Home » Coming of Age in Somoa

Coming of Age in Somoa

Margaret Meads Coming of Age in Samoa, which was actually her doctoral dissertation, was compiled in a period of six months starting in 1925. Through it, people were given a look at a society not affected by the problems of 20th century industrial America. She illustrated a picture of a society where love was available for the asking and crime was dealt with by exchanging a few mats. This book helps one to realize the large role played by social environment. One of Meads biggest challenges was probably the fact that her fieldwork was done entirely in the Samoan language.

In Samoa, few, if any natives spoke English. To get information, Mead spent her time talking to approximately 25 Samoan women. However, she spent much of her focus on two young Samoan women, Faapuaa Faamu and Fofoa. It is said that one Samoan womans life is very much like the next. At the time of her visit to Samoa, Mead, a graduate student was only 23 years old. She was barely older than the girls she interviewed and lovingly called her merry companions. The vision recieved while reading Coming of Age in Samoa is that it is a place of nearly stress free living.

The children pass through adolescence without the many pressures put upon teenagers in an industrial America: … adolescence represented no period of crisis or stress, but was instead an orderly developing of a set of slowly maturing interests and activities (95). According to Mead, families are large, taboos and restrictions are few, and disagreements are settled by the giving of mats. The stresses encountered by American teenagers are unknown to their Samoan counterparts. Mead refers to premarital sex as the pastime par excellence for Samoan youth.

She writes that Samoa is a virtual paradise of free love, as the young people from 14 years of age until they are married have nothing on their minds except sex. Of Samoan girls Mead says: She thrusts virtuosity away from her as she thrusts away from her every other sort of responsibility with the invariable comment, Laitit au (I am but young). All of her interest is expanded on clandestine sex adventures (33). She explains that growing up can be free, easy and uncomplicated. Romantic love in Samoa is not bound with ideas of monogamy, exclusiveness, jealousy and fidelity as it is in America.

Evidently, due to the lack of privacy in the homes, young lovers are forced to meet in the trees. Even married people have trouble finding privacy: But the lack of privacy within the houses where a mosquito netting marks off purely formal walls about the married couples and the custom of young lovers to use the palm groves for the rendezvous (84). As far as the act of sex, much pressure is put on the man to perform: The Samoan puts the burden of amatory success upon the man and believes that woman need more initiating, more time for maturing of sexual feeling.

A man who fails to satisfy a oman is looked upon as clumsy, inept blunderer…. (91) The day in Samoa begins at dawn, and you can hear the shouts of young men. Most of the time, the people go to sleep around midnight and after that you only hear the whispers of lovers. Mead tells of how birthdays are not of importance, but the day of birth is, especially with highly ranked babies. On this day there is a great feast and property is given away. The first baby must always be born in the village of the mother. For months before the birth, the family of the father brings food while the family of the mother makes clothes.

At the birth, the fathers mother or sister must be present to take care of the newborn. There is no privacy and the woman is not allowed to cry out in pain. It is not uncommon for 20 to 30 people to be present at the birth, and to stay all night if necessary. Once the cord is cut by the midwife the feast begins. If the baby is a girl, the cord is buried under a mulberry tree to ensure that she will be good at household tasks. If the child is a boy it is thrown into the sea so that he will be a skilled fisherman, or planted under a plant to make him a good farmer.

Unless a woman gets pregnant again, he will nurse her child until it is two or three years old. Once the baby starts growing into a toddler, there are many strict rules they are expected to follow. The first is that they must only learn to crawl and sit within the house. Once they can stand, they are never to stand while addressing an adult. All children must know to stay out of the sun, and to never tangle the strands of a weaver. It is also not acceptable for a child, no matter how young, to scatter the cut up coconut which is spread out to dry.

The last rule that she speaks of is that the children must make ure that their loin clothes are attached at all times. The girls principle task while growing up is to learn to weave. In fact, a girls chances of marriage are badly damaged if the village hears that she is lazy in domestic tasks. The Samoan village is made up of 30 to 40 households and the master is called the matai. Any older relative has a right to demand personal service or to criticize the conduct and interfere with the affairs of a younger relative. The most important relationship within a Samoan household is that between brother and sister.

This does not ven necessarily mean by blood. This relationship is of the most importance in influencing the lives of young people. The word aiga is used to cover all relationships by blood, marriage and adoption. The family cooking is taken are of by both sexes, but the majority of the work falls upon the boys and young men. The agricultural work is done by the women. This includes the weeding, transplanting, gathering, transportation of the food and the gathering of mulberry wands. Mead also speaks about the social network in Samoa, especially in reference to the chiefs role.

While speaking to a chief he explains: I have been a chief only four years and look my hair is grey… I must always act as if I were old. I must walk gravely and with measured step. I may not dance except upon most solemn occasions, neither may I play games with the young men… Thirty-one people live in my household. For them I must plan, I must find them food and clothing, settle their disputes, arrange their marriages… It is hard to be so young and yet to be a chief (Mead 36). Boys in Samoa are circumcised in pairs and make the arrangements to do so themselves.

They do this by seeking out an older man who has a reputation for skill. The boys in the pair are considered to be very close, and it is even all right for them to have casual sexual relationships. Boys do not start to go after girls until two or three years after puberty, and when they do they have their friends speak to her. When they get older, the women are dependent on their husbands for social status. The village princess is not actually what we could consider a princess. She takes on the job of the village servant. She waits on strangers, spreads their beds and makes kava.

Her arriage, however, is a village event, planned by talking chiefs and their wives. In Samoa there are not the taboos about women that are present in other cultures. The only taboos that they have about women is that she cannot touch the fishing canoes or fishing tackle. If she were too it would allegedly ruin the fishing. When a man dies, it is the job of his maternal aunt or his sister to prepare the body by rubbing it with oil. Than she sits there by the dead body to fan away the flies it may attract. A man who commits adultery with a chief wife is beaten and banished a possibly even drowned.

The wife of the chief will only be cast out. A similar tradition is that is the taupo, who is the village ceremonial hostess, was found not to be a virgin she is beaten by her female relatives. This beating includes disfiguring and even fatally injuring her. It is actual considered illegal for her to have sex before marriage. At her wedding in front everyone her virginity is to be taken by the talking chief. This custom is slowly dying out, but was in full force at the time of Meads visit. An important part of Meads dissertation was her study of the casual sex relations.

After a girl is eight or nine years old she has learned not to approach a group of older boys. However, when it comes to younger boys, they are taught to antagonize them. The boys are considered older after they have been circumcised. When a girl is looking for her first lover, she looks to an older man, most often a widower or a divorcee. There are two types of sexual relations other than marriage that are recognized by Samoans. These include love affairs between unmarried young people, and also adultery. Although virginity is not expected in girls, Mead claims that it defiantly adds to heir attractiveness.

Essentially, having sex with a virgin is much more of a feat for a man than sex with a girl who is not. Marriage in Samoa is regarded as a social and economic arrangement in which relative wealth, rank and the skill of both husband and wife must be considered. In conclusion, Margaret Meads dissertation on Samoa is still interesting after 75 years. The customs of Samoans, especially those regarding sex are very interesting to people of other cultures. This society rests most of their regard on love and happiness and seem to have been successful in achieving that.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Leave a Comment