Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Map of a Tattoo

My best friend, Michelle, recently got a tattoo on her lower stomach in the shape of a butterfly sculpted in a breast cancer ribbon. She claimed that the tattoo was a symbol of her mother who struggled and eventually lost the battle with breast cancer. She wanted to brand herself physically, so that every morning as she got dressed for the day, she would remember her mother’s love for her only daughter. To an outsider this symbolic tattoo may look like a reflection of our rebellious American culture on our teens, but to Michelle and anyone involved with her family, it is a constant reminder of her past and history. She was constantly condemned by her acquaintances and the symbol was misinterpreted or made fun of on a regular basis. Yet, their interpretation did not equate the emotional connection she identified with it. I believe her tattoo served as a symbolic map to her as her own significant artifact of her mother, and could only be understood correctly through her voice.
I thought how this physical symbol not only served as memorial for Michelle, but it also served as a map for herself, and stood for her own sacred identity. This metaphorical map connects Michelle to the memory and legacy of her mother. Wendt would describe Michelle’s symbol as an emotional map, which is invisible to the people who cannot see this symbol for what is means. Michelle can establish her history from this interpretation of her past through a symbol on her body, similar to the Maori and other tribes of the Pacific. They did this to ensure the survival of their history, and to represent some cultural aspect of their tribe. The outside interpretation of a culture or person is not always the correct one. Wendt believes that his people must stand up for who they are and what they believe and return to the culture that established their legacy.
Wendt continues to identify what he considers symbols of the Pacific people, as the true maps of the Pacific, not the maps created by Western culture. Wendt states, “We read one another through what we believe, through the mirrors of whom and what we are. These maps originally created by his people, identified what geographic aspect of the island or what was conveyed through the map as an important cultural detail to the Pacific islands. However, the new maps created by the west were unable to display the importance of the tribe and what they held as geographically significant to their culture. By doing so, the traditions and culture of the Pacific islands are belittled. The maps are not only a physical element of the culture, but also portray the importance and emotional significance of its people.

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