Monday, January 26, 2009

Signifiers 1/27/09

Matt Bochniak
First Signifiers
Signifier Analysis

Tales of the Tikongs, written by Epeli Hau'ofa, is a collection of twelve stories about life on the small island of Tiko. These stories are written like oral tells. While reading this book, I got the sense of a great chief was sharing his knowledge. One main theme throughout this book is the Development of Tiko.

Stories like "The Big Bullshit', in which Pulu, a collector of scrawny small animals, tries to raise three cows and a bull that were given to him from New Zealand to help develop Tiko. Pulu fails, after having his three cows butchered and discovering his bull is impotent, he sells his bull and with the proceeds bought chickens and pigs to begin his new collection of scrawny animals. This story makes a couple of interesting points. First point would be how New Zealand gave Pulu an impotent bull which could not make calves. This was the reason for this development program. The second point is that by the end of the story Pulu is right back at where he started.

"The Tower of Babel" is the tale of developing a fish cannery in Tiko. In this story we meet Alvin "Sharky" Lowe, an Australian with money to loan for beginner fishermen. Ika Levu gives up his humble life of being a part-time gardener to become a fisherman. As soon as Ika got all of his fishing equipment and got thoroughly in debt, Sharky disappeared. After many failed attempts to talk to the bank, Ika sank his boat with all of the fishing equipment so that they couldn't repossess it. Ika then returned to his humble life. Like Pulu, at the end of the story Ika is back at where he started.

Both of these stories are great examples of how attempts to develop Tiko have failed. In these stories, the villain is the outsider coming to Tiko. The outsiders try and sell the people of Tiko that it’s for their benefit they're here, but the truth is that the outsiders are really the only ones that benefits. The question has to be asked, what would Tiko have against development? I believe the people of Tiko like their way of life, and fear the changes that these developers could bring.

One of my previous media jobs put me in a situation of being an outsider. Unlike the developers of Tiko, I was not a villain. For two seasons, I traveled with the Baltimore Ravens as a producer for their radio broadcasts. Everywhere the team went, I went. I was on the team plane, stayed in the team hotel, on the bus with the players before and after the game, and I was at team practices. I could easily make the connection to the people of Tiko and the players and staff of the Ravens. They are very tight group that didn’t trust new people.

For a few week of the first season I had to prove my trust to the team. Being an outsider, players and staff would watch what they said, thinking I maybe looking for some dirty for a story. During that time, I only got real basic answers to questions.

On a flight home from Denver, an event transformed me from an outsider to an insider. It was early in the morning while we were flying home from a loss. Earlier, defensive back Cory Ivy was shaken up on a tackle. He missed a couple of plays, but came back and finished the game. We were about three hours into a smooth flight when all of a sudden we heard painful cries coming from the players seating. I and others on the plane were then totally woken up by the captain of the plane, “Ladies and Gentlemen this is your captain. We are making an emergency landing in Pittsburgh due to a medical emergency. Please buckle your seat belts, we are going to be burning threw our fuel to arrive there sooner.” With that announcement, everyone was wide awake and began questioning who was hurt. About ten minutes later, we landed in Pittsburgh. Cory Ivy was taken off the plane. This was a huge story. I had to question my media ethics. Do I call my station and tell them what’s going on, or do I say nothing until I arrive back in Baltimore?

I choose to wait until I got back to Baltimore to respect the team privacy. The choice I made proved to the team that I wasn’t after the story. After that event, I was no longer treated like an outsider. Unlike the developers of Tiko, I wasn't in it for myself.

In “Our Sea of Islands”, Hau’ofa speaks about how the people from Oceania live from day to day, not really caring for the long-term benefits of aided development of other countries. These countries, like the developers in the stories have their own agendas. I have to question, but at what point does a better way of life out weigh ones sense of culture and traditions.

Religion and community

Tekoa Smith
First Signifiers
Signifier Analysis

Through stories of Tiko natives and the way they live, with the help of satire and humor, Epeli Hau’ofa illustrates the distinctive geography and human characteristics that may only take place in the small island in the South Pacific Ocean. In “Tales of the Tikongs” Hau’ofa presents a different character and situation with each story however the characters are wittingly related. With the use of satire Hau’ofa actually sets up caricatures of Tiko natives to embellish on the idea of how unique a people Tikongs are. “Thus the Lord works six days and rests on the Seventh, Tiko rests six days and works on the Seventh [Hau’ofa, Tales 1]”.
As the reader we are invited into this part of the world and introduced to the land with stories of young men coming of age as well as aged men working to become better off men through education, business, agriculture and religion. Many of the tales are about people on the progression of something great but with uninvited help from advisors from countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain. The people are reluctant for the push of development of their country because they believe Tiko is perfect the way it is, the way God intended it to be. “Tiko can’t be developed, unless the ancient gods are killed.” [Hau’ofa, Tales 18]. Tikongs rely on their faith to guide them through their day to day. And the Tikong’s faith complimented by their ideology of imperil rejection allows them to follow the teachings of the Bible but make them their own. Hau’ofa’s tales have the quality of fables and Bible stories spruced with laugh out loud humor. The Tikongs are very devout people and religion, specifically Christianity is mentioned in almost every tale and is often the theme around most. Such as when Ti, a 77 year old man who uses a page out of the Bible to roll a cigarette is haunted by Biblical spirits Joshua and Moses until he commits the same sin twice, suggesting that a sin can only be cancelled by an equal and opposite sin. [Hau’ofa, Tales 35-42].
Hau’ofa uses humor to bring attention to the way the indigenous of Tiko are treated by outsiders. “Speechless, impotent and utterly indignant [Hau’ofa, Tales 15].” This type of belittling in “Tales” as well as in Hau’ofa’s essay, “Our Sea of Islands” reminds me of the American Slave trade and the advancement of Civil Rights in the 1960s. In “Our Sea of Islands” Hau’ofa explains that the “derogatory and belittling view of indigenous cultures are traceable to the early years of interactions with Europeans. [Hau’ofa, Our 28], just as when slave trade was common in America. Men and women from African decent were made to feel inferior to Europeans and American Caucasians. This was done by language such as “boy” when referring to African men and the all too controversial word Nigger to determine anyone of color. In America Europeans used the exploitation of Africans to help develop the country but did not put much effort into developing African-Americans as American people.
African’s were made how to speak, how to behave and most importantly how to build the country into majority it is today. Europeans also taught African’s religion, Christianity, which they used to their advantage and like the Tikongs, incorporated their own beliefs. Religion was and still is a major part of African-American lifestyle. From the production of the AME church to congregations being the center of most African-American communities. Although at current I am not active in religion I grew up in a church driven household and know very much about the Baptist faith. What I learned mostly is that religion is a thing that brings people together. It connects potential total strangers and brings them closer to family. When you share a particular strong religious view with another person a connection can often be made. To African-Americans that connection reaches deep back to the roots of religion. Run-away slaves used biblical hymns to help guide their way through the Underground Railroad. Because many slaves were illiterate the teachings of the bible were passed through spoken word and storytelling without any tangible resources. Such as with the Tikongs who all follow the same similar beliefs of their faith it is there understood difference that help them to stay connected to their roots.

Kimberly's Signifiers Analysis for 1/27/09

In considering our current signifier, geography, while reading Tales of the Tikongs and "Our Sea of Islands," one major recurring theme seemed to shape the geography of Oceania. This theme is religion which also is something that has shaped my life, past and present. Living here, in a city for nearly nine years that is filled with churches and synagogues and numerous religious schools to choose from, has served as a constant reminder that religion is something that adds shape, meaning, and dimension to the geography of the area.

One semi-local sight that is particularly noteworthy, is that of the Masonic Temple, soaring out above the trees as one drives around the Capital Beltway. The Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, the Baltimore Basilica, Beth-El and many others, even including less pictoresque edifices like the huge "Grace" warehouse in Timonium on Deerco Road, add shape and meaning to the geography of our area. The number of cars parked outside that warehouse on any given Sunday, with membership supposedly in the thousands, is evidence alone of it's impact on the area.

As a former teacher at an Episcopalian, yet extremely liberal independent area school, Grace and St. Peter's School, I can claim without hesitation that churches and other religious structures in Baltimore are among the most visited, including Poe's grave which is even an off route destination of the ever-popular "Duck Boat Tours." Grace and St. Peter's Church, as well as others in the Mount Vernon section of Baltimore, are often photographed and frequented by locals and tourists alike. It shows that religion, though perhaps not practised by all, is alive and very much a part of our culture and geography. The religious buildings beckon for attendance and the abundance and diverse selection facilitates attendance in this area, where more rural areas are perhaps more restrictive as far as choice and location.

Having been raised Roman-Catholic, I remained a Catholic in adulthood, despite differences I had had with specific aspects of this organized religion. When I was divorced in my late twenties, I was dissappointed with the way the church deals with divorce and felt that such issues should be dealt with differently. At that time, other differences I had had with my first religion seemed exacerbated and it was time for a change, particularly since I had a child to consider. I did not want to appear hypocritical, or to be it, and I wanted my son to be a part of a church with values and teachings, which I was, at least mostly, in agreement. This provoked me to research more religions and attempt to discover if being a part of organized religion was in fact a good spiritual fit for me and my family. Luckily, there were many churches and other religious venues in the area to accomodate and facilitate my quest.

After significant research, I began to attend a moderate Episcoplian church, which was sort of a taste of Catholic "lite." This church was said to have a fabulous Sunday School which I thought would be beneficial to my son. Defining, welcoming aspects which made me feel at home there were lacking at this church, but in retrospect, it could have been the largeness of the congregation, or even the unfamiliarity of music and lack of signals/gestures that I was so accustomed to, like the sign of the cross and the smell of incense. Nevertheless, in my research, I had read much about the importance of religion for children and the benefits of feeling a part of such a group, if you will.

So, I continued my quest and found what is referred to as a "low" Episcopalian church, meaning I would say, liberal. This church shares my many, even most, of my beliefs and values, such as supporting homosexual unions in whatever form they choose, women being preists, and priests being able to marry and have families. These are things that were important to me and I want them presented to my children as normal parts of life, not as something that is even worth writing down as a difference. As with any church or religion, there are certain things which are not perfect, such as the consistent and persistent attempt to gain donations, particularly in this economic downturn, but there is nothing glaring to dissuade me from enjoying being a part of this church and having my family participate there. We are proud to have found such a good fit for our family that we can be comfortable calling ourselves a part of.

Our church has shaped our town for us and it is a major focal point in the way we view the geography of our area. Though many may choose not to participate in religion, it is a part of life here, it's in our culture. It is hard to avoid the thoughts it evokes as we are constantly exposed, at least to the buildings of worship, let alone the exposure, however brief, surfing past radio and T.V. programs on the topic.

The recent readings show that religion has a major impact on the signifier of geography, as well as the lives and customs in Oceania. Certainly, it is mentioned in each of Hau'ofa's short stories in Tales of the Tikongs, with quite a bit of emphasis on Christianity and "the Good Book," but also on other local religions. Despite the author's attempt to present the area as capable of being self-sufficient and successful, so to speak, on it's own, the people are undoubtedly drawn to Christianity in various forms.

Perhaps Hau'ofa feels comfortable focusing much of his writing on the strong impact of Christianity in the region, because the local people have encorporated such teachings into their own religions and therefore, took knowledge and personlized it to their landscape and needs or thoughts, which is commendable.

Maybe, his goal was to use Christianity, something from another culture which was imposed on the people of his native area, and display the humorous side of it. Here are all these characters, acting or even believeing themselves to be pious all the while, but really just behaving in self serving ways. Whether it be with poor Noeli, who was changing religions repeatedly and singing the songs and dancing the dances of each particular religion in his quest for the right one, while he was really just looking for a bit of loving, or with Ti Pilo Simini, who was going to great lengths to make sure he wouldn't end up in Hell for accidentally smoking a page of the Bible, the reader can see that humor is present at the expense of religion.

Certainly humor is present when characters of the area are presented as clever business people, under the guise of religious servants. On page 79, Epeli Hua'ofa writes in "Bopeep's Bells," "Thus endowed with Divine Perfection the Bopeep can do anything he wants, for his decisions and actions are spotless in the eyes of the Lord. It also follows that the Holy Bopeep has the sole say in the Financial Affairs of the Golden Bell." Teehee.

Do the stories mock the teachings of Christinaity with its humor? Maybe. Is it because of the way that Christianity was introduced or forced on the area, thus changing the local geography and people and their customs? Maybe, as there is perhaps some bitterness there, and rightfully so. Surely the feelings of Hau'ofa which reflect his allegiance to Oceania are evident in "Our Sea of Islands."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kimberly's presentation 1/20

Wendt discusses that even the availability of literature for the youth in these regions is that which is not only largely revered, such as Robinson Crusoe, Coral Island, and Treasure Island, but it is that which promotes “permanent colonial tutledge.” (Albert Wendt, “pacific Maps and Fiction(s)” p.69) One small step that Wendt takes to counter-act this racist phenomenon is to always refer to the Mountain near his alma mater by its original name, not the more recent name it was given by post colonial settlers. Insults, deliberate or not, which affect the original inhabitants of the land to the point of adjusting and even re-naming their maps, geographical and other maps, is sadly not only common to the South Pacific. Whale Rider concludes on a happy note, as one feels that the Maori culture, and all that is instrumental to it such as their maps and their geography, is saved and will live on in peace. As shapers of American maps, do you feel we have ventured far from our brutal embarrassing past where slaves were a norm and women and blacks were not permitted to vote, particularly on this significant day on which President Barack Obama is in office? Usually I hope and feel that the times are permanently and positively changed, but on occasion the ladder is ripped out from under me.
For Christmas, I recently purchased this movie, “Melody Time,” for my 6-year-old, as he is an avid pianist whose great passion has been his piano since age two. I will conclude my presentation by showing you a clip from this film, which is a blatant portrayal of map destruction. It is a disconcerting example of something that needs to be eliminated from our culture, from our maps. The small step that I can take, similar to what Wendt did to preserve his map of the mountain, is to ban this DVD from my household and hold a discussion on what is wrong about it with my children, which I already have accomplished.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Whale Rider - Signifiers

Matt Bochniak
First Signifiers
Prof. Ellis
Reflection: Jan. 20 (lit. analysis)

The “Whale Rider” by Ihimaera is a tale of power struggle and change within the Maori, a tribe in New Zealand. Kahu is inline to be the next chief of the Maori. The issue with Kahu, who is named after the tribe’s first chief, is that she would be the first female chief of the Maori. Throughout the entire book, Koro Apirana (the current chief) and Nanny Flowers (Koro Apirana’s wife) constantly lovingly argue with each other about Kahu being the future tribe’s leader. This is a constant power struggle between these two colorful characters. Koro Apirana is against having a female chief. Nanny Flowers, who came from another tribe that had female chiefs, is always trying to get Koro Apirana to see that the Maori only having male chiefs is just not right. She believes that Kahu will make a great chief of the Maori.

The story comes to the climate after a whale is beached and the tribe has to get the whale back into the ocean. Koro Apirana didn’t want any help from the women of the tribe, but after a rope broke in the rescue effort, Koro Apirana had to let the women of the Maori help save this whale. When all looks lost and whale was going to die, Kahu swims out to the whale and talks to him. She gets on the whales back, and remarkably the whale gets free and gets out to the ocean while Kahu is riding the whale like the chief she is named after.

Nature, and being one with nature, is another major signifier of the Maori. In Wendt’s “Pacific Maps and Fiction”, Wendt speaks on how the people from the Pacific Islands has a connection to their environment. The Whakapapa/Gafa, whom the Maori is apart of, believes that their environment defines them and feeds their imagination.

I see a connection with the “Whale Rider” book’s theme of change with what is going on right now in Baltimore and the USA. Our country is having our first African-American President, just as Kahu is going to be the first female chief of her tribe.

Analysis The Whale Rider

Tekoa Smith
First Signifiers
Reading Analysis

Geography, tattoo and the human face are the three first signifiers to identifying meaning and expression and the human. Witi Ihimaera, in “The Whale Rider uses all three to depict the story of a young female Maori who’s been born with the gift of the tribe’s founder for communicating with nature, more importantly with whales. Kahutia Te Rangi, the whale rider, is the ancestor of the Maori and Kahu his direct descendent.
Through the history of when and how Whangara, where the Maori’s reside, was founded and established the imagery of the setting gives insight on the impact it has on the importance of Kahu to the Maori people.
Our genealogy is the genealogy of the people of Te Tai Rawhiti, the people of the East Coast. Far away beyond the horizon is Hawaiki, our ancestral island homeland, the place of the Ancients and the Gods, and the other side of the world. In between is the huge seamless marine continent that we call Te Moana Nui a Kiwa, the Great Ocean of Kiwa.
This is the indication of many islands and clusters of land surrounded by heavy tropical bodies of water; bodies of water with an abundance of wildlife inhabitant. The Maori are a deeply spiritual and traditional tribe that relies on the healthy relationship they establish with nature to continue to help the people prosper. Kahutia Te Rangi settled in Whangara, upon his whale, “and brought with him the life-giving forces that would enable us to live in close communion with the world.” Maori respect what the land and sea has to offer and in turn remain grateful for them. The presence of the abundance of land and sea aides in the understanding of the importance of communication and oneness in tribal culture. But, in the recent years around the birth of Kahu, the Maori have lost their ability to communicate successfully with nature and the whales. Kahu who possesses that innate gift helps to reestablish this connection.
For Kahu getting the tribe, and more importantly the chief, her great-grandfather Koro Apriana, to accept and recognize her gift is complicated because of gender signifiers. Koro Apriana is a strong traditional believer that the descents of the hierarchy be male, unless the tribe will perish. When first finding out that Kahu was female he disgustedly proclaimed, “A girl. I will have nothing to do with her. She has broken the male line of decent in our tribe.” Koro Apriana at that time was unaware of Kahu’s gift and his attitude towards her stayed unchanging throughout. In fact the gender of Kahu was the primary cause of distress for Koro and the entire tribe. It was because of Koro’s rejection of Kahu that threw off the balance of sea and human kind. Others in Kahu’s family, her Uncle Rawiri and her Nanny Flowers, Koro’s wife, saw the potential in Kahu but were never successful in convincing Koro. Instead Koro blamed Nanny Flowers for the reason the tribe may parish because of her strong female side. Kahu’s gender is a representation of her human face. Her face, as well as her body, is female however she proves to be a cohabitation of male and female. She’s kind, gentle and carrying but has the ability to be a leader and a ruler of the sea. In Kahu is the oneness that the Maori ancestors believe produces a great communion.
Koro’s inability to look past Kahu’s gender is because of his traditional tattoo. Koro is one of the eldest in the tribe. He strongly believes in the male influence as the determiners of the Maori and offers instructions on Maori tradition as well as language to only males in Whangara. A tattoo is permanent so Kahu’s birth didn’t hold any value to Koro because she was female she did not fit into tradition; she was not a part of the tattoo. Koro also often dismisses suggestions from Nanny Flowers because she is a women and he looks strongly to the males of the tribe to satisfy his need for the men to stay strong. In one of Koro’s instructions he took the young men out on a boat, past the bay where the water would suddenly turn dark green. Koro dropped a carved stone into the ocean and proclaimed, “One of you must bring that stone back to me.” None of the young pupils were able to retrieve the stone for Koro and his hope was lost and he was broken from not being able to see a powerful future for the Maori. Koro was looking for the next generation of the tattoo among his pupils but they were not there. The significant detail apart of tradition was Kahu; a communion of male and female and nature and humankind. Shortly after seen Koro upset Kahu set out and retrieved the stone for him. This marked the first of a series of miraculous things Kahu would do for Koro and the tribe.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

jan 20, lit analysis

Cory Matheny
First Signifiers
Prof. Ellis
Reflection: Jan. 20 (lit. analysis)
Witi Ihimaera’s “The Whale Rider” is, in most every regard, a regional-contemporary retelling of the Arthurian legend. This is not a slight. Rather, in the tradition of intellectuals such as Joseph Campbell, Claude Levi-Strauss, and Carl Jung the story articulates several innate human dramas born from the ‘human condition’ (if that phrase may be used here).
Kahu, the stories protagonist, is continually viewed through a mythic paradigm. Every aspect of her character is introduced as it pertains to the introduction, development, and resolution of her character’s connection to the land. Near the beginning of the story she is tied to the land of her birth when her Grandmother, Nanny Flowers, and Uncle, set-off to bury her umbilical cord in the ground, thus, to paraphrase, ‘grounding Kahu in the land of her forefathers and guaranteeing her return to that land.’ At varying points Kahu is overtly linked to the land of her birth when she senses the whale’s pain (the symbol of her land an people) – during Koro’s story and when the whale pod is beached – and begins to cry, or sing, in accord with the group. And, ultimately, when she is able to, in true Arthurian style, ‘draw’ the stone from the sea.
In this act – the wielding of the stone – Kahu, in the most basic analysis, claims the authority which the author has eluded to being hers from the outset of the story. She is the one who is able to connect, or as Ihimaera often says ‘commune,’ with the earth. The more profound implication of this act however, is that it also gives authority to the land. Kahu, does not draw her authority from her education, or her wealth, or directly from a particular birthright, rather, she is empowered by her ability to claim provenance within – and, perhaps over – nature. Further, that power is affirmed by the actions of the whales; when, during a single night, a pod of whales and a mythic, demi-god, whale beach themselves upon the native Maori shores. The whales have rejected the sea and have sought death on the land. The whale, as Ihimaera often notes, was a primary resource for survival and thus also a primary signifier of the Maori people. A point which is confirmed by Koro, who, during the evening tells his ‘boys’ “if it dies, we die.” Thus, just as Kahu claimed authority from the sea, the whales claimed death on the land. Each act illustrates the Maori cosmology and allows the reader to locate the characters, and particular events, within a comprehensive visual.
Ihimaera, in his telling of “The Whale Rider,” construct a ‘map’ as defined by Albert Wendt. Ihimaera’s fiction helps to construct “grids through which we [they, the Maori] read reality.” (Wendt p. 60) This story, if it can be accepted as, or at least emblematic of, Maori legend reinforces the people’s perspective of existence. Such ‘reinforcement’ has proven itself necessary to all peoples at all times – to the extent that such mythologies have existed for all peoples at all times. Wendt articulates this need of a people to have, and be able to connect to, a particular history-mythology (hierophany/theophany[?]). In his essay “Pacific Maps And Fiction(s)” Wendt testifies to his own rejection of the Christian maps that had been thrust upon he, and his people, by Christian missionaries – maps that he now rejects in favor of his native mythologies – in his effort to articulate the necessity of a persons connection to an ‘authentic’ narrative.
Perhaps then, if we can view Ihimaera and Wendt from the same tradition, it is ironic that Ihimaera chose to portray Kahu as a savior figure, one who’s stature and continued relevance was solidified after she joined the whale and rode off into the sacred (into death) only to return and be found by those who now believed in her authority. Or, perhaps, if we were to revisit Joseph Campbell, though others have drawn the same conclusions, such “hero mythologies” in-which, it is necessary for an individual to venture into and commune with the sacred, and then return to share the fruits of that venture with the community, are common and necessary.
And, perhaps, to continue with my speculations, this is also why Maryland, and the greater Chesapeake region have failed to ‘save the bay.’ What notion, what myth connects the people of the bay watershed to the bay? Further, who was the last individual able to connect the people to the bay? Rachel Carson? I do not pretend to have answers to these questions, however, they seem relevant to the extent that they must be answered before the bay many be ‘saved,’ and our communion with nature maintained. Or, even more frightening, perhaps we have completely rejected nature as a necessary variable in our survival?