Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"Explosive" Humor in Hau'ofa

Kisses in the Nederends is certainly unlike anything else we've read so far.  Judging from the blogs posted ahead of mine, it seems like no one really knew quite what we were getting ourselves into when picking up Hau'ofa's hilarious satire.  While reading this book I have stopped, laughed, and wondered what was going on more often than once.  The plot seems to be centered around farting, which my sixteen year old brother found immensely entertaining.  Although I am not (yet) quite sure of Hau'ofa's ultimate agenda and message in the novel, I am certain that he has one and that humor is the means for getting us there.  We began to talk about the power of humor in class.  Humor seems to break down human barriers.  It allows us to step back at laugh at ourselves.  It also helps us deal with more difficult issues that we might not normally want to face.  Most of the post-colonial literature that we have dealt with so far has been depressing or disturbing. Because all the talk of farting and arses amuses us and makes us feel uncomfortable, we are more able to face the difficult topics that Hau'ofa eventually begins to breach.

Humor came to my rescue earlier this week.  I am a secondary education minor in the first phase of my student teaching.  After spring break, I left my safe and comfortable place at Franklin Middle School, with the seventh graders who I know and love, to spend the rest of the semester at Overlea High school.  I was dreading the change.  I had come to feel completely at home at Franklin.  To make matters worse, this school was described, by my advisor, as "the big bad high school."  Great.  While talking a tour of the school, I felt overwhelmed and intimidated.  Everyone was taller than me.  The rest of the staff kept commenting on how young Alyssa and I looked.  These kids were not awkwardly cute and lovable like my middle schoolers.  Finally, I got to my classroom.  My mentor teacher was also very young, and she seemed completely in charge.  My first relief.  The students began filing in for class.  They notice a newcomer right away, and unlike my seventh graders these kids had no reservations.  Once of them walked right up to me.  I knew he must be the class personality because of the way the other students were snickering in the background.  He said "Hi, you're definitely the new student teacher.  My name is Kevon.  I bet you're scared of me.  Good luck."  This is when I knew I had to be quick on my feet or I would lose them.  I just put on my biggest smile, stood up straight, and said, "It's great to meet you, Kevon.  I'm Miss Jacobs, and I'm not scared at all, I've actually really been looking foward to meeting you.  Maybe I'll sit by you today."

It was not a witty remark or a sarcastic joke, but I think the (somewhat false) confidence in my voice was enough to impress them.  The class laughed, there was a chorus of "Oooooh she got you."  The rest of the class period went on with a pretty great rapport between the teacher, myself, and the students.  I could tell that this was a classroom environment that had achieved the elusive balance between serious work and fun.  They seem to get things done without falling into dull boredom.  I love that the teacher jokes around with the kids and teases them a little, and laughs when they joke back.  They seem like a class that can take it, and this is something I will definitely need in the coming weeks as I become more and more involved in their education.  Sometimes a little bit of humor can really do a lot to diffuse a situation, lighten a mood, or just make things easier to deal with.

We know (either from reading the introduction, back of the book, interview, or the fact that we're reading for class...) that Hau'ofa did not write Kisses in the Nederends completely for fun, no matter how entertaining it may be.  There is a method to his apparent madness.  There are touches of satire that we begin to pick up, and he does not spare either side.  The Tipotans as well as British and other "colonizing" nationalities are portrayed in unflattering or humorous ways.  The instance of Amini Sesi, who basically decides to turn himself into a miracle healer, and one invisible to the people and residing in a giant turtle shell at that, seems to be a bit of a critique of traditional healers.  On the other hand, Western doctors are do not escape Hau'ofa's satiric lens, either.  They (humorously) dupe the traditional healers into thinking they are being included, when in reality they are again being left out completely.  Of the International Conference on the Promotion of Understanding and Cooperation between Modern and Traditional Sciences of Medicine, Losana remarks, "I didn't understand them all.  Only one or two that Dr. Tauvi Mate explained to us later...Most of the time [we] just sat there like a pair of stunned mullets" (32).  Hau'ofa manipulates humor in order to point out the injustices of postcolonialism and subtle inequalities that help show us the big picture.

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