Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Absurd Homeland in Hau'ofa

When reading Kisses in the Nederends by Epeli Hau'ofa, it is at times difficult to see through the humour to the true identity of many of the characters, and even more difficult to establish their relationship to their own homeland. Clearly, there is tension between the customs and beliefs of the native islanders and the European modernism that has been established in their presence. For example, after Oilei initially visits the hospital to address the pain in his arse, he and his family, turn to less traditional forms of medicine, instead turning to a more spiritual form of healing. In a sense, this reliance on older medicinal practices allows the characters to get back in touch with their native roots after years of succumbing to the influence of western society, which, at least in Oilei's case, has been occurring. Mere pleads with her daughter Makarita not to leave her husband, stating, "your husband's very important. He's about to be appointed by the Prime Minister to the vacant Senate seat. (pg. 5)" This quote shows that there is a western form of government in place on the island, at that Oilei is actively and successfully involved in it. Hau'ofa seems to suggest that this is a sort of betrayal, because he characterizes Oilei as disgusting and unlikeable in nearly every way. In contrast, his wife Makarita shows disdain for the government, saying, "they wouldn't dare embarrass the Government, (pg. 6)" when convincing her mother that the police would not return with a warrant. Clearly, she is less infatuated with the western government, showing a hint of sarcasm in her assessment of the governmental situation.
Oilei's treatment shows another chasm existent between the natives and the western culture that they live within. The first healer, Marama, shows a comical misunderstanding of medical procedure and diagnosis, which is both laughable and worrying, since Mere, Makarita, and Oilei all buy into her description of the Lecturer Farts and the rectum stones. It is interesting that they put more trust in the native healer, since she is obviously both incompetent and known to gossip about the villagers' ailments. This shows a serious distrust of western medicine, and a remaining affinity for the old culture of their people. Although much of the plot is comedic, the tension between the two ways of life, as in other stories we have read this semester, effects the characters deeply, and in the case of Kisses in the Nederends, the comedy itself allows for a deeper understanding of the make up of the island society in which the reader is immersed.

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