Chapters 27–30

Summary Chapters 27–30

Melville's praise of the native spirit continues with his profiling of their generosity in distributing the fish and of their lack of property. Like his earlier description of the lack of money, Melville seems most impressed by the native spirit of giving, something that is so rare amongst the harsh European and American capitalist systems. Anthropologists later pointed out that Polynesians did have more of a sense of ownership than Melville understood. For instance, the ability to distinguish between what is acceptable and what is taboo allowed chiefs and priests to keep control over their people. Furthermore, the intricate system of tattooing (that Melville himself profiles here), was actually an artful form of social marking. Those individuals with the most tattoos, such as chiefs, had the most status. Melville slightly misunderstands the cultural significance of what he describes, but it this is understandable given his limited stay.

The long description of tattooing starts to shift the narrative back from purely cultural description to a tale about Tommo. At first, the section of tattooing is just another cultural profile. When Karky wants to tattoo Tommo, however, it becomes highly personal. Tommo adamantly refuses to be tattooed. He finds the idea of being marked more threatening than anything. Being tattooed would permanently shift his identity, making him part "native" or "savage," so that he will never be able to return as a true American to an American world. Once marked by a tattoo, he would always be viewed as different. Although he has enjoying living in paradise for this long, Tommo refuses to accept the mark that will make it necessary that he stays. He wants to preserve his identity and his separate self. He is not willing to become a hybrid of native and civilized form, even though he has argued through the whole text for the superiority of native beliefs.