Wednesday, March 18, 2009

When Epeli Hau’ofa introduces readers to his main character, Oilei Bomboki, with his poofpoof “explosions” that sound “like a startled motorcycle being kicked into life,” we are immediately taken aback (1). Then it hits us: this is a novel that completely revolves around the condition of one man’s behind. Hau’ofa really is going there. Pages later, the shock factor begins to wear off as we find ourselves more and more comfortable, or perhaps just less sensitive to, discussion of Oilei’s anus and its various ailments including farts, boils, pus, and blood. Though we may repeatedly ask ourselves if the author is simply playing a joke on us, we keep reading and discover that amidst the profanity and graphic descriptions Hau’ofa has embedded much larger social issues. He gives us a humorous portrait of a rapidly changing society. In Kisses in the Nederends, Hau’ofa forces readers to face an uncomfortable issue, and in doing so proves that the most difficult and painful societal issues, the ones we don’t talk about, must be attacked head-on.

The eventual cure for Oilei’s anal ailment seems disturbing and ridiculous. It involves a group of people “kicking, rolling, grinding, and pirouetting, demonstrating some of the most strikingly beautiful combinations of classical ballet and breakdance movements” as well as the same group actually lining up and kissing each other’s “nederends” (149). Of this cure, Babu says:

“It is only when you are able to lovingly and respectfully kiss your own anus, and those of your fellow human beings, that you will know you have purified yourself of all obscenities and prejudices, and have overcome your worst fears and phobias. You will then be able to see with utmost clarity the true nature of beauty, which is the essence of the unity and equality of all things” (101).
It is clear that Hau’ofa does not think that we can solve all the world’s problems by literally kissing one another’s anuses, but I think he is making a profound point about pain, beauty, fears, and phobias. Part of what makes us human is our penchant for either ignoring or hiding away anything that frightens us or makes us uncomfortable. This includes personal phobias, but also larger issues that might be painful, ugly, or daunting. These hidden and unspeakable problems will never go away if they are hidden and ignored. They must be confronted, we must face them, in order to solve and banish them once and for all. Once we face the ugliness in the world, we will be able to truly see and appreciate the “beauty...unity and equality of all things” (101). By facing one topic we are loath to discuss, Hau’ofa illustrates that certain injustices and wrongs could be solved, if we only had the guts to face them.

Hau’ofa brilliantly manipulates humor convey his message in Kisses in the Nederends. It is satire, or humor with a purpose, which targets every group represented in the novel and makes us both laugh and cringe while reading. The author addresses a taboo shamelessly, and forces us to interpret our discomfort and laughter. By forcing us to confront a subject we would much rather avoid, Hau’ofa proves that certain unspeakable or ignored issues would be better cured through straight-talk, discussion, and facing them head on than through avoidance and secrecy.

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