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...