Society for the Anthropology of Religion
Oral Presentation Session
Obesity and related diseases rose across the Pacific Islands more quickly than nearly anyplace in the world. Though these rates have evened off with other regions, rates of obesity and overweight cover over half of the population. Samoa is also a place where missionary Christianity has been extraordinarily “successful,” meaning Christianity was quickly adopted and with little conflict. In this converging context, the food landscape has changed meaning, materials and shapes. Foods that once contributed to the healthy sustenance of a community are now associated with contradictory meanings arounds wealth, risk, satiety, and hunger. This research draws from fieldwork with Pentecostal churches in Apia, the urban center of Samoa, and specifically focuses on a series of Zumba classes organized by Pentecostal Samoan women. The women who led these classes were women who converted during serious illness experiences. Thet shared their stories of healing, weight loss and diabetes control as they supported one another in similar efforts. Christianity provided sensibilities and values, related to endemic notions of the body as a site of temptation, from which to change how to eat and how to move the body. Dancing brought these two kinds of practices together in a culturally relevant and morally valued way. This paper explores how Pentecostal Christian approaches to the body enchanted food restriction in ways that typical health promotion did not. Women learned not to feel restriction as such, experiencing the disciplining of gendered bodies, which in turn shaped their social roles as mothers, sisters and daughters.