Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Trying to Cure the Pain

Kisses in the Nederends is no doubt a strange and at times disturbing little book. Our protaganist Oilei wakes one morning to find that his "arse" is in great pain, and as the book progresses he seeks treatments to no avail. While Oilei remains the main character in the story, it is the collective group of doctors and "dottores" who populate the rivaling remaining spaces on the pages. For every few pages of Oilei's suffering, there is an equal amount of time given to a new doctor, with a new plan.

The most striking aspect of the novel so far is that for all of the doctors presented to Oilei, none of them are able to cure him though they have been able to cure so many others, even others with similar predicaments. Niether Domoni with his conch shell, nor Amini with his magical turtle shell persona, to name two examples, can help him. Therefore, the pain persists.

As I read I can't help but wonder if Epeli Hau'ofa is creating a connection between Oilei's struggle for pain relief and the dottores struggle for legitimacy in the eyes of the Western world. Early in the novel Hau'ofa tells of the International Conference on the Promotion of Understanding and Co-operation Between Modern and Traditional Sciences of Medicine. At the conference the Western, educated doctors mingle with the native so-called witchdoctors. The purpose of the conference is in part to legitimize the role of the native doctors in the eyes of the more standarized ones. While it appears that the conference is a success, the fact that a drunken British doctor gives an interview and calls it "a great symbolic success" (30) sums it up. In addition, local doctors Losana and Marama admit that they are not even able to understand the conference due to language barrier. Further, it is repeated several times that when a dottore wants to brag about his abilities, he says that he has even treated whites, as if it was a priveledge to do so.

So, there is a clear line that moves throughout the text which shows the tension of the "primitive" medicine against the Western world. At the same time, there is the plot of Oilei's never-ending pain. On the one hand, Hau'ofa seems to be making the point that Oilei's pain cannot be healed because the native medicines are not proficient enough. On perhaps a deeper level, it may be interpreted that Oilei's pain represents the island's inability to be on par with the Western ideals. While the individual healers are inable heal Oilei, so too are the healers as a whole unable to be taken serious. Hence, the pain might be interpreted as both Oilei's individual pain and also the pain of a community's lifestyle which is not taken seriously.

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