In class on Tuesday we considered the significance of freedom to each of the novels we have rest thus far in the semester. A question that I have frequently asked myself, I too, often wonder, “What sets us free? What discovery can be made about life that is the ultimate freedom? Or does freedom only exist only on a smaller scale?” Kisses in the Nederends suggests the later – that there is no size-fits-all strategy to discovering freedom, but rather a series of individual experiences, conversations, and mistakes that make us aware of freedom not as a given right, but as an individual choice.
Oilei is quite literally trapped by his own pain, described by Hau’ofa so intensely that I even began to cringe while reading his description. His pain in the “arse,” combined with all the farting, moaning, and eventual bleeding, seems downright imprisoning. Yet, despite allowing the numerous town folk who seek to help him, Oilei treats them disrespectfully, cursing and ridiculing them for their intentions. The old medicine women, Marama’s attempts to dislodge his pains are rejected and Oilei resorts to blaming his wife, “a silly bitch,” for his condition (11). Even his wife, Makarita, rejects any assistance from others for her husband’s condition, establishing her anger and embarrassment, as well as possible fear, regarding Oilei’s condition. While in town, she laments, “Spare me, Lord. The next” person who asks about my husband’s condition “will go minus her tongue” (18). She even mistakenly curses as the town Pastor, unaware of his presence beside her. Despite wanting to despise her husband for his grotesque bodily functions, Hau’ofa is suggesting that Makarita still very much cares about his wellbeing. She may say she wishes to leave him, but her inability to forget about his pains proves otherwise. As her mother, Mere, instructs her, “Try to change him…everyone’s redeemable” (4). Makarita may insist on being “free” from her husband as he wishes to be from his pain, yet the story does not permit this so easily. Perhaps what the novel suggests about freedom is the small steps it takes to reach it. Makarita and Oilei will not be completely free of their circumstance until they both recognize how their relationship affects their perception of the world around them.
Ironically, too, Oilei’s pain results in a lot of “freeing” of unnecessary air from his buttocks. He is able to expel the air freely, but not the pain. Similarly, he and his wife cannot seem to identify the blockage in their relationship, but have plenty of unnecessary words to share between one another and their village. The journey that Oilei must take in order to find a release from his pain parallels the search for freedom he and his wife share in their relationship. Even after Oilei almost kills Makarita after taking a medicinal plant, she returns, saying, “You’re lucky I’m back, itchy arse” (79). Be it enjoyable or not, their relationship is growing and changing through their quest to free Oilei of his pain.