Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Seriousness Behind Hau'ofa's Satire

My older sister has always had a strange sense of humor. She is a nurse at a hospital—she works in orthopedics. I’ve heard countless horror stories of her encounters with typically elderly patients “streaking” down the hallways, blockading their doors with every resource of furniture available in their rooms, defecating frequently and never “conveniently,” losing their minds, and dying—to name a few. When she recounts such episodes, it is usually in front of large audiences at birthday parties, holidays, or other family gatherings. On account of her comedic, blunt, and witty delivery of subject matter that is grotesque, crude, or more-often-than-not borderline-inappropriate, we take it with a grain of salt. We usually laugh during the story, but as she reaches the dénouement, our laughter becomes nervous, scattered, and with an air of trepidation, as we give each other side-glances and expose clenched teeth, wincing with the implications that arise.

Epeli Hau’ofa’s uses a similarly humorous tone in his satire, Kisses in the Nederends, which seems to hide or mask the serious undertones that are virtually present throughout the first half of the novel. His hilarious portrayal of events and characters with “pun-intended” description (for example, characterizing Oilei as “prostrate” [haha, prostate!] pg 13) reinforce his comedic tone, but ultimately does not dismiss his serious intent. Although Hau’ofa’s satire is meant to be funny, the reader must remember that the purpose of satire is not primarily humor in itself—his satire attacks human follies with the weapon of his shocking wit. I was often surprised at the blunt nature of the narration as it exposes truths that lie beneath the comedic delivery of outrageous situations of bodily functions, of social, racial and economical inequality, political corruption, and greed.

Another important aspect of satire is not simply addressing the problem, but the intention to raise awareness that will hopefully institute a change or a reform. Hau’ofa gets the reader's attention with his comedic storyline and especially with his nonchalant dismissal of rather serious inequalities and injustices that are present in South Pacific societies. Hau'ofa chose to present his serious subject matter in a comical way, without preaching or forcing his reader to act. It is up to the reader to decide whether he or she or others he or she may know are similar or contribute to the flaws or inequalities of the satirized characters, injustices Hau'ofa has presented. Hau'ofa brings human flaws to light, but the ball in now in the court of the reader, so to speak. With such alignment, it is up to the reader to instill reform within him- or herself, and influence or inspire reform in others and the world around them.

And I sympathize with Oilei, who doesn’t want the nurses at the hospitals sharing the stories of his ailments.

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