Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Structure of Tales of the Tikongs

Epeli Hau'ofa's Tales of the Tikongs is comprised of twelve chapters, each of which focuses on a fictional Tikong character. The character are unique in their attitudes and actions; however, the chapters are unified by the common geography of Tiko, the presence of Manu (an anti-development figure), and by common struggles against the foreigners' attempts to develop the Pacific island. This narrative structure is appropriate for the subject matter being presented by Hau'ofa. The author works to show the reader that diversity and unity are not mutually exclusive. The author is a champion of unity between Pacific islands, which, after all, do share one ocean. By presenting the Tikongs as individuals each possessing a story, but unified in one body of work, Hau'ofa continues to express his belief that the survival of all the individual heritages and cultural traditions of the islands depends on both the respect of diverse customs and the striving by all islanders for unity within and without their individual ocean homes.

This narrative structure also enables Hau'ofa to reveal the many facets of Tiko. In each story, Hau'ofa is able to focus on a specific aspect of Tikong life. Although religion is important to many chapters in Tales of the Tikongs, it is perhaps most directly addressed in "A Pilgrim's Progress." If Hau'ofa had used a regular, linear novel format, he would never have been able to digress into such an interesting look at the Tikongs' search for faith, the role of faith and religious ceremony at different stages of life, and the cyclical tendencies of faith. Such a story would have had to be shortened in a novel format so as to avoid being distracting. The narrative structure introduces the reader to more characters than could ever be explored in a novel too. In a novel, there would be only a few protagonists, but in this structure, the reader meets many Tikongs, representing the many real-life characters that inhabit the Pacific. Characters such as Ti Pilo Simini in "The Wages of Sin" would either be cut from a novel, or mentioned in brief. This structure gives Hau'ofa the freedom to devote a short section to Ti Pilo Simini and introduce the reader to Ti's interesting moral code ("he always commits two [sins] simultaneously, one the equal and opposite of the other" (42). Ti's fear of the wrath of Heaven and his subsequent decision that two sins cancel one another out is humorous, but also shows that not all Tikongs are equally righteous and moral. Hau'ofa would not have had the freedom to include characters such as Ti in a novel.

It is interesting to consider how Tales of the Tikongs would have progressed if each section had been narrated by the different characters in each. I think that the structure of this book functions best with one narrator so as to keep the stories objective and so that Hau'ofa is able to humorously satirize both Tikongs and foreign aides. It would have been more difficult to avoid offending readers if the stories were told in the first person; however, it would have been interesting to read these stories from the direct perspective of those whose lives are influenced by development on Tiko.

The structure of this novel made me consider how a story about my own city would be told. To capture the life of Baltimore there would be sections on Mayor Dixon (like there are on Sione and other Most Important People); there would be a section devoted to the old man, Hoot, at my Dundalk church, who, like Noeli, has witnessed several different Christian denominations; there might be a section on the sick homeless man who walks ceaselessly on the MLK median before the 395/295 split begging coins or maybe cigarettes like Ti Pilo Simini. Like the struggle in Tiko, development could also be the focus in a story about Baltimore: development over and around those who need it most.

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