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A Body Is Worth a Thousand Words: Early Colonial Dress-Scapes in Guam

Abstract

This article explores how dress became a fundamental “civilizing” item in the 17th-century Jesuit missionization of Guam, a small island in the western Pacific that was then inhabited by oral societies with low levels of socioeconomic complexity. The article analyzes the multiple dimensions of changing corporeal habits for native CHamoru people, and, most specifically, the interrelationships that arose from the construction of new selves, values, material culture, landscapes, labor, and technology in the configuration of new colonial “dress-scapes.” Forcible transition to dress and to alphabetic culture arrived at the island together as part of disciplinary processes that sought to “convert” CHamoru people to new lifeways and modes of being. Such processes were part of an engendered colonial transmodernity that initiated/accelerated a trend toward both similar understandings of the body and the ways it should be materially constituted and displayed.

Resumen

En este artículo, se explora cómo la vestimenta se convirtió en un elemento “civilizador” fundamental en el siglo XVII en el desarrollo de las misiones jesuitas en Guam, una pequeña isla en el Pacífico occidental entonces habitada por sociedades orales con escasa división socio-económica. En el artículo, se analizan las múltiples dimensiones del cambio de hábitos corporales de los nativos chamorros y, más específicamente, las interrelaciones que surgieron de la construcción de nuevas identidades, valores, cultura material, paisajes, trabajo y tecnología en la configuración de nuevos “paisajes” de vestimenta colonial. La transición forzosa a la vestimenta y a la cultura alfabética llegó a la isla a la par como parte de unos procesos disciplinarios que buscaban “convertir” a los CHamorus a nuevas formas de vida y modos de ser. Tales procesos formaron parte de una transmodernidad colonial engenerada que inició/aceleró una tendencia hacia maneras similares de entender el cuerpo y las formas en que debía ser materialmente constituido y mostrado.

Résumé

Cet article explore la manière dont le vêtement est devenu un élément fondamental de « civilisation » au cours de l'action missionnaire des jésuites au 17ème siècle à Guam, une petite île du Pacifique de l'ouest qui était à l'époque peuplée par des sociétés orales aux faibles niveaux de complexité socioéconomique. Cet article analyse les dimensions multiples de l'évolution des habits corporels pour le Chamorro natif, et plus spécifiquement les interrelations ayant surgi de la construction nouvelle d'identités, valeurs, culture matérielle, paysages, travail et technologies dans la configuration de nouveaux « contextes vêtus » coloniaux. Une transition forcée vers le vêtement et la culture alphabétique est arrivée dans l'île conjointement à des processus disciplinaires visant à « convertir » le CHamoru à de nouveaux modes de vie et d'être. Ces processus s'inscrivaient dans une transmodernité coloniale engendrée, ayant initié/accéléré une tendance en faveur de compréhensions similaires du corps comme des manières dont il doit être matériellement constitué et présenté.

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Acknowledgments:

Heartfelt thanks go to Verónica Peña Filiu, Boyd Dixon, Judith Amesbury, and Konrad Antczak for help and support while writing the first draft of this article. Verónica generously provided comments, data, and primary sources she came across while consulting archives on the period for her own Ph.D. Boyd and Judith shared archaeological reports and answered our questions about the Latte period in the Marianas, and Konrad offered valuable comments and improved our English.

This article was partly supported by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness under Grant HAR2016-77564-C2-1-P and by the Catalan Agency for Management of University and Research Grants (FI-2017). The article has also benefited from a ABERIGUA Grant (sponsored by the Palarq Foundation and the Spanish Ministry of Culture and Sports).

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Montón-Subías, S., Moral de Eusebio, E. A Body Is Worth a Thousand Words: Early Colonial Dress-Scapes in Guam. Hist Arch 55, 269–289 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41636-021-00285-5

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Keywords

  • archaeology of colonialism
  • body
  • dress
  • Oceania
  • Guam