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MAIN PAGE: DEREK FREEMAN: MARGARET MEAD AND SAMOA

Adolescence

We have seen that the „picture of the whole social life of Samoa“ that Mead presented as an ethnographic background to her main conclusion in Coming of Age in Samoa is, in numerous respects, fundamentally in error. What then of her assertions about adolescence in Samoa? Both Mead and Benedict fully recognized adolescence as a biological process. Benedict, for example, wrote of adolescence as being „by definition tied up with a universal biological fact in human development,“ while for Mead the adolescent period was „the most striking instance“ of „an innate pattern of growth.“ In Samoa, however, according to Mead the „disruptive concomitants“ inherent in adolescence had, because of the mild and easy social environment, been „successfully muted.“ Adolescence among the Sa-moans, she claimed, being „peculiarly free of all those characteristics which make it a period dreaded by adults and perilous for young people in more complex—and often also, in more primitive—societies,“ was „the age of maximum ease.“ Thus human nature, within the „different social form“ of Samoa, lacked „the conflicts which are so often characteristic of adolescence.“ On the basis of this claim, as I have recounted in Chapter 5, Mead unequivocally asserted the sovereignty of culture over biology.1

Is it in fact true, as Mead claimed, that the behavior of Samoan adolescents is untroubled and unstressed and lacks the conflicts that are so often characteristic of this period of development? As Herant Katchadourian notes, „research on ordinary adolescents has generally failed to substantiate claims of the inevitability and universality of adolescent stress.“ Nonetheless, the findings of W. A. Lunden, M. R. Haskell and L. Yablonsky, and others have clearly shown that the years of adolescence are hazardous for many, with delinquency in the United States and elsewhere reaching a peak at about age 16. To what extent, then, is adolescent delinquency present in Samoa? In particular, what can be concluded about delinquency among Samoan female adolescents from the information Mead herself has provided?2

Mead discusses delinquency in Coming of Age in Samoa in the general context of deviance. For Benedict and Mead deviance was a concept derived directly from their theory of cultural determinism, the basic notion of which was of the „undifferentiated“ raw material of human nature being „moulded into shape by its society.“ One of the corollaries of this notion was that this molding process was sometimes ineffective, with the individual who „failed to receive the cultural imprint“ becoming a „cultural misfit,“ or deviant.1 These deviants from the cultural pattern of their society Benedict and Mead then relegated to a special category, as in the chapter of Coming of Age in Samoa entitled „The Girl in Conflict.“ In this chapter, which is crucially important for her whole argument, Mead distinguishes between what she calls „deviants upwards“ from the pattern of Samoan culture, and deviants „in a downward direction.“ Upward deviants, she writes, are those who demand „a different or improved environment,“ and reject „the traditional choices.“ In this category she puts three girls, all of whom she lists as having had „no heterosexual experience.“ Lita, two months past men-arche, who „wished to go to Tutuila and become a nurse or teacher“; Sona, three years past menarche, who was „overbearing in manner, arbitrary and tyrannous towards younger people, impudently deferential towards her elders,“ and who blatantly proclaimed „her pursuit of ends different from those approved by her fellows“; and Ana, aged 19, an intensely religious girl who was „convinced that she was too frail to bear children.“ All three of these girls, according to Mead, might, at any time, have come into real conflict with their society, but at the time of her inquiries they had not, and so remained deviants upwards, rather than deviants in a downward direction, or delinquents.4 A delinquent, Mead defined as an individual who is „maladjusted to the demands of her civilization, and who comes definitely into conflict with her group, not because she adheres to a different standard, but because she violates the group standards which are also her own.“ Of her sample of twenty-five adolescent girls, says Mead, two girls, Lola and Mala, had been delinquents for several years. Lola, aged 17, of Si'ufaga, was a quarrelsome, insubordinate, vituperative, and spiteful girl who had „continuously violated“ the standards of her group. She „contested every point, objected to every request, shirked her work, fought her sisters, mocked her mother,“ had been expelled from residence in the pastor's house after a fight with another delinquent, and in a jealous rage had publicly accused a female rival of being a thief, so „setting the whole village by the ears.“ Mala, aged about 16, also of Si'ufaga, was insinuating and treacherous, as well as being a liar and a thief.5

In addition to these two girls of Si'ufaga, Mead also mentions under her „conception of delinquency“ a girl of Faleasao, called Sala. Sala, three years past menarche, was a „stupid, underhand, deceitful“ girl who had been expelled from residence in the pastor's house for „sex offences.“ This expulsion, which is a serious matter in Samoan eyes, shows that Sala had also violated group standards, and that she too, in terms of Mead's definition, was a delinquent. Another girl of Faleasao whom Mead discusses was Moana, 16 and a half, who, having begun her „amours“ at 15, allowed her uncle, who had been asked by her parents „to adopt her and attempt to curb her waywardness,“ to avail himself „of her complacency.“ This sexual liaison, as Mead notes, was „in direct violation of the brother and sister taboo,“ Moana's uncle being young enough for her to call him brother. It was thus an instance of incest, a heinous offense, the perpetrators of which, according to Samoans, are liable to supernatural punishment. Thus Schultz recounts that when Mata'utia had sexual intercourse with his cousin Levalasi, he was attacked by a loathsome disease, while Levalasi gave birth to a clot of blood. Moana's incestuous liaison with her uncle resulted, Mead states, in a family feud. Moana's violation of one of the strictest prohibitions of Samoan society was thus unquestionably a delinquent act in terms of Mead's definition, although Mead inexplicably did not even class her as a deviant.5

It is evident, then, from Mead's own account that four of her twenty-five adolescent girls were delinquents. Further, from her descriptions of the actions of these four girls, it is apparent that instances of delinquent behavior by Lola and Moana occurred during Mead's brief sojourn in Manu'a from November 1925 to May 1926. If we assume, conservatively, on the basis of Mead's reports, that among the twenty-five adolescents she studied there was one delinquent act per annum, this is equivalent to a rate of forty such acts per thousand.

How does this rate compare with delinquency rates in other societies? Mead, as we have seen, defines a delinquent as one who violates the standards of her group. The examples she gives of delinquent behavior plainly caused considerable social disruption, setting a whole village by the ears in the case of Lola and resulting in a family feud in the case of Moana. They were, in other words, of a kind that would warrant their being considered by a juridical fono. It thus is possible, though Mead did not attempt this, to compare the incidence of delinquent behavior in Samoa with that of Western countries, where delinquency, as Sandhu notes, is defined as „any act… which might be brought before court and adjudicated.“ Mead's twenty-five female adolescents, as she notes, ranged in age from 14 or 15 to 19 or 20. If we assume an age range of 14 to 19, it becomes possible to make a comparison, on the basis of the rates given by D. J. West in The Young Offender, for indictable offenses by females per thousand of population of the same age, in England and Wales in 1965. In the age-group 14-19 the average rate per thousand was 4.00. In other words, the delinquency rate which seems likely to have been characteristic of Mead's Samoan female delinquents in 1925, was about ten times higher than that which existed among female adolescents in England and Wales in 1965.7

This comparison is obviously only approximate. It does, however, indicate that among the girls studied by Mead in 1925-1926 delinquency was in fact at quite a high level. Further, Mead's relegating of delinquents to a separate population of deviants, or „cultural misfits,“ to which her generalizations about Samoan adolescence supposedly do not apply, is revealed as a decidedly unscientific maneuver, for her four delinquents and three „upwards deviants,“ who, together, make up 28 percent of her sample of twenty-five female adolescents, are obviously every bit as much the product of the Samoan social environment as are the eighteen other adolescent girls who were, Mead tells us, untroubled and unstressed.

The conclusions about adolescence in Samoa to which Mead came in 1929 were based, as we have seen, on a few months' study of twenty-five girls. She had no compunction, however, in extending these conclusions, in later years, to male adolescents. Thus, in 1937 her statement that adolescence in Samoa was „the age of maximum ease“ was applied to both males and females, and in 1950 she asserted that „the boy who would flee from too much pressure on his young manhood hardly exists in Samoa.“ These statements were made without specific investigation by Mead of Samoan male adolescents. As we have seen, the delinquency rate among Samoan female adolescents is, in comparative terms, high. It has long been known that delinquency in male adolescents is commonly four to five times higher than in females. In this respect Samoa is no different from other countries; the ratio of males to females among 932 adolescent first offenders in Western Samoa was five to one.

Mead's statements about Samoan male adolescents are, then, entirely unwarranted. As I shall presently show, Samoan delinquency rates for male adolescents are closely comparable to those of other countries.8

First, however, let me note that I have yet to meet a Samoan who agrees with Mead's assertion that adolescence in Samoan society is smooth, untroubled, and unstressed. Vaiao Ala'ilima, a graduate in the social sciences, who was born in Western Samoa and lived in American Samoa from the age of 12 onward, completely disagrees, as his wife Fay Calkins has recorded, that Samoan adolescence is not „a period of 'Sturm and Drang.'“ Aiono Fanaaii Le Tagaloa, a graduate of the University of London, when in Australia in 1971 as Director of Education in Western Samoa, observed that although it had been claimed that the Samoan adolescent does not suffer the same stress and strains as an American girl, she knew that a Samoan girl, who showed her stress in different ways, did not go through „a less stormy adolescent period.“ And To'oa Salamasina Malietoa, who as principle of Papauta School in Western Samoa has extensive knowledge of Samoan adolescent girls, remarked to me in December 1967 that the lives of many of these girls are far from being untroubled and unstressed.9

These judgments from highly educated Samoans who possess direct personal knowledge of what it means to be an adolescent in Samoa are fully borne out by statements confided to my wife and me by adolescents, both male and female, whom we came to know particularly well. These adolescents would tell us of the tensions between themselves and their parents, and of their emotional distress during altercations with their families or when they were heavily dominated by someone in authority. One 17-year-old girl, for example, who wrote down for us in her own words the story of her life, described her feelings of intense resentment at being beaten by her mother, and her distress at what was often said to her, adding that her life and that of others like her was merely one of servitude.

These subjective statements are fully consistent with our observational data on adolescent behavior in Samoa. As I have noted, Samoan children continue to be physically punished well into adolescence. In the course of my fieldwork I observed fifty-six individuals aged 19 and under being physically punished by a parent, older sibling, or other senior member of a family. Of these, seventeen, or 30 percent, were between the ages of 11 and 19. Again, in eight cases, drawn from police records, of prosecutions for excessive punishment, half of the victims were aged between 12 and 15.

From this and other evidence I have presented it is clearly evident that not a few Samoans, during adolescence, are subjected to psychological stress. This stress, as I have documented in Chapter 15, is evinced in musu states, and in severe cases in hysterical illnesses and suicides—the Samoan suicide rate for adolescents being, the evidence suggests, significantly higher than in some other countries.

As Katchadourin notes, the attainment of puberty is marked by steady and rapid improvement in physical strength, skill and endurance, and this development is also marked by the involvement of adolescents in aggressive encounters of various kinds. A sample of first offenders drawn at random from the police records of Western Samoa yielded 528 cases of acts of violence by males and 218 by females in the age range of 12 to 22 years. As shown in figure 2, there is a rapid rise in the incidence of acts of violence * from about age 14 onward, with this incidence reaching a peak at age 16. Again, as is apparent from the cases discussed in Chapters 10 and 11, from early adolescence onward both males and females tend to join in affrays.10

There is also a peak at age 16 in offenses against authority, particularly by males. From early adolescence onward Samoan youths may be observed grimacing and making threatening gestures at their elders, including chiefs, behind their backs, especially after having been punished or reprimanded; with the attainment of puberty, youths will occasionally lose control and openly attack those in authority over them. For example, in April 1965 a 31-year-old chief, patroling a village in Savai'i to enforce the ten p.m. curfew, came upon a group of five male adolescents who were breaking this curfew by playing a guitar and singing, and he at once set about chastising them with a board. Instead of scattering, as would children, at this show of chiefly

authority, one of these youths hurled a stone at the chief with such force as to expose the bone of his forehead and put him in hospital for a fortnight with concussion.11

Another measure of the involvement of adolescents in aggressive activity is obtained from a sample of forty cases, drawn at random from police records, of convictions for using insulting or indecent words. In this sample sixteen, or 40 percent, of those convicted were aged between 14 and 19, with thirteen of these sixteen adolescents being girls. As these figures indicate, verbal aggression is very common among adolescent girls in Samoa, and gives rise to much fighting between them.

Samoan adolescents from about 14 years of age onward begin to become involved in stressful situations that are sexual in origin. In a sample of 2,180 male first offenders there were no convictions for sexual offenses by individuals younger than 14. There was, however, one case of indecent assault by a 14-year-old youth, and of the total of forty-five convictions for indecent assault, rape, and attempted rape, nineteen, or 42 percent, of the offenders were males aged between 14 and 19, an incidence comparable to that existing in the United States. Menachem Amir, for example, records that in the United States 40.3 percent of forcible rape offenders are aged between 15 and 19. In the case of victims of rape, however, there is an appreciable difference between the United States and Samoa. Whereas according to Amir only 24.9 percent of rape victims in the United States are in the age-group 15-19, in a sample of thirty-two cases of rape and attempted rape from Western Samoa, 62 percent of the victims were in this age-group. A statistic available from Australia suggests that the incidence of virgins among rape victims is appreciably higher in Samoa than in other cultures: while according to J. P. Bush 30.5 percent of rape victims in Victoria, Australia were virgins before they were assaulted, the incidence of virgins in my Samoan sample of rape victims was 60 percent.12

As these incidences indicate, the traditional sexual mores of their society subject Samoan girls, from puberty onward, to formidable stresses. Within their families, and as members of the Ekalesia (as the great majority of them are), they are subjected

Age-groups

to a searching discipline aimed at safeguarding their virginity until a respectable marriage can be arranged—while during this same time they are exposed to the risk of both surreptitious and forcible rape. Thus, it is commonplace in Samoan villages for pubescent girls to be warned that they must sleep in the company of other girls of their family, so lessening the likelihood of becoming the victim of a moetotolo, and in particular that they must not walk alone beyond the precincts of a village for fear of being raped. Again, when a girl does finally elope from her family, as most do, from about 19 years of age onward, this occasion is commonly fraught with uncertainty and tension. These ordeals that the sexual mores of Samoa present to girls at puberty can generate very appreciable stresses, culminating from time to time in acts of suicide, as in the cases of Tupe and Malu (see Chapter 15) and of the 22-year-old girl (see Chapter 16) who took her own life after having lost her virginity to a moetotolo.

Now to return to the general discussion of delinquency among Samoan adolescents: as we have already seen, an analysis of the information that Mead herself provides on the behavior of Samoan girls aged 14-19 in Manu'a in the mid 1920s reveals what appears to have been a comparatively high rate of adolescent delinquency. In order to test further Mead's assertion that the adolescent period in Samoa in both males and females is untroubled and lacks the conflicts that tend to exist elsewhere, I decided, in 1967, to make a more detailed inquiry into the incidence of delinquency among adolescents in Western Samoa. At that time the only statistics available in Western Samoa on the incidence of criminal offenses were contained in the annual reports of the Police and Prisons Department, and these did not include information on the ages of offenders. A method that was open to me, however, was to compile, from police records, a random sample of convicted offenders, noting in each case the age and sex of the offender, the nature of the offense, and the date of conviction. The sample I compiled in this way totaled 2,717 convicted offenders. The offenses covered in this random sample included assault and various other crimes of violence; the „provoking of a breach of the peace“; theft and other offenses against property; trespass; rape and indecent as-

Age

sault; abduction; obstructing the police; uttering threatening, insulting, or indecent words; drunkenness; and perjury. In the great majority of cases they were offenses committed during the early 1960s, predominantly by inhabitants of the island of Upolu.

When this sample was tabulated in terms of age at first conviction the total range was from 9 to 80 years of age, and of the 2,717 offenders, 2,180 were males and 537 females, yielding a ratio of approximately four males to one female. However, of the 932 individuals whose age at first conviction was between 15 and 19, 777 were males and 155 females, a ratio of approximately five to one.

Figure 3 shows the relative incidence of age at first conviction for all 2,717 individuals of my random sample. It will be observed from this diagram that there is a marked increase, from age 14 onward, in the incidence of individuals committing offenses for the first time, with this incidence reaching a peak at the ages of from 15 to 19. A more detailed analysis (figure 4) of all the individuals in my sample who committed offenses for the first time between the ages of 12 and 22 also shows a sharp rise during early adolescence, a clear peak at age 16, and a high plateau through the remaining years of adolescence.

These incidences of age at first conviction among Samoan juveniles, while they are radically at odds with Mead's depiction of adolescence in Samoa, are closely in accord with findings from other countries. For example, Healy and Bronner's study of the Chicago Juvenile Court during the years 1909-1911 showed that the highest incidence among first offenders, both male and female, was of individuals 16 years of age. Adler, Cahn, and Stuart, in their study of juvenile delinquents in Berkeley, California, during the years 1928-1932, found that „the greatest percentage of the total number was found in the sixteen year age group.“ Bloch and Flynn, in 1956, gave 15 and a half years as the median age of delinquents in the United States. Haskell and Yablonsky, in discussing the crime statistics of the United States for 1972, record that „sixteen and seventeen year olds are arrested more frequently than persons of any other category.“ Challinger, in 1977, in discussing young offenders in Australia, notes that „sixteen year olds always comprise the largest single group of those appearing in court.“13

Again, if a direct comparison is made, as in figure 5, between my data, compiled in 1967, on age at first conviction in Western Samoa, with data on age at first conviction of offenders in England, from Cyril Burt's The Young Delinquent, it is evident that delinquency during adolescence has a generally similar incidence in Samoa and England. A comparable similarity exists between Samoa and the United States. Lunden, in his study of persons arrested in the United States in 1963, reports that 38.4 percent were under 20 years of age at the time of their first arrest, while in my sample of 1967 from Western Samoa those under 20 years of age at the time of their first conviction made up 41.6 percent of the total.14

From these data it is clearly evident that the adolescent period in Samoa, far from being „untroubled“ and „unstressed“ and „the age of maximum ease“ as Mead asserted, is in fact a period during which, as in the United States, England, and Australia, delinquency occurs more frequently than at any other stage of life. Again, as I have shown earlier in this chapter, there is substantial evidence from Mead's own reports to demonstrate that this was also the situation in Samoa in the mid 1920s. Mead, then, was at error in her depiction of the nature of adolescence in Samoa, just as she was, as has been demonstrated in Chapters 9 to 18, in her portrayal of other crucial aspects of Samoan life. This being so, her assertion in Coming of Age in Samoa of the absolute sovereignty of culture over biology, on the basis of these erroneous depictions, is clearly invalid, and her much bruited „negative instance“ is seen to have been no negative instance at all. In other words, Mead's presentation of Samoa as proving the insignificance of biology in the etiology of adolescent behavior is revealed as a false case.


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