Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Alan Duff's "Once Were Warriors"

I might have to read this book someday. An excerpt from the summary:
Following in his father's footsteps as a displaced warrior is Nig Heke, the eldest son, who becomes a member of the Brown Fist gang. While Maori warriors of the past fought with honor, even tending to their wounded enemies in an effort to ensure they could continue to fight, these Brown Fist modern day warriors have no such code of ethics. Instead they threaten their neighborhood with unprovoked violence, even going so far as to kick a woman in the face. As Nig poignantly reflects, "The dream'd turned to a nightmare" (Pg.153).

After becoming a Brown Fist, Nig has his face tattooed like his Maori warrior ancestors. He gets his tattoo done with a tattoo gun, rather than in the traditional Maori method of chiseling it on. Nig has a dream one night in which he asks men with detailed face tattoos if they are his Maori ancestors. They answer:

'No. We are not of your cowardly blood, for we know you are knowing fear. We are warriors'... Nig gestured frantically towards his face, his new tattoos just like theirs and freshly swollen from doing... Their tattooed faces were deeply etched, while his manhood markings were but lightly marked (Pgs. 182-183).

In this passage, Duff reflects upon the difference between the Maori warriors of the past and the recent Maori gangs. The "deeply etched" tattoos were chiseled in, often taking several weeks or even months to do, symbolizing the deep honor, responsibility and work that went into becoming a warrior. The Brown Fists and other gangs were "lightly marked," both literally and figuratively. The tattoos took less time, pain, and investment to have done.

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