Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Warts and All

After half a semester of works that propagates an intense respect for the culture of native peoples, a comprehension of how little is understood of their struggle in the face of colonialism and some of a glance at how unscathed these cultures emerged from carnage of colonialism into the brave, new post colonial world, Kisses in the Nederlands comes as something of a shock. Initially, it seems to treat the natives of the Pacific Islands, as buffoons. Superficially speaking the characters (endearing and fascinating as they were) struck yours truly as almost primitive individuals who illogically rolicked their way through a medical issue,morphing it, because of their ignorance, into a life threatening crisis. This characterization seems to be given weight by the trajectory of the piece which culminates with Oilei’s malady being solved by the intervention of modern (read:western) medicine.

But that can’t be what Hau’ofa is trying to say because that’s bigoted and absurd. However, I think what he’s saying is a little more nuanced than the tried and true cliche: cultural compromise/adaptation is necessary for continued cultural growth. Rather, he presents yet another dynamic to the ongoing conversation swirling around these cultures. This new dynamic forces the reader (at least it forced yours truly) to cringe and deal with imagery (such as Ninongs growing succulent in the swampy wetlands of everyone’s anus) and situations in this culture that are a little absurd and don’t have the austere dignity that is so easy to relate to and talk about from a western perspective. To date, there’s been something of an anguished hagiographical nature to the depictions of once colonized people. But Kisses in the Nederlands destroys that paradigm and brings a low brow sense of humor to the party with jokes about the nether regions galore. By focusing so intensely and funnily on so unseemly a topic Hau'ofa humanizes the cultures. The outsider need not speak in hushed, increasingly reverent tones about them any longer. One can see them warts and all and come out the other end still fond and full of respect for the characters involved. One can even come out a quasi believer in anal kissing for peace.

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