surroundings. Instead of being upset and really let things bring me down, I took the opportunity to show love above myself. I needed to extend myself fully to those children because no one else. At the end of the day, I needed to be a man for others, not a man for myself. When they were mean to me, when they decided to act smart, I just laughed it off and gave them my hand even more. Eventually, we became friends and I am still connected to them till this very day. They call me and let me know what is going on with them at home. I grew to love them more than myself. Every time I go home, I see them and always check to see if they need anything. I believe that in my life, thus far, I have made a great step into journeying towards solidarity. I have seen the world, outside my own, and taken it and tried to bring justice to it. I have tried exercising my faith as Kolvenbach states that we cannot have promotion of justice without faith. They both work hand in hand. I have taken to heart that solidarity is a necessity to life if we wish to fully participate in this world.
At the end of day, not everyone can fully participate in the world. We can only promote justice to the parts of the world we are in. However, if everyone comes together to bring service and faith together strive towards achieving integration into the world around us and make it our reality, educating ourselves and educating others by our actions, we can become beacons to show others what it means to be Men and Women for others. At the conclusion of Kolvenbach, that is essentially what he is trying to tell us. Jesuit Education, Jesuit Tradition, and Jesuit living revolves around bring God to others, bring faith and just to our world. We are not creating the perfect world, but we are bringing our solidarity to where we go and that is the least we can do. You know, we aren’t God.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
In Tiktongs's first chapter, Hau'ofa makes it clear to the reader that the people of Tikong, and Sione in particular, do not attend Church out of a desire for spiritual edification. The "100% Church attendance" in Tikong is a conditioned reaction to the "booming" Church bells, and the citizens' knowledge that this negative stimuli will only cease after "everyone has gone to church" (2). That Sione and his wife "bounce" out of bed upon hearing the bells -- a citywide reaction, Hau'ofa tells the reader -- demonstrates the power of this external compulsion (2). Sione and his peers do not appear to have any other motive for going to Church. Manu, able to ignore the noise by using earplugs, would rather sleep than attend the service for its and his own sake. Furthermore, though they are "pious" while worshipping, the citizens have no desire to avoid "Temptation" and "sin" in the time they are not at Church, making their "confess[ing]" and "prais[ing]" of God seem like meaningless, rote exercises (3).
Ti Polo Siminī is one of the few characters in Tikongs who is depicted as engaging in non-ritualistic spiritual activities outside of Church, but he only does so to avoid a more powerful negative stimuli than the bells: the vengeance of God's prophets. Ti Polo prays for forgiveness after committing the accidental "sacrilege" of ripping out a page of the Bible in the dark to use as a cigarette, and having had a wrathful divine dream as a result (36). His remorse seems to arise from his understanding of not only having committed a major sin, but having committed an unordinary one (36). He recognizes the "enormity" of his act because it is something which his peers would "never" do (36). Ti Polo has no qualm about stealing from his neighbor - by again ripping a page from the Bible but not repeating the "un[heard]" of act of burning it -- and trying to rape his neighbor's wife in his attempts to atone for his initial sin (36).
Though his initial sin was inadvertent, Ti Polo commits these acts with full awareness of what he is doing, and commits the second even after repenting for the first. For him, like Tikong's parishioners, religious observance has become a way of bypassing pain, and he considers forgiveness as a guarantee "no matter what" his intentions for the future are (10). That Hau'ofa allows the character to get out of his suffering by sinning again -- this time an "equal and opposite sin" -- shows that he, like Ti Polo, views religion as what Alasdair MacIntyre calls a "set of rules," a set which does not help one become a genuinely better person (42; MacIntyre 119).
Hau'ofa, Epeli. Tales of the Tikongs. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1994.
MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: Third Edition. United States: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008
To me, Epeli Hau’ofa’s Tales of the Tikongs was a perfect combination of the previous two texts. I was as confused (and slightly disturbed) as I was while reading Wendt’s Black Rainbow, and equally as disoriented after reaching the halfway mark of Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Exploring the one-of-a-kind culture found on the imaginary island Tiko, Hau’ofa presents a social commentary packed to the brim with religious satire and misguided fundamentalism. Although I have yet to fully form my own interpretation of the text, I have begun to grasp Hau’ofa’s outlook on life. I can only assume that he is not a fan of organized religion, that he hates when things that work just fine are developed for the sake of D-E-V-E-L-O-P-M-E-N-T, and that there is nothing that irks him more than unnecessary imperialism.
I’m not sure if it appears in the second half of the book, but I was surprised to see that Tales of the Tikongs lacks a crucial element of the other works we’ve read thus far; not once did I find an individual character on the gradual journey towards self-discovery. Noeli finds new religions and Ti learns not to roll cigarettes while still half-asleep, but I myself could not find a sense of urgency and understanding. My favorite aspect of Hau’ofa’s work is how he introduces each new character just as Calvino exposed us to separate sectors of Venice. It would not be an exaggeration if you said every Tikong is quite the individual. They each have their own quirks and enjoy their life of leisure in their own way, yet I think there’s a deeper meaning in the fact that they all have an identical mindset towards life on the island. Manu is my favorite as he remains the individual amongst individuals, as well as, “the only teller of big truths in the realm” (Hau’ofa 7).
Hau’ofa satirizes this paradoxical nature of power in the tale, The Seventh and Other Days. Sione Falesi is declared as a “Most Important Person who holds high positions in both the secular and the spiritual affairs of the realm,” (1). Yet the story goes on to show just exactly how much work Sione does not do on these so called secular and spiritual affiars. Rather he rests, plays cards, and gets back massages during “work” hours. Moreover, the cleaner of his agency, Lea, clearly in a less powerful position, easily and regularly uses flattery to con $10 out of Sione to supplement his underpaid wage. The story concludes with Manu’s question, “And who leads who in Tiko? (6) questioning who really holds the power in the story. Though Hau’ofa uses capitalization to highlight these positions as important, but this an exaggerated way of showing that the importance of the position is in the name only, not necessarily in the work that the person in the position does. Though Sione holds this high position of supposed power, worthy of capitalization in the text, the simple agency cleaner actually has power over him and outsmarts him on a biweekly basis.
Reading it again made me feel less confused. I am still trying to make sense of Rainbow so having to reread something that I already understood was GREAT. In searching for the ideas of travel, as opposed to humor they are more evident now that I am reading the book a second time. All of the characters within each small story seem to be on some kind of literal journey. Since the island is not real it makes it kind of comical at first, but the obvious traveling that is going on is something that one cannot ignore.
Even though the Biblical themes are very visible, I also see the obvious human side to what the characters are going through as people. In a way, it sort of mirrors the journey of Christ. I am not sure if Hau'ofa planned it that way, but the amount of struggle and pain they go thorough makes me think of the Stages of The Cross. That is more of journey than getting from point A to point B; it is a spiritual journey which is a lot more enriching.
The other area that is very strong in the theme of travel is the idea sin. Several examples that illustrate this point are interwoven to make the satire richer, but one that stands out is the character of Zero Zero. He told "a one percent truth (8)" when he stole the money. And all the jurors sympathized with him. What else can this be, but Hau'ofa making fun of sin. In this exagerated example he also uses the illustration to show that we are all capable of messing up. Unfortunately we do not live on a backwards island, but we all make istakes and have lied to try and get out of it; its part of being human. That point is whta caught my eye mot while reading the book for a second time.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Through his use of biblical imagery, Hau’ofa takes his readers on a journey of developing their inner-self. He presents his characters in a way that their stories allow the reader to travel through their thoughts and the way they perceive their own inner-self. This inner-self being that of morals which tie the reader to their individual notions of a higher purpose. In the book, this deeper spirituality is predominantly seen through the character of Toa who learns to not be, “greedy for earthly goods,” as well as to devote, “all his time to developing for himself vast treasures in Heaven,” (Hau’ofa 26). Toa learns that this connection to a higher power is what life should be lived for rather than that of earthly commodities. It is through the humor of his tale that the reader can make connections to their own life and the way earthly commodities can work to fill and voids left by a lack of connection to the inner human spirit. Through the use of biblical references, the author sets up a moral yardstick as which to measure his characters by as well as for the reader to place themselves on the created scales of biblical and character comparison. It is through his characters’ moral compasses, that Hau’ofa creates a place that can evoke travel of the reader through their inner-self and thus create a connection with the human spirit.
Christopher McCune September 23, 2010
EN 384D: Travel Literature Blog Post #2
The Tikongs: A Foil to the Western World
Tales of the Tikongs, a novel by Epeli Hau'ofa, provides the reader with a fascinating look at the idyllic lives led by the native island people of the South Pacific. However, with his sharp wit and gleeful humor, the author is also provides the reader with an even more intriguing look at western culture. By viewing western civilization through a different lens, from the unique perspective of the Tikongs, the reader is placed at a remove from what we consider "normal" in today's society of . Thus, we are challenged by the Tikongs to question why we place certain things, such as the value of hard-work, money, progress, and development, on great marble pedestals, to be worshipped by our society.
The relationship between Hiti George VI, a Tikong, and Mr. Charles Edward George Higginbotham, an English public servant, perfectly highlights this difference between the Tikongs and western culture. Charles Edward simply cannot grasp how little value the Tikong culture, which is lazy and lax in regard to work, puts in the "Puritan work ethic." So much of western culture is defined by what we do for a living, and the long hours we put into our jobs, that Charles Edward simply cannot comprehend why the Tikongs do not care about work. Meanwhile, the absurdity of the fact that Charles Edward is dramatically reducing the quality of his life by going to the island, simply so he can earn a bigger paycheck that he does not live long enough to enjoy, is not lost on the reader.
Hau'ofa also causes us to question many other staples of western civilization during the first half of this novel. For example, Sione, another Tikong, is desperately trying to halt the tidal wave of development that is threatening to sweep over the island. Sione firmly opposes the Family Planning Agency that the imperialists want to found on the island, and, like many Tikongs, argues for a continuation of traditional Tikong life. Meanwhile, Ika Levu and Toa Qase offer us cautionary tales of how the imperialists helped them grow and develop their fishing and poultry businesses, respectively. Surprisingly, the dramatic rise in their finances, and thus their work load, only served to destroy the happiness of these two Tikongs
In Tales of the Tikongs, Hau'ofa makes some very astute, fascinating criticisms of western society and what we value. By contrasting our society with that of the Tikongs, Hau'ofa masterfully casts doubt on many of the institutions, principles, and codes by which we live by in the modern world. However, he does so with a mischievous wink and a playful smile, which is why this novel is both a light read and, simultaneously, a deep one.
The opening chapter of the book presents us with a number of significant facts about the religion of the Tikongs. Right away, we learn that Tiko is completely opposite from other Christians; “Thus if the Lord works six days and rests on the Seventh, Tiko rests six days and works on the Seventh” (1). We later learn that this “work” that the Tikongs perform each Sunday is actually attending church every two hours. While at church, the primary goal for Sione, and probably for many of us, is to make up for the sins he has committed that week. Hau’ofa describes him as “a self-confessed sinner who goes to church every Sunday mainly to ask God’s forgiveness for his many, many errors” (1).
Forgiveness is vital to the Tikongs’ society; “it is the Christian virtue most ardently sought and most freely bestowed in the realm” (10). Any Christian here at Loyola might originally agree that the concept of forgiveness is one of the most important aspects of religion, as well they should. Hau’ofa takes forgiveness to an extreme however, describing characters who have forgiven the ancestors of their friends for insulting their own ancestors, or those corrupt businessmen who retained their jobs because all was forgiven and over with. Faced with these examples, that same Loyola Christian might start to think twice about exactly how forgiveness works. Rather than a weekly list of what we’ve done wrong, and will undoubtedly do wrong again, or a simple apology for a misstep of epic proportions and expecting to get away with it all, forgiveness should hold a more special place in people’s relationships with God and with each other. Not to sound preachy, but forgiveness is supposed to take a great deal of personal thought on the part of the confessor as well as the forgiver. A casual statement or weekly reiteration of the same sins does not quite cover the whole goal of forgiveness.
The Tikongs are more like us than we may think at the start of the book. A final humorous example of this occurs during the description of the Sunday ritual. Hau’ofa writes, “Throughout the Seventh Day the Lord is praised, the Lord is flattered, and the Lord is begged. Though perhaps the Lord doesn’t hear if it’s His day off” (2). At some point in our lives, I’m sure we have all questioned how exactly God can be everywhere at once, listening to everyone’s prayers all the time. That last statement makes a good supporting point for the doubters among us; if Sunday is truly a day of rest, isn’t God resting too? How can He be present at all of our 10am Sunday services? Despite their odd brand of Christianity, the Tikongs do manage to keep believing in their God and continue giving Him His deserved one day a week. Taking this into account, doesn’t their faith make the Tikongs not quite so “opposite” and bizarre after all?
In its depiction of colonialism and foreign pressure to change and conform, the first half of Tale of the Tikongs seems to reveal a kind of mistake that can easily be made by travelers. Developed nations including Australia, New Zealand, America, and those of Europe are trying to “help” Tiko by modernizing all aspects of its society. These countries consider themselves to be experts on what makes an economy effective, how education should be conducted, and how to best run a country because they all are successful nations that have grown a great deal since their beginnings. They view Tiko, on the other hand as stagnant and needing to be developed in the same way that they are now are. While it may be true that the developed nations are well traveled, both in their physical exploration of other countries and in their own paths by which they became successful, it does not give them the right to assume that they know best.
The Tikongs undoubtedly need to explore their own country so that they can fully understand what they do and don’t want their nation to become and what aspects of their identity are important and what needs to be changed. However, it is a mistake for the more developed nations to think that they can make these decisions for Tiko without ever having explored and understood it themselves. I think that travel provides the insight necessary to both develop oneself and understand others, however, I think it is important to note that there is always more paths to explore and journey along and there can never be an all knowing person or group. This work seems to suggest that simply by being worldly or traveled, one cannot have all of the answers or truths in the world and also that one should never stop looking for new understandings and viewpoints because there is always more to be discovered.
As Wendt once said: “In a major way all creative writers are historians. The most revealing and meaningful histories about a people are the stories, poems, myths, plays and novels written by those people about themselves.” The author praises the need for ethnic stories to be shared. For this reason, once Eric finds his roots in the Tangata Maori ancestry, he becomes fixated with the tales of his race. Wendt writes, “The otherworlders hadn’t destroyed them. I thought of Maungakikie, the dead volcano in the heart of the city. The atua were still there too, and I was walking in their footsteps” (190). Eric finds comfort in his shared back-story filled with immense obstacles and sorrow. In his eyes, he has finally found an identity and “walks in their footsteps.”
With his new identity to latch on to, the Tangata Moni believes he practices his first act of free will when he chooses permanent death at the conclusion of his story. However, after Eric makes his decision, Wendt provides alternative endings of Eric’s story for his readers to pick and choose from. In this moment, Wendt reveals what it truly means to have an identity. Eric may identify with the shared back-story of his ethnic roots, but he never establishes himself as an ethnic individual. Although the protagonist tries to write his own ending to his story, he fails. Through Eric’s identity struggle, the reader walks away from the novel valuing ethnic individualism. As individuals, we must value both our ethnic and individual identity. In Wendt’s futuristic setting, the government attempts to create a Utopia by eliminating all ethnic back-stories and dictating each individual’s “identity.” At the conclusion of his text, Wendt wants his readers to write their own story while never forgetting their ethnic identity. Black Rainbow urges readers to establish themselves as ethnic individuals and strive for social justice in today’s world by exercising their free will.
By Emily Barbo
I have found reading Tales of the Tikongs a really refreshing experience. Hau'ofa uses a writing style that mimics the oral tradition of storytelling mixed with irony to expose his purpose. The whole experience is informal but personal. The reader is being told a story as if they were sitting around a friend's coffee table. A theme we discussed in class is that travel takes two. It is in the shared experiences we have that show us the most about ourselves. Marco Polo had Kublai Khan, Eric had the True Ones, and Manu has the reader. We are an integral part of the story being told, not only as witnesses but as learners. In each of the stories there is a message, a warning or piece of advice given to us.
Similar to the other works of travel literature we have read, immediately we are thrown into the Tikongs foreign culture. Tiko is described as a place completely backwards from the rest of the world. It becomes apparent quickly that the harder outsiders like the Alvin "Sharkey" Lowe or the people involved in the Fish Cannery Project try to develop Tiko the more absolutely their attempts fails. Manu is particularly verbal about the threat of destruction that development brings to his culture. He reminds me of how important it is to learn and experience another culture for what it is, not what it can be. If it isn't broken don't fix it.
I found myself particularly drawn to the chapter entitled, "Paths to Glory" and the questions about purpose and identity that it brings up. In it, Trevita Poto is being told what to do and how to live by numerous people; family members and strangers alike. They are all telling him something different, how to live his life. And yet, he says nothing. Poto has no voice. Great things are expected of him because he is educated. His family wants him to use his intelligence and experience to bring them prestige and stop acting like one less than himself, the stranger in the bar resents him for squandering his opportunities and scolds him for trying to fit into a lower class to which he doesn't belong. He has experienced the part of the world, it will always be a part of him now, but he is called a foreigner for it. His experiences and knowledge separate him from his home and because of that he can't go back, but at the same time he doesn't know how to move forward either. Poto is stuck between two worlds, that he does not know how to navigate.
Epeli Hau’ofa, in Tales of the Tikongs, expresses that people must stay true to their beliefs, no matter where you go or think you may go. He backs up his belief by his intricate use of style in his writing. He also uses each “tale” as a way to show the different way to uphold one’s identity. Another brilliant way Hau’ofa provides evidence is through the character Manu by making him represent the heart of a city or group of people.
The writing style of Tales of the Tikongs upholds how national pride and identity can be kept in tact. One way Hau’ofa builds upon this belief is through the diction and tone exclusively. For instance, he uses words that are native to the South Pacific Island, Tiko. The way that Hau’ofa writes is almost in a way that a native person from Tiko would understand without any doubt. The perspective comes from the viewer in the inside. Hau’ofa’s tone explicitly shows as if the narrator is trying extremely hard to convince readers that they must hold onto their own identity and don’t get lost in the attempt for foreigners to change them. As a result of this, Hau’ofa is attempting to teach readers a very important thing about travel to a foreign land. They must understand when they travel to another place, that as much as they are learning about themselves and their own limitations, they must realize that the native people will respect their customs but as well, want respect for their own and do not want change. No matter what, you must be proud of your land. He does not believe in going to another land and making it your own.
In the basic structure of the book, Hau’ofa takes each tale and turns it into a portrait for ways to stay strong and hold onto your identity. For instance, when Neoli is learning about religion, which in fact is a very strong motif that runs throughout the book thus far, he tries to live the life that is presented by the religion. However, as time progresses, he falls for a native woman and marries her. Another example can be found in Hiti. Hiti runs his business in a way that is extremely foreign to others and puzzles one of his foreign workers, but he does not care and continues to run the business in his “family orientated” structure. When Ika is talking to a foreign businessman, it takes the businessman to pretend that he is a native and just like him in order for him to make him feel comfortable and accept what he wants. Because of these different tales, readers are able to see exactly how natives are holding onto what is important to them. They refuse to let foreigners and outsiders try to change what they have done for years and what they want to continue to do for years.
Manu becomes the tool for Hau’ofa to show the core of a city, of a nation, of a people. Manu appears in every tale thus far as a way to speak out against foreigners and “development” or D-E-V-E-L-O-P-M-E-N-T. In each tale, Manu gives keys to what it means to be a native from Tiko. It is not natural for him to speak to others. Manu works as the speaker for the people, a speaker to show others what it means to be from Tiko. With Manu, it is possible to see what Tiko can be. With such a abstract and mysterious character, he is able to shed light on ideas, such as the belief of nationalism, that the other characters only seem to show how it can be done.
It is extremely odd how Black Rainbow and Tales of the Tikongs seem to say the same thing at the end of the day. In Black Rainbow, the protagonist wishes to stay the way he is supposed to be and hold on to his identity. Manu speaks about the same idea by trying to keep his people together and staying close to their customs and cultural roots. In a way, Tales of the Tikongs is a book that seems to build on what Black Rainbow fleshed out and fulfills it with Manu.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
In Black Rainbow, Albert Wendt depicts a society in which to be free is to be able to obtain whatever material result one wants without having to give any regard to the opinions of others -- in which, as Alasdair MacIntyre would say, "[o]thers are always means, never ends" (MacIntyre 24). Under the President and the Tribunal, Wendt's protagonist is able to depower those who delay his mission without any social repercussions. However, the disadvantage of this apparent superiority is that it restricts the protagonist's ability to nurture relationships.
From the moment the protagonist is given the status as a "Free Citizen" under the President and the Tribunal, he is reminded by those who do not hold such a position how many options he now has open to him (51). To be able "to do what [he] like[s]...without guilt" is presented as the most fulfilling way not only he, but anyone, could live out life (33). From the standpoint of expediency, the ranking -- in that it allows the protagonist to secure cars and hotel rooms when his journey requires it -- is valuable. It allows the protagonist not only to ignore abstract law, but also to invalidate the standing of any person who opposes him. People who would normally have some authority in their sphere of work, like the cars salesmen and hotel workers, are reduced to "[making] promises to fulfill [the protagonist's] every wish" and "competing lavishly to prove their servility to [him]" (42, 54).
The disadvantage of this change in relationship to others, as the protagonist discovers even before his "Free" citizenship is fully secured, is that those with whom he would be emotionally intimate resent how insignificant their desires are in relation to his (51). At the start of the novel the protagonist's wife is angry that he doesn't "want to leave" New Zealand, and his preparation to become a "Free Citizen," because he "like[s]" that preparation (17, 51). Her disgust suggests that she understands that in becoming a "Free Citizen" the protagonist will disregard the psychological wellbeing of others in favor of his own, a fear he confirms in not responding to her plea (51). Though one could argue that the protagonist does indeed put his wife's psychological wellbeing before his own by going to such lengths to find her, he also admits that in overusing violence he is "risking the lives" of his family (78). He recognizes that by doing whatever he wants, he is unable to care about anyone more than himself.