Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Manu Luther King and the Jesuits

         As we've discussed in class, Hau'ofa's Tales of the Tikongs is rife with satirical critiques of the effects of religious imperialism on the exemplum island of Tiko. Several chapters of the book (namely, “The Seventh and Other Days,” “Blessed are the Meek” and “The Wages of Sin,” etc.) serve to bright-line the discrepancy between what the religion embodies and why it was introduced to the natives. Manu, the island's seemingly conscience-surrogate and adamant preservationist, wears a shirt at the opening of the second chapter that announces a very powerful slogan: “Religion and Education Destroy Original Wisdom” (7). He later echoes this same belief in the opening of “The Tower of Babel” where he explains to the native priest how the colonizers intend to remove the ancient gods in favor of new ones so as to ensure development. With a rhetoric less revolutionary, Manu's insistence on breaking from the oxymoronic imposed traditions bears a strong resemblance to Martin Luther King's call for throwing off the burdens of oppression, particularly when he writes in his Letter from Birmingham Jail: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” King's summon for the people to act out appears to parallel the persistent subversion that stems from Manu. He affirms the backwards Sabbath tradition of the Tikongs1, creates paradoxes in the Bible through over-logical literalism2, trivializes its admonitions and consequences3, constructs propaganda denouncing the colonization4, and even establishes his own mission as preserving the culture of the natives5 among a number of other nonviolent yet cunning protestations. Manu appears to embody the essence of anti-oppression that King preaches. In his Letter, King writes that “injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured,” and the humor of Hau'ofa's book allows for such an exposure to exist in something so trite as a slogan on the back of a t-shirt.
         Although Hou'ofa's depiction of injustice stems from the seeds of religion and burgeons up through a colonizer's imperialism, it speaks much more heavily on the hypocritical nature of imperialism itself rather than its origins. Moreover, religious organizations have even cited such injustices as a focus for intervention and reform. In a speech by Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach of the Society of Jesus titled “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education,” social inequality of all forms is verified as a target of the Jesuit principal to promote justice. Kolvenbach appears to have drafted an answer to Manu's shirt, how religion and education and the combination of the two are supposed to operate. He writes, “Injustice is rooted in a spiritual problem, and its solution requires a spiritual conversion of each one's heart and a cultural conversion of our global society so that humankind, with all the powerful means at its disposal, might exercise the will to change the sinful structures afflicting our world” (33). “Sinful structures” is an interesting choice of words, as it implies a system which is both (a) constructed externally and consciously and (b) going against that which God represents. Kolvenbach's description could extend to explain the “Over Influenced” (7) state of Tiko and its non-Christian minded Christian missionaries. The purpose for which they are there is in contention with the context they use as justification. Kolvenbach especially criticizes “[when] professors choose viewpoints incompatible with the justice of the Gospel and consider researching, teaching, and learning to be separable from moral responsibility for their social repercussions, [for] they are sending a message to students . . . [to] pursue their careers and self-interest without reference to anyone 'other' than themselves” (38). Similarly, Hou'ofa creates the character of Sharky in “The Tower of Babel” who attempts to convert native Ika to a life of commercial fishing. Though unsuccessful, Sharky's intentions are understandably not in Ika's best interest and he leads by an example of selfishness that traps Ika in a capitalistic bureaucratic quagmire that only resolves itself when Ika sheds the “viewpoints incompatible”. The fate of Ole Pasifikiwei of the final tale is none so pleasant, as he becomes trapped by the same viewpoints and devolves into a “first-rate, expert begger” (93).

         King, Kolvenbach, and Hau'ofa all have the same things to say despite their frame of reference existing independent of one another. Their concerns and considerations flow in and out of each other, stripping down oppression in all its forms to essential immorality. They warn of the dangers of the complacent, whom King describes as the one “who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

1) p. 1
2) p. 9
3) p. 41
4) p. 67
5) p. 18

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