Postcolonial Pacific Writing: Representations of the Body

By Michelle Keown | Go to book overview

Conclusion

Reinscribing the Polynesian body

In the final pages of this study, I want to focus more closely upon the tat-tooed Polynesian body as a means by which to draw together various threads in my argument, and to identify particular trends in recent literary and cultural theory focusing upon indigenous Pacific-particularly Polynesian-literatures and cultures. In the chapters on Alan Duff and Keri Hulme, I have suggested that the tattooed Polynesian body may be read as a cultural cipher or as an index of (post)colonial history. It is also possible, however, to push the metaphor further, interpreting the tattooed Polynesian body as a figure for the inscription of cultural identity in the literatures of the South Pacific.

In an article entitled 'Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body' (1996), Albert Wendt discusses the practice of tattooing as a means by which to 'clothe' and inscribe the indigenous body with a culturally specific graphic code. Wendt focuses primarily upon the Samoan male and female tattoos (tatau and malu), but his arguments are equally applicable to other Polynesian tattoos such as the Māori moko which, like the Samoan tatau, is embraced by many contemporary Māori as a visual assertion of cultural identity. Wendt reads the social function of the tatau as twofold. It provides the tat-tooed individual with a social identity, and also functions as an initiation ritual testing the individual's commitment to that society:

In a deep psychological, mythological, symbolic way, tatauing is the act of printing/scripting a genealogical/spiritual/philosophical text on the blood, of testing it to see if it can bear the pain of being in a human body, of storying it, giving it human design, shape, form, identity.

(ibid.: 25)

Wendt interprets the tattooing process as both initiatory and votive, representing, as Alfred Gell suggests, the 'perfect vehicle for the bodily registration of commitment' to one's culture (1993:302).

A variety of functions and forms of Polynesian tattooing have been discussed in this book. Alan Duff s exploration of tattooing in Once Were

-191-

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Postcolonial Pacific Writing: Representations of the Body
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Figures xi
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Postcolonial Dystopias 16
  • 2 - 'Gauguin is Dead' 38
  • 3 - Purifying the Abject Body 61
  • 4 - Alistair Te Ariki Campbell 84
  • 5 - Remoulding the Body Politic 102
  • 6 - Disease, Colonialism and the National 'Body' 127
  • 7 - Language and the Corporeal 149
  • 8 - The Narcissistic Body: 170
  • Conclusion 191
  • Notes 199
  • Bibliography 213
  • Index 229
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