Abstract

This paper seeks to unpack the ambiguous intersections of gender, Christianity, and kastom, together with place, island, and nation in a modern Melanesian state. It does so through a series of verbal "snapshots," mostly of mundane settings, which chart the ambivalent, mobile interplay of individual and community in the self-representations and actions of ni-Vanuatu, particularly women. The snapshots juxtapose local and wider aspects of ni-Vanuatu women's past and present lives as Christians and citizens, locating them successively in the remote island of Aneityum and in urban and national contexts. Arguing that women's agency deserves the same scrutiny as that of men, I problematize the romantic secularism that slights indigenous women's engagements in apparently banal Christian settings and activities, especially fellowship groups and sewing, because they seem to advance hegemonic agendas of conversion, domestication, and modernization. Instead I see the growing social and economic significance of Christian women's groups in Vanuatu's villages as potentially empowering for rural women. By contrast, women are generally absent from authority positions in the churches and in the nation-state—the latter a mainly male domain experienced as ineffectual by most ni-Vanuatu. Notwithstanding widespread indigenous suspicion of "western feminism," women's issues and gender relations are kept uneasily on the national agenda by the women's wings of the mainline churches and particularly by the umbrella women's organizations, the Vanuatu National Council of Women and the Vanuatu Women's Centre.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 1-38
Launched on MUSE
2002-01-01
Open Access
No
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