Saturday, April 30, 2011

A trip to Bishop Museum



As a child, I always enjoyed the museum.  Not the guided tour or hours of lagging behind my parents trips to the museum, but the making lemonade out of lemon slices, sugar, and water in the cafeteria with my mates museum days…or the wondering around, using our imaginations to travel back in time trips to the museum.  Back then, I never thought much about anything except the interesting objects I found within the museum walls.  I spent countless hours in the Bishop Museum believing I had been born too late.  Over the years however, my paradigm shifted and I began to question even the concept of such as place as a “museum” where items meant to be used were shown on exhibit.  It might be that I am looking for patterns where there are none, however it seems that the Bishop Museum (though the institution is the brain child of native Hawaiian, Bernice Pauahi Bishop) is still very much influenced by the Western, Judeo-Christian world.

The main exhibit surrounds a history of the Hawaiian Islands.  It is displayed in Hawaiian Hall - a dark, Victorian, three storied building that is set up with the most “primitive” of displays at the bottom level.  It is on the first floor that we find traditional houses and old Gods along with other more “primitive” tools.  As we move up to the middle floor (which has become more modern and interactive over the years) we begin to see more of the skill that was necessary to construct all of the utensils, tools and clothing used in everyday living.  The top floor is reserved for the “light.”  These are the displays of the monarchy and its European trappings...after the introduction of Christianity, of course.  It is as though, in ascending the stairs, the visitor travels from the depths of darkness up into the light.  The huge sea animals (including a huge shark) suspended from the museum's ceiling are also of interest, reminding us that Hawaii is, literally, in the middle of the ocean. 

In Hawaiian Hall, Hawaii is the focus, and there is quite a bit of provenance for many pieces.  However, it would be nice if there were more.  For those of us who are/were Pacific Island Study majors - we would like to see (for instance) more about how the various ku’pe’e were made and what they were used for, or the time, materials, detail, and prayer that went into making just one pawehe/decorated gourd.  It is not as if this information is not available. Perhaps there just isn’t enough room – or interest.  Though the museum was created by and for Hawaiians, it is also/has become a tourist attraction and tourists (for the most part) want only so much information. They then want to continue on with the fantasy.  Was this Bernice Pauahi Bishop's vision? 

As stated above, Hawaiian Hall is huge (by Hawaii’s “museum” standards).  It is three stories high and filled with artifacts from very early times until fairly recent.  There is provenance offered wherever possible.  In another room, about a quarter of the size (if that) of Hawaiian Hall, a place is set aside for “the rest” of Oceania.  This is a well lit, quiet space with a number of artifacts, yet given the diversity of the people in this region and the vast amount of ocean in which they navigated, I find neither the space nor the artifacts adequate.  There is little to no provenance.  The visitor is offered an artifact and, for the most part, left to his or her own devises to figure out what it was used for.

Although museums offer the public a chance to see (albeit enclosed in a glass case) things/artifacts they might otherwise only find in books, ever in the back of my mind are the “curios” of the wealthy (which were the precursors to our modern museums).  I wonder what distinguishes art from artifact.  I wonder who does the distinguishing.  I wonder if there is not another way to "exhibit."  For instance, could we not have some sort of “working museum” where the public visits a living, working village?  This would keep ancient arts (including the art of the orator) alive, provide a teaching environment, and, hopefully provide a venue for indigenous epistemology and ways of knowing to continue and grow. 

 While I may question even the concept of the museum, the thinking behind the manner in which art/artifacts are displayed, to its credit Bishop Museum provides wonderful behind the scenes learning experiences, as well as an extensive research library, and an exceptional website.http://www.bishopmuseum.org/

Sunday, April 17, 2011

New is not always better...

The Bougainville Civil War, or Bougainville Conflict (a term which minimizes this horrific incident), like all wars was fought (on the one side) to keep something they already had, and (on the other) to get something they wanted.   The lines, however, are sometimes blurred.  There is/was no one singular cause for the war.  An over simplification, would be to say that the Australian owned and run Paguna Mine, issues surrounding compensation to the people of Bougainville and devastation to the natural environment were the main catalyst.  With 20% of the profits from the mine going to the PNG government, only .05-1.25% of the total profits going to the people of Bougainville, and the majority to the profits lining the pockets of its Australian owners, resentments reached a peak in the early 1980's and a bloody conflict ensued which continued for the better part of the following ten years.  As with any civil war, families found themselves divided and many, many people died.

However the war and it's causes are not what I wish to discuss in this entry.  What I want to address is the use of traditional conflict resolution to achieve true reconciliation and forgiveness between the tribes/individuals directly involved and those victims of the suffering inflicted by the devastation of this armed conflict.  However, before I address this, I would like to point out the obvious:  PNG has a long history of colonization.  They have found themselves "administrated" by the governments of Germany, Brittan, Australia, and Japan.  They have been the not so willing participants in a war not of their making...specifically WWII.  Without the knowledge, bravery, and strength of native Papua New Guineans, many more people would have died.  And what did the people of PNG receive for their bravery?  Medals and a rather demeaning  poem of gratitude written by an Australian soldier.  While the poem extols the virtues and bravery of these men, it also leaves one with the impression that these brave PNG men were also somewhat child-like.  The poem was later put to music and became a popular tune around the end of WWII.  It is titled "Fuzzy Wuzzy Angles."  Below you will find an abridged version of the poem.


"Many a mother in Australia...
Sends a prayer to the Almighty
for the keeping of her son...
For they haven't any halos
only holes slashed in their ears
And their faces worked by tattoos
with scratch pins in their hair
Bringing back the badly wounded
just as steady as a horse
Using leaves to keep the rain off
and as gentle as a nurse
Slow and careful in the bad places
on the awful mountain track
The look upon their faces
would make you think Christ was black...
Many a lad will see his mother
and husbands see their wives
Just because the fuzzy wuzzy
carried them to save their lives...
May the mothers of Australia
when they offer up a prayer
Mention those impromptu angels
with their fuzzy wuzzy hair."

But, I diverse.  In the Western world, when a war is over, there is a cease fire, the terms of peace are agreed upon and a treaty is signed.  Many times there are reparations to be made, however, this does little to assuage the guilt carried by those who have participated in acts of atrocity...those who have seen and contributed to some of the worst examples of man's inhumanity to his fellow man.  Nor does a treaty ease the pain of those who have been the victims...those who have lost loved ones and/or had their villages ravaged as a result of "collateral damage" It does not erase the rage that eats at them, especially on an island as small as Bougainville, where many times, the victim knows exactly who perpetrated the crime.









In order to truly heal from the devastation of the war, the people of Bougainville looked to ancient traditional ritual.  This is documented in a film called Breaking Bows and Arrows http://www.firelight.com.au/break1.html (the above images were taken from this site). A five minute trailer from this moving documentary by Liz Thompson can be viewed on http://www.linktv.org/globalspirit/bows. Although I would have liked to offer it on this blog, I did not have the expertise to "borrow" it from the above site.  However, I feel it important to watch this trailer (and strongly suggest it) in order to better understand the following paragraphs.

After years of fighting and much negotiation, the mine was finally closed, a treaty was signed and islanders were no longer killing each other yet, there still existed deep seated pain, hatred, feelings of blame, guilt, and numerous other emotions that were eating at the people of Bougainville.  In a number of traditional, formal ceremonies, the various factions came together and were truly able to put this painful incident behind them.

These rituals included were quite intricate and took as much as three years of preparation.  One group of men went together to collect sweet smelling plants, which they took to the river and ritually crushed in order to release their sweet smell.  The men then washed away the foul smell of the acts they had committed during the war.  They wore traditional ceremonial clothing - clothing created for no other purpose than to reconcile differences...to ask forgiveness.  They then, in the presence of thousands of spectators, broke their weapons and then shared betel nut.  The also buried a rock, thus burying their differences.

Although the theme of the film was the need for reconciliation and forgiveness in order to truly move on and the use of traditional means to do so, this was illustrated mainly by the personal journeys of Immaculate Atorevi, the widow of a chief who had been killed during the conflict and his killer Francis Boisivere.  As part of the ritual, Francis buys a coffin, carefully chooses the materials and flowers to decorate it. He and other members of the BRA (Bougainville Revolutionary Army), carefully cut the material to fit the coffin. They then take great care to decorate it.  Their deep concentration is evident. In the mean time Immaculate Atroevi and her village prepare a house for the bones of her husband.  Having buried the bones of the chief, Francis (again with other ex BRA fighters), return to the burial site and carefully retrieve the bones from the ground.   Francis then ritually washes each, individual bone and gently dries them.  Next, placing the bones in the coffin, he and the other men carry the coffin (with the bones of the dead chief inside) into the the chief's home village where his bereaved wife and family are waiting.  They place the coffin in the "house" the villagers have prepared for it.  The chief's wife, family and village are finally able to have closure.  They weep, cry, and throw themselves on the house and coffin.  Observing these proceedings, Francis and some of the other men also find themselves weeping.  They are visibly moved. After the chief is buried, Francis presents other gifts to the wife and family of the murdered chief.  They then share betel nut.  When later interviewed, Francis states that he feels lighter - that prior to this ceremony, he felt weighted by his guilt.  He also states, that knowing what he now knows, and/or if asked to fight again, he would never pick up arms.  The price is too great.

In earlier entries to this blog, I have spoken about the concept of standing on the shoulders of our ancestors...that their purpose was/is for us, and our purpose is for those who will come after.  I have also (briefly) addressed the idea of "backing into the future while facing the past."  This reconciliation ritual is a clear demonstration that we do, indeed stand on the shoulders of our ancestors.  By preforming these ritual acts, the past is brought to present.  Concentration, and a  sincere desire to make things right have a profound effect on the participants in the/any ritual.  There is a re-connection with those who came before, for now, not only do they support us, but stand alongside us.  The purpose of preforming this particular ritual was/is not only to clear the slate for those directly affected by the conflict but to relieve the burden for generations to come.  The sins of the parents need not be visited upon the children.  There are so many areas where Western solutions fall short.  While I believe we need to look to the past in order to address both the present and future, clearly in this instance, reconciliation and freedom were found in following established practices of the ancients.  New is not always better and in this case, an impersonal "treaty" left gaping wounds which continued to fester.  Taking personal responsibility and making personal, ritualized amends and ritual cleansing have washed away a great heaviness, cleansed the wounds and provided a healing salve paving the way toward building a healthy "body" for future generations.









Sunday, March 27, 2011

What do I know?

The above clip is a group of New Zealanders who have completed (or are in the process of completing) a six week course in the Limited Service Volunteer Program.  Why did I post this clip?  Well...in a word (actually two)...Alan Duff.

Alan Duff strikes a nerve with me.  It is not just the Faulkner meets Harriet Breacher Stowe writing style he employees in his novel Once Were Warriors, or his pompous "Maori must pull themselves up by the bootstraps" attitude toward self determination, or even the frightening thought that someone might mistake him for the voice the Maori.  No...what really irks me (and please remember...this is subjective) is the simplistic, unrealistic manner in which he interprets both the problem and designs the solution.

In her article In Whose Face?  An Essay on the Work of Alan Duff, Christina Thompson questions Duff's position in regard to Maori values which "he consistently renders...in negative terms, recasting Maori virtues as Pakeha vices.  Generosity becomes an inability to practice self-restraint, family loyalty becomes a bar to self-improvement, modesty becomes poor self-esteem, casualness becomes sloth, and pride becomes arrogance. Pakeha values are never critically examined.  Competition does not involve oppression, individualism cannot be read as selfishness, upward mobility never translates as greed." Duff admits to having little traditional Maori cultural training until late in life, and then only begrudgingly.  I suggest that his prejudice and, perhaps even self hate, cloud his vision.

When interviewed by Vilsoni Hereniko for a chapter in Inside Out, Duff stated that he has always considered himself a Maori (for those who don't know, Duff is half-caste) and claimed to be a strong supporter of Maori culture. However the opinions he expressed in Maori: The Crisis and the Challenge which suggest that only Pakeha culture is complex, alive, and vibrant, while Maori culture is "simple" and "stone age" would seem to counter this statement.  Duff criticizes Maori oral culture/knowledge, stating that it was privileged.  I suggest that written knowledge was/is equally privileged, as it is all contingent on who is doing the writing.  He states that Maori did not/do not think...do not question.  This is ludicrous.  What then was/is the purpose of the marae?  The wharenui?  He speaks of Maori as being undisciplined yet, in the next breath, extols their virtue as warriors.  How do warriors fight a battle (as a unit) without discipline? In fact, how does one learn marae protocol, dance a haka, chant a prayer if he/she lacks discipline?  And, is it not in that pride of knowing where one comes from, that one gains confidence about where he/she will go and how to get there?

Duff claims to have come from the element he writes about.  I do not dispute that. In fact, that element is one of the few things Duff and I have in common. This having been said, what never fails to set my teeth on edge is his idea that books and a desire for change will magically lift one out of the system. Will pacify the violence and dispel the darkness, revealing a shinny, yellow brick road to "success." It's just not that easy!  Wanting out, does not equal knowing how to get out. Also, what Duff fails to mention is that for every family fitting the stereotype, there is one that does not.  Desire and books are not enough, and the Pakeha dream is not universal.  Not only do I see nothing wrong with "walking backwards into the future while facing the past," I feel it is essential.  If we do not know where we came from, how will we know where we are going.  Change is inevitable as culture and language are not stagnant.  Granted, in his interview with Hereniko, Duff does admit that culture has its place.  I'm not sure exactly what he means by this but, I do think the above clip is a small example of moving toward the future with and eye on the past.  Though the Limited Service Volunteer Program http://www.msd.govt.nz/what-we-can-do/children-young-people/lsv/index.html is based on military discipline, it is a haka - a challenge to, not only Maori, but all the disenfranchised youth of New Zealand.  Now...I don't know how Mr. Duff would respond to this program, as it is financed by the government, so in a sense, it's still the dole.  However, it is a start.  But, then again...what do I know?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Re-type or Stereotype?

 
In his article Film As a Colonizing Medium, Vilsoni Herenko addresses the issue of feature films (such as the above clip from South Pacific) depicting "anywhere Oceania" as attempt to appeal to a broader audience base, thereby increasing revenue.  He states (and I paraphrase) that these films present the Pacific Islander as a one dimensional caricature which leaves the viewer with a lasting impression of a representation of Oceania and its people which is as generic as the film.  Jolly (in Point Venus to Bali Hai) states that the film combines "a melange of images from Fiji" to "the Hanalei coast of Kauai in Hawaii." This, coupled with the Asian girl "happy talking" with would-be-hula-hands, is almost laughable. I say "almost" because there is a very real danger that viewers will believe this to be a true representation of Pacific Islanders. Though this may be a stretch, I believe most people do construct their paradigms around what they see/view/read and hear, and not everyone investigates any further.  As with any medium, film can be tweaked to present or represent.  Having lived most of my life in Hawaii, as well as being married to a Samoan family for over thirty years, I am deeply troubled by representations such as this.  This may account for my "writers block" around the subject.  It hits too close to home.

I recall the television shows and commercials of my youth. Hawaii 5-0 was big when I was in my teens.  We used to laugh at how Jack Lord would say he was in Kalihi when we could clearly see he was in Kahala, or that he was "driving mauka on Kalanianiole Hwy (which only goes Diamond Head and ewa). The way the pidgin never really sounded like pidgin. There was C&H Sugar, which depicted brown skinned Asian children sucking/chewing "pure cane sugar from Hawaii." I remember the Hawaiian Tan (a brand name tanning oil) girl, again with brown skin, almond eyes, long straight black hair, the "perfect" figure (according to Western standards) and a Hawaiian print bikini bathing suit.  I can recall commercials selling "Aloha."  Selling Hawaii.  I remember when tour guides clad in bright "aloha" attire carrying leis and breathing "aloha"  greeted visitors on the tarmac. I remember the brown skinned boys diving for quarters to the delight of tourists who tossed the coins off the side of their cruise ships at Aloha Tower. There were "hula girls" swaying their hips gracefully to hula auana...a watered down, haolefied hula. In my lifetime, I have seen the landscape change and my landmarks disappear.  Fields that once yielded crops now grow houses.  That is what we grow in Hawaii...houses, hotels and tourist attractions.  And...how many "locals" can actually afford to buy one of these houses?  How many cars can this island support?  How many more "visitors" and "visitor" attractions? And...what would happen if ships and planes stopped importing our food from the continent?


Elsewhere in Oceania, natives have experienced/are experiencing the same type of exploitation.  Many factors of colonization, decolonization, reconstruction, and migration have contributed to gross generalizations and stereotyping which have been countered by both scholars and artists.  Film is a fairly new medium for Pacific Islanders.  It is a perfect medium for people who come from oral traditions. It offers the opportunity to retype the stereotype by using sight and sound.
 
Juxtapose the above clip of Taua ( see http://www.nzfilm.co.nz/filmcatalogue/Films/Taua---War-Party.aspx) a "short" film based on the Maori proverb Mate atu he tete kura, ara mai ano he tetekura (in war, leaders fall and leaders rise) with South Seas. Though a "short" film (as opposed to "feature" or full length) director Tearepa Kahi, manages to portray multidimensional characters, each one unique to himself.  With body language, facial expressions, and only one line of dialogue, Kahi presents believable/credible characters.  The camera angles and the tempo of the film leave the viewer feeling as if he/she were actually there, experiencing a slice of time past, brought to the present.

Using film as a medium, Pacific Island film makers are bringing their own brand of movie to the theatre.  They show the diversity of Oceania. They tell old tales in new ways.  Using sight and sound, they are representing themselves in ways in which they can recognize themselves, thus retyping the stereotype.

For more information on Pacific Island Film, please visit www.nzonscreen.com
 


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Art for art's sake?

Art. No matter the medium, its origin lies in the soul of the artist, therefore it touches the souls of all who read/see/hear/touch it. 

Last week, in seminar, a question was posed which has been circling and weaving itself in and out of, and generally scratching at my psyche.  The question (and I paraphrase here) was:  Can we look at art without seeing the underpinnings of politics?  In other words, what political statement is the artist making?

There are instances, I believe, when the artist actually plans to make a statement and knows exactly what that statement is/will be.  The majority of the time, however (and I say this as an artist who works in a number of different mediums) the statement is only recognized/realized after the work is completed.  Also, as we are all positioned differently, the interpretation of that statement will be unique to each individual who views/reads/hears/touches that particular work.  This becomes most evident when the person evaluating the piece has no point of reference.  Take Michel Tuffery’s numerous mechanical povi.  If one has no understanding of the introduction of a cash economy and Western foods to Oceanic peoples, will he or she see the diseases Pacific Islanders have now become “pre-disposed” to?  Will they see/feel the dis-ease of the Pacific Islander within the status quo? 

Point of reference.  Let’s take a moment and rewind.  In Samoan, corned beef is called fasi povi masima (fasi=piece, povi=cow/ beef, masima=salt).  However, canned corned beef (apa=can, tu’u apa=canned, povi=beef/cow), is called Pisupo.  Why?  One story is that missionaries brought with them canned pea soup. The Samoan language had no word for Pea Soup and so they “Samoanized” it, thus Pea Soup became Pisupo.  Not long after, any canned food was referred to as Pisupo, and eventually Pisupo became the word understood as “canned corned beef.”

Fast forward and broaden the spectrum.  The introduction of a cash economy coupled with the convenience of imported, prepackaged Western foods supplanted traditional diets.  This scenario is problematic throughout Oceania and the Pacific Islander has now become “pre-disposed” to obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and all manner of soft tissue infections (not the least of which is CA-MRSA…which loosely translates from “medicalese” to English as "antibiotic resistant staph infection").   These pre-packaged, convenient foods (along with the cash economy and...well...colonization, in general) have pulled the Islander away from the land and sea, adding more distance between the Islander and an already strained relationship with/to his/her “traditional” culture.  When the circle becomes weakened in one area, it becomes pre-disposed to be weakened in others. 

So…to someone with a point of reference, Tuffery’s povi/cow, constructed only of Pisupo cans might say, “look what the constructs  of colonialism, capitalism, and the building democratic nation states has done/is doing to Pacific Islanders.”  On the other hand, to someone with no knowledge of colonialism, the response to this same work might be, “Oh!  How creative…a bull made out of corned beef cans!”

Much of the work I’ve chosen to display in this entry was taken from this site http://www.oceaniartset.com/Ocean-Arts-Set/Home_IDL=2_IDT=848_ID=3659_.html  which is an offshoot of Epeli Ha’olfa’s Centre for Arts and Culture at Fiji’s University of the South Pacific.  Just as Ha’ofa’s concept of a Sea of Islands whereby the ocean, is transformed into a super highway which connects Oceania’s myriad of cultures one to another, so does the Centre’s Red Wave use the ocean as a metaphorical vehicle to unite rather than separate.  The art mediums are as varied as the peoples of the Pacific and like Wendt’s concept of the only true culture as being the one in which we are living, these artists call upon not only their own life experiences, but the traditional stories of the past.  The “old Gods” never died, they have merely been waiting for the time when they would be called forth again.  Each story/dance/song/poem/picture awakens the past so that it can be reborn to a new incarnation in the present.  Art is/has its own language and like all languages and cultures it is alive and ever changing/evolving.

Art.  A double edged sword – it cuts both ways.  Coming from the soul and speaking to the soul, art has the ability to exhibit both our commonalities and our differences, thus revealing the beauty of diversity.  While it has the potential to be the tool which excises a malignancy commonly known as “colonization of the mind,” art also (when perverted, manipulated, and spun) can be used to accomplish just the opposite. 



I (literally) stumbled across this article while searching for images to place in this Blog entry: The Red Wave Collective: The Process of Creating Art at the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture by Katherine Higgins is in the Contemporary Pacific Journal (Vol. 21, Number 1, Spring 2009, pp35-50) and is well worth the read.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Knowledge and Knowing


As a "scholar," sometimes I feel as if my "spirit"/my creativity is being held hostage by my intellect.  Lole Usoali'i, in her song/video Tu i Luga reminds me that it is on the shoulders of our ancestors on which we stand.  It will be on my/our shoulders on which "those who come after" will stand.  What sort of legacy will I/we leave them?

In Pacific Island Studies, we do quite a bit of reading, and after reading, we then play countless games of "esoteric catch."  We accumulate a bit of knowledge, but what do we actually know?  I have an entire essay  that speaks to the changes we need to make (in Pacific Island Studies) in regard to our understanding of "interdisciplinary" and indigenous ways of knowing, but, I don't really want to talk about that tonight, and since this is a Blog, I can be as artisitc, academic or silly as I choose to be.  So...tonight I want to adress something I recently came to know and after having come to know it, I want to speak to some of the statements made by Albert Wendt in his beautiful chapter Afterword: Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body, which can be found in the book titled Inside Out (edited by Vilsoni Hereniko and Rob Wilson).

I agree with Wendt in that the malu and tatau (pe'a) while works of art, are not artwork.  They are a legacy and unlike the Western adaptation of the tatau, rather than separating one from the group, or setting one's self apart, these two ceremonies/rights of passage are inclusive rather than exclusive.  They show that one is ready to take on new roles within their families, extended families, village, etc. Wendt's metaphor of  a tataued Samoa ready to assume its place in this "global" society is lovely.  As with many things foreign, Samoans have a unique way of either ignoring or "Samoanizing" them. So that nothing is lost in text, let me say that I make this last statement with greatest of admiration.

Regarding the tatau, there is also a binary aspect that extends all the way back to the story of the twins Taema and Tilifaiga who on their journey to Fiji (in the timeless custom of exchange of goods and ideas between Pacific Islanders) brought the tatau to Samoa. (Although there are tufuga who say the twins brought back a new pattern rather than the tatau itself and that the older pattern came to Samoa in the migration...I will leave that debate for another time.) The traditional tatau is never on one side of the body.  It is always both legs and in the old days, the malu many times included both arms and both hands. This is also in line with Wendt's definition of tatau as "balanced."  To tatau only one leg would leave the body off balance. Here I want to mention that while the traditional pe'a and malu are being "tapped" by tufuga in a many places outside of Samoa, there is an emerging tradition of neo-Polynesian tattooing taking place in the diaspora.  While I will not address that in this post, I will come back to it.

The first time I read Wendt's piece (and before I received my malu) I sat and thought of so many levels of meanings for the names of the designs.  For instance, the aso.  I thought not only of the rafters of the house, which form the frame that protects the family underneath it, but of the ribs of the body, which protect the vital organs.  I got so excited about the language and all its various levels of meaning, that I all but forgot the va the space in between...the relationships.

The tatau, both male and female, are all about roles and relationships.  One of the definitions Wendt gives for tatau is to be wrung out.  His suggestion is that one feels wrung out after experiencing such long periods of intense pain.  On first reading this, I thought, "like giving birth " and in actuality, when one receives a traditional tatau, there is usually an umasaga.  The body is rubbed down with olega (tumeric) and coconut oil, songs are sung, speeches made and an egg is cracked over the head of the soga'imiti, signifying that this person has now be "born/re-born" into his new role. 

I cannot speak to the pain of the pe'a, but I can speak to that of the malu.  Once it is over, it is over.  The pain is in the doing.  I had been told about searing, pain that was absolutely inexplicable. That was not my experience.  Yes, it was painful, but not so that I felt wrung out.  In fact, I felt invigorated.  However, sitting on the mat with the tufuga are his assistants who stretch the skin and wipe away the blood (and ink).  The "wiper" then has to wring out the cloth he uses to wipe.  There is also the need to fofo the legs and wring out the excess ink.

Malu means to protect, to soften, to shade and it is also the lozenge shaped motif on the back of the leg.  The malu does not protect the wearer, however, when I think about roles...what is the woman's role?  She provides a nurturing environment for her family. She is the soft one.  She is the one her children run to for comfort (at least until they are big enough to catch the salu or the slipper). 

My malu connects me to every women who wore the malu before me.  It connects me to all who wear it now, and to all those who will wear it in the future.  Unlike the young man walking down the street in shorts and sneekers, eating McDonald's proudly sporting his tatau for all to see, out of respect for the malu, in public, only my knees and just above can be exposed. However, at home, for my children and grandchildren, every time they see my legs, they are reminded (on some level) of where they come from.

Although I stand on the shoulders of those who came before (in all things), in this one thing, I have provided something tangible for those who will come after.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Unwriting Oceania Dialogue

Aloha, halo olketa, nisa bula vinaka, namaste, talofa lava, malo e lelei, kia orana, taloha ni, kona mauri, hafa adai, alii, iokwe yuk, and fakaalofa lahi atu......

Steven Winduo's class on (can you guess?) Unwriting Oceania, would like to invite any interested parties to participate in an interactive dialogue regarding the issues surrounding all aspects of Pacific Island Studies.  As we are always challenging each other and ourselves to be critical of what we read/view/hear and how Pacific Islanders and their/our cultures are represented, constructed, viewed, mediated, and imagined, this forum is your opportunity to have your voice heard, included, and responded too. 

We will send invitations to all the scholars/writers/authors/artists in our own small tribe of Pacific Island Studies, as well as those of us in mutually inter-related studies.  We look forward to your participation and to some very interesting exchanges of ideas.

Remember, we are all positioned differently and all bring something unique and valuable to the discussions, so, please respect the opinions and experiences expressed by all who choose to share on this new and exciting forum.

Looking forward to reading/hearing all of your voices.

Thanking you in advance for your invaluable participation...

Omi Talade