Susanna Trnka


An extensive literature exists on the relationships between body pain, language, and social communication, much of it focused on the disparities between patient experiences and medical classifications of ‘real’ pain. A similar tension exists in Fiji where medical personnel in public clinics routinely contend that Indo-Fijian women patients complain of, but do not ‘really’ experience, body pain. This paper examines translations of women’s complaints of body pain in order to suggest some of the roles that these contentious clinical encounters play in state and community processes that ascribe alternative meanings to body pain. Focusing on the ways in which women foster certain kinds of talk of body pain with physicians as well as with one another, I argue that the category of ‘unreal’ pain, as used by physicians, is a multivalent one, consisting
of pain induced by psychological stresses and/or physical, work-related
stresses. Hindu women engage in a complementary but distinct discourse that is interlinked with both familial and community political concerns. Women do so by emphasizing links between physical labour and pain as a means of asserting how industriously they work towards fulfilling their domestic and religious obligations. Through their talk of pain, women furthermore engage in wider political discourses of labour and industriousness that are part of national- level political strategies for the recognition of Indo-Fijian rights. Indo- Fijian women’s expressions of pain thus involve not only the communication of distressing bodily symptoms but also indicate women’s pride in their labour efforts and their participation in political rhetorics that transcend the local level.

Full Text: