Body, Self, and Society: The View from Fiji

Body, Self, and Society: The View from Fiji

Body, Self, and Society: The View from Fiji

Body, Self, and Society: The View from Fiji


Anne E. Becker examines the cultural context of the embodied self through her ethnography of bodily aesthetics, food exchange, care, and social relationships in Fiji. She contrasts the cultivation of the body/self in Fijian and American society, arguing that the motivation of Americans to work on their bodies' shapes as a personal endeavor is permitted by their notion that the self is individuated and autonomous. On the other hand, because Fijians concern themselves with the cultivation of social relationships largely expressed through nurturing and food exchange, there is a vested interest in cultivating others' bodies rather than one's own.


may came home with a smooth round stone as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it's always ourselves we find in the sea

e. e. cummings

The day I re-entered Nahigatoka Village in January 1988, after an absence of several years, members of the chiefly household gathered to welcome me, some holding new babies to show me, others telling me who was now married or who was new to the village. My hostess, Adi, told me I would be living with them in their newly built house, since the bamboo one I had stayed in earlier had been destroyed by Cyclone Oscar in 1983. She explained that her father, Tai Mosese, would be staying there too, although he rightfully belonged in his chiefly were levu. Tai's sleep, however, was often disturbed by an assortment of Melanesian niju-spirits wandering through his room, and he preferred to sleep in the company of his namesake and adopted grandchildren. Adi correctly supposed that I was exhausted after my long journey, and she showed me where to lie down while they prepared the room next to Tai Mosese's for me.

When I recall my arrival in Nahigatoka for fieldwork, I think often of that overwhelmingly hot January day as I lay in the midst of late morning activity, enveloped in the confusion of unfamiliar sounds and images. As I reformulate my field experience in a written analysis, I have all but forgotten the initial frustration and emotional sea that attended the experience -- the cacophony of village noises and once-unfamiliar dialect, the multitude of flies and mosquitoes, and the oppressive humidity are virtually screened from my memory. I realize, rather helplessly, that I have edited the experience at every retrospective pause.

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