Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Colonialism as a Projection of Culture and Values

Epeli Hau'ofa's Kisses in the Nederends continues a trend of readings that we have examined this semester in which colonization results in the diminishment of native culture for the benefit of the colonizing power. After reading this book, I struggled to grasp the various concepts of home and culture that were being presented in the novel, and I decided to resort to my own outside research. While “Seru saw the human body as a world in itself,” my outside research continually pointed to the fact that Hau’ofa is doing the opposite and likening the world to a human body (Hau’ofa 86).  In this analogy, the Pacific Islands are equated to Oieli’s aching backside—a place from which great pain is being generated, but an area that few people like to talk about. Thus, the novel satirically examines how colonizing powers seek to fix problems in the colonized world by Westernizing the area further. This is seen in a literal sense early in the story, as at the first International Conference on the Promotion of Understanding and Co-operation Between Modern and Traditional Sciences of Medicine, it is announced that there would be the “imminent opening of the International School of Traditional Medicine…where established and rising dottores will go to study for periods up to two years to bring them up to date and to broaden their fields of competence” (30).  In response to the problems that the Pacific Islands face, colonial nations feel that it is best for their doctors to be reeducated and modernized. This strategy diverts the focus of traditional “witch-doctors” away from custom and instead, indoctrinates them with Western techniques that are assumed by Western powers to be superior to traditional practices. This same idea is seen allegorically in the obvious, when Oieli finally undergoes an anus transplant and receives the backside of a white woman. His body’s rejection of the transplant is symbolic of the fact that the projection of Western values upon colonized nations may not always be the best solution to the problems that they face, as these solutions may not always be compatible with existing (traditional) cultures and ways of life. This idea is visible in Patricia Grace’s Potiki. When the “Dollarmen” arrive seeking to purchase the Maori’s land, they are shocked that they cannot be persuaded with promises of jobs or conveniently located apartments. While these solutions may have persuaded other Westerners, the Maori do not share these same materialistic values, and thus have no need for the things that they are offered. These two novels, as well as others that we have examined so far this semester, underscore the sanctity of individual cultures, and how it is impossible to utilize a one-size-fits-all approach to solving problems within different societies.

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