This introductory chapter sets out the book's purpose, namely to analyze a community in which women operate within a vernacular Catholicism and imagery of Mary that support opportunities for women to influence opinion and events, and emphasize the value of women as mothers. Despite attempts that missionaries may have made to define appropriate female roles, including what it means to be a mother, local notions of motherhood filter and shape the impact of the Catholic message. On Pollap, women experience and perceive motherhood not so much as a biological process, with a focus on childbearing and then remaining at home to care for them, but rather as a cultural process that encompasses the production and distribution of key resources. Local belief also posits power in speech and its ability to define and shape appropriate behavior—a belief that women exploit to their advantage in various opportunities made available through the local church structure for them to speak to others beyond their local network of kin. Thus, women play a role in defining appropriate behavior, articulating ideas, and influencing activities in the community. The book examines how Pollapese women define their own Catholicism, how they live it in practice, and how these definitions and practices affect their autonomy and their ability to shape their lives, support the well-being of their kin, and influence community events.
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