Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Language binds us together. Language and memories. (165)

Story-telling and the transmission of memory are central to Figiel’s They who do not grieve. Book Two begins with a categorization of different types of stories using the image of colored birds and continues with Grandma Tausi’s “tale of the potatoes” (136).  This first section culminates with Alofa’s reflection on her relationship with her grandmother: “These talks occurred always in the bedroom. Our space. Where we spoke our language. Shared our thoughts. […] She sat there […] spinning her sinnet of memories” (142). This line not only reinforces the importance of sharing history, but also points to two crucial aspects of this communication: physical space and common language. Alofa and Tausi are only able to be genuine in conversation when they are together in a private space, speaking the language which is comfortable for them.
When Alofa moves to Giu Sila to live with Phillip and Viv (Fue), she is told that she must abandon (or at least hide) her Samoan-ness: her language, her name (Viv calls her Donna) and her interest in connecting with other Samoans in the community. When Phillip tells her that “this is to be your room. Your room,” she responds by saying “suddenly, I felt elated. As if I had grown wings” (156). She feels consistently self-conscious “until I’m in the sleeping room;” Alofa’s personal space is the only part her home, of Giu Sila, where she feels that she can be authentically herself. She also retreats into her imagination as another form of personal territory where “I turned into the bird-dog-woman. […] I became my own goddess. I lived in my own kingdom [where] women and girls did whatever they wanted” (187). This space allows her to dream and create a fantasy that she ultimately translates into real life action. For example, she is brave enough to laugh at her own mother’s funeral. Similarly, she has the confidence to tell her lover that she must “stand on my own two feet” (221) although she easily could have depended on his wealth and success as an artist.  
            Lalolagi and Malu’s interactions parallels the relationship between Tausi and Alofa. When Lalolagi makes her ultimate confession to Malu about her past and Malu’s mother, she makes the claim that story-telling requires a forum. She says to Malu, “Close the door and come in. Do you want the whole universe to hear? […], pressing her index finger to her lip before saying, ‘Shhhh…we have to keep the va. The space. Or the spaces in between’” (235). Honesty and meaningful revelation happens in the context of a bounded space; this space provides the structure and the security that allows for the real (their real language, their real culture, their real history, and their real selves). Malu fights desperately throughout the novel to remember her mother, Mary, “whose possibilities of being colour everything about” her (225). She is constantly chastised for her questioning but refuses to stop wondering about her past. Malu also understands, however, the nuance of history’s role in her life. While pregnant with Mr. Winterson’s baby, Malu declares that her baby “will not be silenced” and she will make sure that the child “breathes a new air, void of the despair of her own history” (270). She recognizes the importance of memory, but refuses to let shame, grief and her family history completely define the future of her child’s life as it has defined her own life up until this point. Malu sees “a line drawn beyond the green horizon, connecting the past, the present, the future” (270).
They who do not grieve is an example of post-colonial literature in which Sia Figiel takes Samoan oral tradition and presents it in written form. The novel is her space, the forum in which she preserves memory and asserts that Samoan culture and life has not been lost to the forces of colonization. Just like the characters in her text, Figiel shows that her story and the story of Samoa still exist and their colonial past is a part of their present reality but external influences are limited and colonialism does not account for all of the intricacies of Samoan life and history. Malu does not deny her painful past, but claims that her child will move beyond it. In the same way, Figiel uses a foreign form (the novel) as the space in which to reveal rich Samoan content—she makes use of her history but also transcends and defies it.

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