THE PLACES OF PSEUDO-LIFE AND THE ‘MANY PAPERS‘
Oh, my beloved brothers from the big sea, if I, your humble servant, would truthfully relate all I’ve seen in Europe, I would have to speak for hours. My words would haveto be like a swift flowing stream, flowing on from morning till night and still the truth wouldn’t be complete yet; because the life of the Papalagi is like the ocean, of which we also fail to discover beginning or end. It has as many waves as the great waters, it storms and churns, it laughs and dreams. As impossible it is to empty the sea with the hollow of your hand, so impossible it is for me to carry that big volume called Europe to you, inside my head.
But there’s one thing that I won’t forget to tell you; living in Europe without the places of pseudo-life and the ‘many papers’ is just as unthinkable as a sea that has no water. When you would take away those two things from the Papalagi, he would be like the fish that is thrown on the beach by a wave, only able to twitch its fins but not to swim and move about like it’s used to.
The places of pseudo-life! It’s not easy to describe such a place to you, the kind of place a white man calls cinema; describe it in such a way as to give you a clear picture. In every village community, all over Europe, they have such a mysterious place, a place that already makes the children dream and fills their heads with passionate yearning.
The cinema is a big hut, bigger than the largest but of a chief from Upolu, yes, much much bigger. It’s dark in there, even in the daytime, so dark that nobody can recognize his neighbour. When you enter you get blinded, and when you leave you get blinded even more. People tiptoe inside, searching, feeling their way inside along the wall, until a maiden comes with a spark of light in her hand and leads them to a place that is still unoccupied. Over there, one Papalagi hunkers next to the other, without seeing each other; a whole darkened room full of silent people. All those present sit on narrow planks, all planks facing one particular wall.
From the lower part of the wall a loud humming and blaring rises up, as if emerging from a deep ravine, and when your eyes get accustomed to the dark, you can see a Papalagi fighting with a box. He beats his hands with outspread fingers, on the numerous, black and white little tongues that cry out when they are hit, each with its own voice, resulting in the savage and disorderly noises of a village quarrel.
Such a racket has to drug and dupe our senses, so we will believe the things we see and not doubt the reality of the things happening. Right in front of us, a beam of light hits the wall as if the full moon shines upon it, and in that glare there are people appearing, real people that look and dress exactly like normal Papalagi. They move and walk around, they laugh and jump just like they do all over Europe. It’s like the moon being mirrored in the lagoon. You may see the moon but in reality it is not there. That’s how it is with these images. People move their lips and you would swear they were talking, but you cannot hear a syllable. It doesn’t matter how hard you listen and that’s how horrible it all is. You can’t hear a thing. That’s probably the reason for that Papalagi to beat on his box like he does. He wants to make the impression that you cannot hear those people because of the racket he makes. And that’s why letters appear on the screen from time to time, letters showing what the Papalagi just said or is about to say.
But these people are still pseudo-people and not real ones. If you would try to grab them, you would find out that they are entirely made out of light and impossible to get your hands on. The only reason for their existence lies in the fact that they show the Papalagi his own joy and sadness, his foolishness and weakness. This way he can get a close-up look of the prettiest men and women. They may be silent, but he can still see their movement and the lights in their eyes. He can imagine that they look at and speak with him.
The mightiest chiefs, that he could never expect to see, he now meets as if they were equals. He participates in dinner parties, fonos and other festivities, seeming to be there in person, sharing the food and the feast. But he also sees how a Papalagi takes away the girl from her aiga. Or he sees how a girl is untrue to a young man. He sees how a wild man grabs an alii by the throat, sees him pressing his fingers deeply into the neck and see the eyes of the alii start popping out, until he’s dead at last and the wild man pulls the round metal and the heavy papers out of the dead man’s loincloth.
While their eyes see much delights and cruelties, the Papalagi have to remain seated very quietly, not allowed to scorn the girl that’s unfaithful or come to the rescue of the rich alii. But that doesn’t disturb the Papalagi, he just sits there watching, pleased and delighted as if he has no heart at all. He doesn’t get furious or indignant. He looks at it as if he is a different species altogether. Because the Papalagi that sit there watching, are convinced that they are better than those they see in the beam of light, and that they would never perform foolish acts as there are shown to them. Their eyes stay glued to the wall, silent and without breathing and when theysee a strong heart or a noble face, they imagine it to be their mirror image. They sit on their wooden planks as if frozen, staring at that smooth wall where nothing is alive but that deceptive beam of light, thrown at it by a magician through a narrow split in the back wall, resulting in a spot where much pseudo-life can be seen.
It is a great joy for the Papalagi to absorb those deceptive pseudo-images. In the dark he can participate in the pseudo-life without being ashamed and without other people being able to see his eyes. The poor can play being rich and the rich can play being poor, the sick can imagine themselves to be healthy again and the weak ones can dream of strength. In the dark everybody can conquer and live with the things that he would never be able to attain in real life.
Getting absorbed in the pseudo-life has become a passion for the Papalagi. A passion grown so strong that often they completely forget the real thing. That passion is a disease, because a healthy man wouldn’t want to live in darkened rooms, but he would desire the real life, warm in the shining sun. As a result of this passion, many Papalagi are so mixed-up when they leave the darkroom, that they cannot tell the real life from the surrogate anymore and they think themselves to be rich, when in the real life they don’t own a thing. Or they think themselves to be pretty, when they have ugly bodies, or they commit crimes that they would never have committed in real life. But now they commit those crimes because they cannot tell reality from fantasy anymore. You all know that state from the whites that have drunk too much European kava and then imagine that they are walking on waves.
The 'many papers’ also bring the Papalagi into a trance of a kind. What do I mean by that, the many papers'? Try to imagine a mat of tapa, thin, white and folded, parted in the middle and folded again, closely covered with writing on all sides, very tightly; that’s how the 'many papers' look and the Papalagi call it 'newspapers'.
Inside those papers, the wisdom of the Papalagi is hidden. Every morning and every evening he has to sink his head into it, to have it refilled, to satisfy it and to make sure that there is a lot inside so that it will think well, the way a horse will run better when you feed it many bananas and its body is well filled. When the alli are still asleep on their mats, messengers are already traversing the land to distribute the 'many papers'. It is the first thing he reaches out for when he has thrown slumber away from him. He sinks his eyes into the things told by the 'many papers’ and reads. All the Papalagi do that, they all read . . . They read what the big chiefs and speakers of Europe have said during their fonos. That is all carefully noted on mats, even when it is nonsense. The loincloths they wear are also described and the food ingested by the alii, the names of their horses and whether they had weak thoughts or elephantiasis. (1)
The things they tell there, would sound something like this in our country: “The pule nuu (2) of Matautu woke up this morning after a good night’s sleep. He started the day by eating the taro that was left over from the previous day, after that, he went fishing and returned to his hut in the afternoon, there he lay down on his mat and recited and sung from the Bible till nightfall. His wife, Sina, first suckled her infant, then she took a bath and on her way home she found a pretty pua-flower which she stuck in her hair, then she continued on her way home." And so on.
Everything that happens or occurs and the things people do or fail to do, is made public. Their good and bad thoughts and if they killed a chicken or a pig, or if they build a canoe. Nothing happens in their country that isn’t immediately repeated by the 'many papers’. The Papalagi call that 'being well informed’. They want to know everything exactly, everything that happens in their country. From dawn till dusk. They become angry when something escapes their attention. They soak up everything, even though all kinds of nasty and frightening things are mentioned, things better soon forgotten by a healthy mind. Exactly those horrible scenes in which people get hurt are reproduced more exact and in greater detail than the pleasant scenes as if it isn’t better and more important to report the good things and not the bad ones.
When you read the paper, you don’t have to go to Apolina, Manono or Savii to know what your friends are doing and what they are thinking and which parties they visited. He can remain on his mat quietly and the papers will tell him everything. That may all seem very nice and easy, but still is not the real thing. For when you meet your brother now, and you have both stuck your head in the many papers already, you have nothing new or interesting to tell the other. Because your heads now contain the same things. So you will both be silent or will repeat the things the paper told you already. It will always be stronger to be there in person, sharing the joys of feasting and the mourning of grief, than to have it told to you through the words of a total stranger.
But, the greatest evil the papers work on our minds does not lie with their reporting but with their opinions; opinions on chiefs, on the chiefs of other countries, and opinions on other people’s doings and what happens to them. The papers try to mould every head to one form, and that is opposed to my beliefs and my mind. They want everybody to share their head and their thoughts. And they know how to bring that about. When you have read the papers in the morning, then you know exactly what every Papalagi carries inside his head in the afternoon and what he’s thinking about.
The paper also is a kind of machine, every day fabricating many thoughts, much more than a normal head can produce. But most of them are weak thoughts, lacking pride and strength. They fill our heads with much food, but they don’t make it strong. We could just as well fill up our heads with sand. The Papalagi fill their heads to the brim with such useless paper food. Even before he has thrown away the old one, he is already reading the next. His head is like a mangrove swamp, suffocating in its own mud, where nothing fresh and green grows, and only sulfurous fumes rise up and swarms of biting mosquitoes hum in circles overhead.
The places of pseudo-life and the many papers have made the Papalagi into what he is now, a weak and lost human being, who loves what is unreal, who cannot make the distinction anymore between fantasy and reality, who thinks that the reflection of the moon is the moon itself and the closely printed papers are life itself.
(1) elephantiasis ... A disease of the muscles that makes parts of the body swell unnaturally.
(2) pule nuu ... Judge.
10. The Places Of Pseudo-Life And The ‘Many Papers‘