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Mary, the Devil, and Taro

Mary, the Devil, and Taro: Catholicism and Women's Work in a Micronesian Society

Juliana Flinn
Copyright Date: 2010
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    Mary, the Devil, and Taro
    Book Description:

    Catholicism, like most world religions, is patriarchal, and its official hierarchies and sacred works too often neglect the lived experiences of women. Looking beyond these texts, Juliana Flinn reveals how women practice, interpret, and shape their own Catholicism on Pollap Atoll, part of Chuuk State in the Federated States of Micronesia. She focuses in particular on how the Pollapese shaping of Mary places value on indigenous notions of mothering that connote strength, active participation in food production, and the ability to provide for one’s family. Flinn begins with an overview of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on Pollap and an introduction to Mary, who is celebrated by islanders not as a biologized mother but as a productive one, resulting in an image of strength rather than meekness: For Pollapese women Mary is a vanquisher of Satan, a provider for her children, and a producer of critical resources, namely taro. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception validates and celebrates local notions of motherhood in ways that highlight productive activities. The role of women as producers in the community is extolled, but the event also provides and sanctions new opportunities for women, allowing them to speak publicly, exhibit creativity, and influence the behavior of others. A chapter devoted to the imagery of Mary and its connections to Pollapese notions of motherhood is followed by a conclusion that examines the implications of these for women’s ongoing productive roles, especially in comparison with Western notions and contexts in which women have been removed or excluded from production. Mary, the Devil, and Taro contributes significantly to the study of women’s religion and the appropriation of Christianity in local contexts. It will be welcomed by not only anthropologists and other scholars concerned with religion in the Pacific, but also those who study change in gender roles and Marian devotions in cross-cultural perspectives.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6051-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    Hauling around huge stalks of taro inside a Catholic church, thrusting the plants back and forth in the air outside after the service, taunting fellow women with songs and chants, competing to see who has cultivated the largest taro corm—none of this sounds like any Feast of the Immaculate Conception experienced by American Catholics, or probably Catholics elsewhere for that matter. Nonetheless, these activities are associated with celebrations honoring Mary, the mother of Jesus, on Pollap, an atoll in the Caroline Islands of Micronesia in the western Pacific. Furthermore, those celebrations revolve around a unique image of Mary. A...

  4. CHAPTER 2 The Feast of the Immaculate Conception
    (pp. 18-36)

    For months the women of Pollap had been cultivating taro in the swampy interior gardens, hauling out leaves to enrich the soil, mounding up those leaves and mud to mulch and fertilize their gardens, and nurturing each plant in the hope of producing large, strong, tasty offerings for December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and Mary’s special day. For weeks the women had invested time in planning the morning’s church service, the food for the afternoon’s feast, and the activities designed to provide entertainment for the feast. And for days they had been gathering to rehearse the various...

  5. CHAPTER 3 A Woman’s Place Is in the Garden
    (pp. 37-65)

    Gender ideology on Pollap associates women with land and men with the sea. In a concrete sense, this means that women garden and men fish, but on a more abstract level, it signifies that women are associated with stability and men with mobility. At times, Pollapese even explicitly contend that “women should die on land; men should die at sea.” To support and exemplify these statements, islanders most often point to the realm of subsistence activities, in which women are expected to cultivate and prepare the staple foods, especially taro, and men are expected to fish. Although there are a...

  6. CHAPTER 4 Taro
    (pp. 66-82)

    Working in the taro gardens is unequivocally the most salient aspect of women’s work on Pollap; it is central to women’s identity and a key avenue for enacting womanhood in the community. By providing a staple food, cultivating taro clearly enables a woman to support her family, but in addition, this practical material support is an obvious and necessary component of the female nurturing role that is further realized in a wide array of other activities expected of women. The ability to substantively support her family provides a foundation for ensuring that a woman is able to carry out her...

  7. CHAPTER 5 Who’s in Charge and Are Any of Them Women?
    (pp. 83-112)

    Pollapese speak of three domains that govern their lives: religion, tradition, and government. These are not simply anthropological, analytic categories applied by outsiders; Pollapese themselves explicitly speak of these forces as shaping, governing, and guiding their lives. Ideally, one domain should not take priority over or conflict with another. Nonetheless, they often do so in practice; the boundaries are not always clear or discrete, and have to be continuously negotiated, even in the case of important events such as December 8 that take place annually.

    The Pollapese terms for these domains are usuallylamalam‘religion’ (referring to Christianity in particular),...

  8. CHAPTER 6 Church Activities
    (pp. 113-140)

    Pollapese are proud of being Catholic; they contend that Catholicism has enabled them to strengthen behavior that is valued both by the church and by Pollapese tradition. Many of the values they understand the church as promoting are consistent with what their tradition advocates, especiallyttong‘love, compassion,’tipiyew‘agreement,’ andkinamwmwe‘peace, harmony.’ They look on their past with equanimity, however, and acknowledge abandoned customs such as warfare or salacious dancing as simply having been their ways before they were converted to Catholicism and became enlightened. To a certain extent, they have even used aspects of their pre-Christian reputation...

  9. CHAPTER 7 Honoring Mary
    (pp. 141-159)

    For Pollapese, Mary, from her very conception, has played an influential and significant role in the lives of humans. First and foremost, she is the mother of God and the ultimate nurturer, and as such, she protects Pollapese from storms, nourishes their taro, provides guidance for families, and listens to and helps with their personal problems. Mary serves as a model for women on Pollap, yet hers is not a model of simple meekness or passivity: Mary is also the woman who trod on the head of the devil—clearly a potent, active deed.

    Although a highlight of the year,...

  10. CHAPTER 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 160-170)

    In the development of Western Catholicism, there seems to have been a “popular need for a female aspect of the faith” (Anderson and Zinsser 1988:215) such that veneration of Mary gradually became incorporated into official church teachings and celebrations. In many respects Mary replaced earlier goddesses, and “their festivals, symbols, and images became hers” (Anderson and Zinsser 1988:486). Pollapese, too, had female goddesses in their tradition, and it is not surprising that with conversion to Catholicism there would also be interest in a female aspect of the faith and that it would develop in the context of local tradition, beliefs,...

  11. Appendix
    (pp. 171-180)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 181-184)
  13. References Cited
    (pp. 185-194)
  14. Index
    (pp. 195-200)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 201-202)