Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Letting The Outsider In

In both “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body” and “The Cross of Soot” Albert Wendt shows the process by which some outsider is brought into a close-knit community through the experience of tattooing. This art is sacred and therefore bears much weight for anyone who receives a tatau or even simply a tattoo. Through this shared experience, an outsider who understands the tatau, either through experience or intuition, is made into an insider.
In “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body” Wendt speaks about the significance and importance of both the tatau and the malu. These markings are promises, they give information, and they prove that a person is ready to endure the trials that life will undoubtedly present. This practice bears so much meaning that it seems nearly impossible that a newcomer could ever really understand the true significance of it. After describing the magnitude of this Samoan practice, Wendt addresses his own experience of “fair skins” receiving tattoos. He even mentions that the tattoos work better on people with fair skin because of the contrast. The two people that he speaks of, Tony Fomison and Elsie Bach, both seem to have a deep understanding and dedication to the Samoan culture. Despite the fact that they were not raised to see the tatau and malu as symbolic and a mark of pride, Fomison and Bach must feel strongly enough about these tattoos to endure the pain associated with them. Perhaps their fair skin makes the contrast of the tattoo starker in more way than one. In deciding to receive tatau and the malu free of the social pressures and implications that a native Samoan would experience, it seems in some ways more striking for the “fair skins” to have the tattoos. They have so embraced the Samoan culture that they wear it permanently on their skin. It does not strike me that these tattoos were merely souvenirs for Fomison and Bach, but rather they were done out of genuine respect for and fascination with the Samoan culture. The tattoos stand out more on people that have entered the community and embraced it so fully that they mark their bodies with Samoan values forever.
In “The Cross of Soot” the boy meets prisoners, is welcomed into their community, receives the wrong tattoo, and yet is happy with it. This story was reminiscent of Black Rainbow in that the reader is disoriented from the beginning of the narrative and is never truly given the chance to understand the full context of the story. This choice by Wendt gives the effect of emphasizing the boy’s interactions with the new community of men he has met and how his interactions with them affect his perception of his failed tattoo. He asked for a star but received a cross and it is not made clear whether or not this was the man’s intention. Despite the fact that the tattoo was by most standards unsuccessful, the boy identifies it as a demonstration that he was a part of something and is bound to the people from whom and with whom he received the tattoo. Although fleeting, the time he spent meeting those men will be with him forever.

Though no tattooing has been involved thus far, my time with the third graders at Tunbridge has been somewhat similar in that I started out as an outsider, yet by the end of my first day, I felt that I had become a part of their classroom community. I was welcomed because I have a respect for and interest in their goals. I also believe that my warm reception has much to do with the fact that the community is comprised almost entirely of children. As shown in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, children have a higher capacity for imagination, trust, and hope. The children in the classroom I visit trusted me implicitly. They trusted that I would work in their best interest and help them if they should need it. Without the trust shown by the Samoans, the prisoners and the boy, and the third graders at Tunbridge, the outsiders in these scenarios would remain outsiders.

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