Friday, June 25, 2010

Book 10, Tonga: “Hingano” by Konai Helu Thaman

It’s strange to think that there may be another reader in another city, also reading her way around the world, and that her only impression of Singapore literature may be an amateurish volume of unstellar poetry – Koh Buck Song or Min Lim or something – that’s found its way into her public library by chance.

What I’m saying is, yeah, “Hingano” really isn’t all that. It’s the wide-eyed notations of someone who’s delighted at having mastered the English language, knowing she has a lot to say, being a rare Anglophone in an oppressed low-income nation culture.

The result is these terribly sincere poems about love and women’s power and the beauty of the natural world. Not bad, and by no means as irritating as Sudesh Mishra – Thaman is global enough to write about visiting Waikiki and Huangshan, but holds back from expounding on a planetary angst. Still, it might be making her descendants blush, just as we blush at “The Three Sisters of Sz”.

View Around the World in 80 Books in a larger map
The book is Thaman’s third volume. It’s published in 1987, with works composed between ’66 and ’86. This copy’s donated to the reference section of NLB by Edwin Thumboo. Figures.

Several of the poems begin rather well, actually, with strong striking images and phrases - but drift off towards the end into vaguely. And there’s use of quite a few Tongan words: fale palangi, ‘umu, tapa, nukulau, malie, hingano; and with no glossary. All in boldface though, which is even more distracting than italics.

I’ve included one of her better pieces (though the slightly perverse “Our Way” and the ode to Huangshan “Have You Ever” are also very good). And I’m finding my general dissatisfaction with the book is drawing me to the catalogue of the publisher, the Suva-based South Pacific Creative Arts Society. If there was a regional Anglophone literary community then, what’s happening now?

Is there someone like me in the middle of Tonga, overeducated, deracinated, nuts, also wondering his way through other people’s words?

Representative quote:


when grandmother went
to the darkened land
we wept and cursed
the gods who sent her

untold stories turn slowly
in our thoughts
her voice
clothed in Solomon dust
remains a night’s whisper

the church and grandfather
assured us that our loss
was the mission’s gain
and God’s light shines forth
through pain

now we sit and wait
by the imaginary grave
where one day grandmother
would rise and say
‘it is finished – they want independence!’

Next book: Albert Wendt's "Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree" from Western Samoa, I think...

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