Coming of Age in Somoa

Margaret Mead’s “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 Mead’s 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, Fa’apua’a
Fa’amu

and Fofoa. It is said that one Samoan woman’s 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 a’u” (“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

woman 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,
she 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