In Wendt’s essay, “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body”, he elaborately describes all of the intricate meanings and purposes behind Samoan tatau. He spends a lot of time describing the meanings of many of the symbols used but also talks about tattoo on a much deeper level. Wendt elaborates on why people willingly make themselves vulnerable to diseases as well as severe pain. He says “ Undergoing the tattoo is challenging death, risking it” and it is that defiance that makes the act of doing it so much more significant. Wendt goes on to explain that the use of painkillers is not accepted because it is taking away the purpose of the art. If getting a tattoo is something that is easy and painless then there is no sense of bravery and accomplishment to come with it.
Wendt specifically addresses his short piece titled “The Cross of Soot” in which he explains the story behind his first and only tattoo. He acknowledges the fact that he hasn’t participated in the tattoo tradition “Being a humble Samoan, I apologize for not having a tatau. Why don’t I have one? I’m a coward physically!” This is important because it demonstrates that this isn’t a tradition that was carefree but rather one that publicly portrayed who someone was. In Wendt’s case, his unfinished star tattoo holds its own memory and meaning which is further revealed when reading “The Cross of Soot”. Instead of reading about the way a typical Samoan may go through the tattooing process, the reader is shown a different perspective. This is done by the narrator being from a child’s point of view.
Without a doubt, Wendt will look down at his hand and always remember that prisoner who etched that permanent line into his skin. Although it is not a full and completed tattoo, it still holds much significance. As a young boy he “snaked himself under the barbed-wire fence” of the prison and entered a world that no longer possessed the innocence of childhood. However, his mind is still seeing things from a very youthful perspective and this is demonstrated by his lack of meaning of the word “rape” as well as his constant questioning when talking to the prisoners. Although there is this separation in age, the boy ( Wendt) still has the ability to feel the emotion coming from each of these older individuals. He senses right away the uneasiness and tension that is involved when Tagi comes along. At first he tries to ease this by making jokes about the dirty water, but this soon turns into something that goes beyond just the surface of the situation. The boy and Tagi have a connection and what exactly establishes it is unclear. The moment he stretches his arm out to get tattooed he explains how “the man’s hand felt like his mother’s ” which is very unexpected. There is this level of trust and comfort between the two that gives the boy even more strength to withstand the pain.
Everyone has at least one scar on them that holds some sort of story behind it. The one I have on my leg will always bring back the memory of when my sister and I did something crazy together. Being young, we decided it was a good idea to ride our bikes down this steep hill in the woods behind our house. We counted to three and proceeded to push ourselves forward while peddling quickly. Inevitably both of our bikes collided on the way down and we were both thrown a few feet after the impact. I got a deep cut along the side of my thigh and my sister also suffered from her own injury. Luckily neither of us were severely hurt but the mark that it left on my body will always be there. It’s not a symbol or a shape but it still signifies a time in my life when I did stupid things and had fun with my sister. Even though it was painful and terrifying when it happened, Im able to look back at it and find happiness.
My story doesn’t come close to the deep meaning that Wendt displays in his short story, but they do have similarities. The mark that was left upon the boy’s hand may not have any visual significance to anyone that looks at it. My scar doesn’t tell a story to anyone that sees it, but they both hold a place within the heart. The boy went through the pain of that tattoo just as I felt the pain when I cut my leg, but in the end that pain was worth it. It resulted with the ability to carry a specific memory forever. It might represent a movement into adulthood in terms of the boy’s life and my scar represents the innocence of my childhood. Both of which are important moments in time during someone’s life. To sum it up, whether something is finished or unfinished, clear or unclear, what is of most value is why it matters to yourself.