Monday, February 16, 2009

They Who Do Not Grieve

Tekoa Smith

The ritual of tattoo in Samoan culture is a well known and scared practice. Both men and women become tattooed, on their thighs, and the entire experience has a deep relevance to the culture and history of Samoan people. In "The Who Do Not Grieve" the families of two women who were tattooed together are outlined. Lalolagi and Tausi decided to experience the tattoo ritual together because of friendship. Jealousy along with miraculous forces twists the expected outcome of the tattooing and shapes these women's lives dramatically.

Lalolagi becomes involved with the tufuga. Tausi jealous of this affair exposes her to the tufuga's wife. This results in Laloagi's attack from the wife as well as other women where she is brutally beaten, has her ear cut off and left without any help. Lalolagi's tattoo is unfinished because her body rejects the ink. After her beating she lives with the permanence of the tattoo that reminds her of the horrible experience and the decisions she chose to make. Lalolagi becomes exiled from the culture which results in the treatment and upbringing of her two daughters, Ela and Mary, and her granddaughter Malu. Mary was thought of as a prostitute and was well known among the people as such. Lalolagi has remorse from her actions as a young women and when Mary's name is mentioned, particularly by Malu, she becomes very emotional and resorts to violence and silence. She knows that the what Mary is accused of is the same as what brought a curse to Lalolagi's family.

In turn, Lalolagi places a curse on Tausi and her family for her betrayal. Tausi's granddaughter Alofa finds herself in an unfamiliar setting where she is plagued with actions of racism. And although Tausi wants to be forgiven of the betrayal she caused on Lalolagi she still passes and is buried in a place far from home. The very thing that she never wished. Alofa is left to grieve Tausi's death.

There seems to be nothing but grieve in these stories despite the title of the book. But specific grief of things that are out of the control of these women involved. The grievance comes from the permanence of the tattoo. The events surrounding the tattoo are forever etched in the thighs of these women. Even though they grieve they force themselves not be become permanent in it. "Don't grieve for the dead. If you do, dog-girl, who's going to wash the dishes?" (Figiel, 228). Reminding them of where they came and directing their off-spring into where they are headed.

I do not have any tattoos. There has never been any experience or tangible thing that I want to be reminded of at all times. That I want to be permanently apart of my body. I have heard and know of a few people who have tattoos that they are unfortunately to carry with them for the rest of their lives. Tattoo are a blatant reminder of the state of being you were in when the tattooing was done, the emotion you felt for the tattoo, the meaning of the person, place, thing that is to be represented on your body. Often people get tattoos and completely regret their decision of what the tattoo is, where the tattoo is on their bodies or just the act of getting it.

A friends boyfriend got his first tattoo a couple of years ago. Upon seeing the tattoo I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. It made no sense to me, at the time, it was very plain and in a very noticeable but unflattering spot on his upper arm. He says his reason for the tattoo was that he really wanted to be tattooed but didn't make a concrete decision about what he wanted. After reading "They Who Do Not Grieve" and reflecting of the importance and sometimes ambiguous concept of tattooing his tattoo reflects some of the regret or grieve associated. His tattoo is capital bold lettering simply states: MISTAKE.

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