When I think of tattoos, I tend to picture “I Love Mom” in hearts or huge crosses encircling men’s upper arms. Not until reading Hau’ofa’s essays, Fiegel’s novel, or your book Dr. Ellis, have I thought of tattoo as a language or a history. And when I read Rey Chow’s comments, I began to see tattoo in a completely new light.
Chow mentions that because of its pictographic nature, Westerners may not always understand Chinese writing. And while they may not understand it, “they nonetheless proceed to do so by inscribing it in a new kind of theorizing (speculation), a new kind of intelligibility” (15). Westerners therefore translate Chinese into Western alphabets, something they themselves can make sense of. The same can be thought of tattoo. Those who do not belong to Maori, or Tongan, or Samoan cultures may not comprehend the meaning behind full body adornment, but since tattoo has traveled across the globe, the Western world can now make sense of the process in their own way. “The inscrutable Chinese ideogram [tattoo] has led to a new scrutability, a new insight that remains Western and that becomes, thereafter, global” (15). Westerners can take the language of tattoo and make it their own. Though the process and product of Western tattoo is completely different than that of Pacific culture, it stems from the same roots. Just like a language, tattoo has been translated for all people to understand.
As we have discussed in previous classes, the spread of tattoo is like an act of reclamation for Pacific islanders. Tattoo is the language Oceania has used to reclaim its independence and cultural freedom. Because tattoo has spread throughout the world, Western cultures have inadvertently taken part in Pacific custom and tradition; and have therefore acknowledged its importance and historical significance. In this post-colonial world, tattoo is Oceania’s way of saying “look we can influence you too”.