The utterly shocking history of colonialism that we briefly spoke about in class is the stuff of nightmares. While I do not want to dwell on the awful past of colonization, our brief discussion in class on Tuesday brought my prior knowledge of the brutality of the colonizers rushing back. My first-level history course centered on anything and everything negative about the rise of western civilization, and Bartolome de Las Casas work History of the Indies highlighted the most horrific aspects of colonization by the Spaniards. I have never forgotten what I read in his work, nor do I think I should or could. The pain, suffering and humiliation that colonized peoples endured cannot be adequately expressed by any words in any language. And yet, in spite of this abominable situation, oppressed cultures have risen up in the glory of their tradition. Their culture could not be stamped out; the tatauing Albert Wendt writes about in his essay “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body” is an example of the immutability of these cultures. The most miraculous part of post-colonialism is that those cultures who experienced it wear their pain and endurance as a badge of pride. The shame that their peoples went through during colonization is washed away by the beauty and power of the post-colonial body.
In his essay Wendt parallels his writing about the post-colonial body to the tatauing of a human body. Both bodies have endured pain and through their triumph over pain are declared to be mature and able to serve their communities. More importantly, enduring and overcoming the pain becomes a source of pride for everyone within the community. Wendt uses the metaphor of tatauing to convey how prideful Samoans and other members of the post-colonial body should be that they have overcome their pain and can now make something beautiful, meaningful and useful out of it. The post-colonial body is “defining itself, clearing a space for itself among and alongside other bodies, in this case alongside other literatures” (Wendt 410). There exists no shame in this body, rather a joyful blending of the indigenous and the foreign, English and Samoan, into a unique and meaningful form.
The power of human nature to take evil and shame and transform it into a banner of pride and triumph is incredible. The closest experience I have had to this is watching my mother battle cancer, focus entirely on the positives of the situation and beat it. She has scars covering her chest from where she had radiation treatment, and I know that she still suffers from some discomfort. She also has painful memories that are probably harder to handle than the physical pain. She chose not to focus on the injustice of the situation though. She chose to use this horrible situation as journey to strengthen her faith and relationship to the divine. On a much smaller scale but similar to the post-colonial body, she endured a terrible set of circumstances and used her pain to create something beautiful and meaningful. My mom can wear her scars like the post-colonial body wears its tatau. They become a point of pride, because they indicate a time of pain and suffering that has been overcome.
The linkage of pain and pride is an idea that crosses over boundaries of time and space. Wendt cites that not finishing a tatau or malu results in a person and his or her family suffering “the cross of [his or her] disgrace” (Wendt 410). If pain defeats a person, that defeat becomes a source of shame and continuous pain. On the other hand, from the cultures who endured colonialism to the men and women who fight cancer every day, enduring and overcoming pain should free a person from any lingering shame that may be associated with the situation. Cleansing occurs through triumph, and new growth springs forth from overcoming hardship.