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Toward Nuclear-Free and Independent S/pacific Bodies

Th e bomb and the bikini are colonial military and neocolonial tour- ist technologies respectively, and as such they have a profound impact on s/pacifi c bodies. I would like to take some time here to explain my notion

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Shigematsu, S., & Camacho, K. L. (Eds.). (2010). Militarized currents : Toward a decolonized future in asia and the pacific. University of Minnesota Press. Created from sfsu on 2022-10-21 03:56:35.

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BIKINIS AND OTHER S/PACIFIC N/OCEANS · 23

of the s/pacifi c body. Barbara Christian criticized French feminist theorists’ position of the body as the generating source of knowledge because they “return to the old myth that biology determines everything and ignore the fact that gender is a social rather than biological construct.”38 I agree with Christian insofar as constructions of biological inferiority have le- gitimized the historical oppression of many people. I hold, however, that the body is the site of physical and social experience and, as such, cannot be denied the potential for generating liberative knowledge. For, as Eliza- beth Spellman has noted, somatophobia, or fear and disdain of the body in Western thought, has been associated historically with intellectual su- periority.39 Th e s/pacifi c body emerges for me as a site for comprehending specifi c social and physical environments and for apprehending generic colonial technologies of marginalization and erasure.

Th e decolonization of s/pacifi c bodies is intimately woven into island women’s activism.40 Women have been in the vanguard of many Pacifi c Is- land sovereignty movements. Perhaps most exemplary of women-initiated decolonization in the Pacifi c is the group of Belauan women, Otil a Beluad, who have consistently organized resistance to U.S. and domestic pressures to amend the antinuclear constitution of Belau.41 Th e nuclear presence in the Pacifi c, however, is only one symptom of the everyday multiplic- ity of (neo)colonial onslaughts on s/pacifi c bodies. Pacifi c Island women also organize around issues of health, environment, substance abuse, and domestic violence for the sovereignty of s/pacifi c bodies. Activist eff orts counter colonial notions that attempt to marginalize and erase them: the romantic notion of a nude South Sea Islander and the militaristic notion of islands as expendable spaces for nuclear testing.

Because nudity and nuclear testing both take on moral and ethical di- mensions, Christianity—the most overtly popular religion in the Pacifi c— fi gures prominently in any discussion of both the colonization and the decolonization of s/pacifi c bodies. If we remember that the Bikinians surrendered their island out of Christian charity, we must also acknowl- edge that Christian organizations of predominantly indigenous women are instrumental in the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacifi c movement (NFIP).42 Christianity’s role in the Pacifi c has certainly been ambiguous.43

Early encounters between men (and women) of the cloth and naked natives were marked by violence.44 By the late eighteenth century, Euro- pean Christians had determined that the islands were purgatorial rather than paradisical, and that the noble savage was really ignoble: Islanders

Shigematsu, S., & Camacho, K. L. (Eds.). (2010). Militarized currents : Toward a decolonized future in asia and the pacific. University of Minnesota Press. Created from sfsu on 2022-10-21 03:56:35.

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24 · TERESIA K. TEAIWA

needed both salvation and civilization, and mostly they needed to be clothed.45 Th e missionaries swathed s/pacifi c bodies in cotton laplaps, mother hubbards, and short trousers. Clothing functioned as a device of colonial social control, not only by eliminating nudity, but also, in colonial Papua for instance, by distinguishing appropriate dress for Islanders from appropriate dress for Europeans.46

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