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MAIN PAGE: DEREK FREEMAN: MARGARET MEAD AND SAMOA

13 Punishment

Although in Social Organization of Manu'a Mead does mention that in ancient Samoa „violent breaches of the pattern“ were „vindictively punished“ (giving the example of someone who stole being made to sit in the sun and toss a poisonous fish in his hands), she declares that this punishment was only „vaguely glimpsed as a deterrent,“ and elsewhere records that by the 1920s extreme measures of this kind had been outlawed. Samoan society as depicted by Mead was neither severe nor punitive. Rather, so she asserted, the Samoans inhabit a social order that „is kind to all and does not make sufficient demands upon any.“ These assertions are inaccurate and misleading. In recounting the myth of Tagaloa's punishing of the disobedient Sa and Manu by turning them into sea urchins, to which I have referred in Chapter 12, Fraser commented that if any special truth was burnt into the minds of pagan Samoans by such tales of Tagaloa's powers it was that „any transgressions of the commands of their gods or their chiefs“ were „sure to be visited with punishment.“ As this indicates, the Samoans give particular emphasis, through the imposition of various kinds of punishment, to the active maintenance of obedience to those in chiefly authority.1

The Samoan term for obedience, usiusita'i, refers specifically to the action of listening to an instruction and then un-questioningly carrying it out. In Samoa such obedience, to chiefly instructions in particular, is greatly lauded, especially in untitled men, members of the 'aumaga, whose principal obligation is to serve the chiefs of their local polity. Thus, when the men of an 'aumaga are summoned before their chiefs it is common for a senior talking chief to remind them of „the supreme importance of obedience,“ as also of the fact that their obedience should be marked by a proper submissiveness. In April 1966, for example, in my hearing a senior talking chief of Sa'anapu told the assembled members of the 'aumaga that „in an untitled man, a lowly heart is praiseworthy,“ and in March 1967 another high-ranking talking chief admonished the Sa'anapu 'aumaga: „You must obey in everything! Obey completely! Even though your chief be in error.“

In other words, in Samoan society untitled men are called upon to be the submissive and wholly obedient agents of their chiefs. This customary requirement of absolute obedience is sometimes advanced as a defense in Samoan courts. For example, in the Supreme Court of Western Samoa in April 1941, Miss O. F. Nelson pleaded on behalf of seven untitled men who had assaulted a man of their village that they were merely, as Samoan custom required, „blindly obeying“ the edicts of their chiefs. In this case, some twenty chiefs of a village on the north coast of Upolu had taken it upon themselves to impose upon a fellow chief who had defied a ruling of their fono the most demeaning of all Samoan punishments, that of saisai, which involves tying up an offender as though he were a pig about to be baked in an earth oven, and then inflicting upon him various other indignities.2

A comparable case also occurred in April 1941 in another village on the north coast of Upolu. The chiefs had become incensed because a man of their village (I shall call him Tala) had given evidence against them during a hearing in the Land and Titles Court in September 1940. In October 1940 these chiefs convened a fono to decide what punishment they would mete out to Tala. Their decision, so the court was told, was to tie him up „like a pig, and bring human excrement and put it in his mouth, and make an oven to symbolize the cooking of man.“ The forced ingestion of excrement, which is eaten by pigs, and the treating of a man as though he were, like a pig, fit only to be eaten, are ultimate forms of subjugation. This extreme form of punishment, as Stuebel recorded in a text collected in the late nineteenth century, was once meted out to anyone who cast aspersions on the genealogy of a chief. As Stuebel's informants remarked of such an offender: „Even his children and sisters could be slain, or they might be publicly shamed by being led to the oven or by having human excrement thrust into their mouths, while the malefactor himself would certainly be killed.“3

Tala fled and was not apprehended until 19 April 1941. He was struck on the head with a heavy husking stick, then suspended naked, trussed like a pig, from a thick rough pole about ten feet long, and in his abject state displayed for all to see. As the court was told by the Crown Prosecutor, „this is the greatest insult, according to Samoan custom, that can be inflicted on anyone.“ All those directly responsible were given prison sentences varying from two to three months.4

This punishment of saisai, as the reports of Turner, Brown, and others show, is very much a part of the traditional culture of Samoa, and, although Mead makes no mention of saisai in her discussion of „the offenders and the offended“ in Social Organization of Manu'a, it was certainly being practiced during the 1920s when she was in Samoa. For example, F. H. Flaherty has reported that in Savai'i in 1924 culprits were brought before a chief „swinging between bamboo poles, trussed like pigs“; she adds that in Samoa „no more terrible disgrace“ can befall a man. Further, this dire punishment is still occasionally inflicted;

a prosecution for saisai was heard in the Supreme Court of Western Samoa as recently as January 1981.5

As recorded in an official report of 1950 in Western Samoa, the trial and punishment of those guilty of offences against custom has „always been among the major functions“ of the titular and talking chiefs of a local polity. And as mentioned in Institutions and Customs of the Samoans (a compilation by the Education Department of Western Samoa), those guilty of „repeated impudence or disobedience“ toward the fono of their community are the most heavily punished. Thus in 1862 Ta'unga, a Rarotongan pastor stationed in Manu'a, wrote that the chiefs of Ta'u would not „countenance any wrong-doing“ and when one of their laws was broken would seek very carefully to find a punishment that was „appropriate“ to the offense.6

When a sufficiently serious offense does occur, a juridical assembly, or fono manu, is immediately summoned, a special kava ceremony held, and, after detailed consideration, a specific punishment decided upon by the assembled titular and talking chiefs. A distinction is made, as Stair notes, between punishments imposed on an entire family and those inflicted on an individual. An especially severe form of traditional punishment by a village fono was the banishment of an entire family, which was for a time legalized under the laws proclaimed by Malietoa Laupepa in 1892, before being prohibited in Western Samoa by Governor Solf in 1901. When a fono decided on the banishment of a family it was usual, as Stair has described, for its chiefs to walk to the house of the offending family, there to seat themselves on the ground while the highest-ranking talking chief formally announced their decision. This done, others of the judicial party would appropriate the family's pigs and other property, cut down or ring-bark their breadfruit trees, and, after their enforced departure, set fire to their houses. The 1927 Report of the Royal Commission on Western Samoa lists a number of such banishments in the late nineteenth century, including one in which an entire village was permanently „ordered away.“ On other occasions an individual who had offended the fono was banished, and from time to time in twentieth-century

Samoa a chief is formally expelled from a fono. In 1946, for example, a titular chief was expelled for acting in defiance of the ruling of the fono of Sa'anapu that village land should not be leased to outsiders for the purpose of erecting a trading store, and in 1966 another ali'i was similarly expelled for disobeying the instruction to accompany his fono in an ifoga to the village of Sataoa after untitled males of his family had killed and eaten one of the cattle of Sataoa.7

In former times there were many other forms of severe personal punishment, particularly for acts of disobedience or disrespect to chiefs. Krämer mentions the beating of an offender until his head bled and his bones cracked. Wilkes and Turner record the cutting off of ears and noses, and Stair describes a punishment that involved compelling an offender „to inflict severe wounds and bruises upon himself, by beating his head and chest with a large stone, until the blood flowed freely,“ this being enforced, if necessary, by „the prompt and unsparing use of a war club.“ Yet another painful punishment described by Stair, Turner, Brown, and others was the enforced biting, five times, of the noxious teve plant, which besides inflicting intense agony on an offender would cause his gums to become so inflamed, according to Krämer, „that death often resulted.“ Stair also lists the punishments of being forced to handle poisonous spined fish, of being exposed in the broiling sun, and of being suspended head downward for many hours from a tall coconut palm. Again, in Institutions and Customs of the Samoans, mention is made of a punishment of olden times in which an offender, having been tied hand and foot, was „thrown into the pigsty, to eat and sleep with the pigs until he died.“8

These personal punishments, with the exception of severe ad hoc beatings and expulsion from village groups such as the fono and 'aumaga, are now no longer practiced, their place having been taken by an extension of the ancient Samoan custom of imposing fines. As Turner notes, it was common in nineteenth-century Samoa for a fono to impose „fines of large quantities of food, which provide a feast for the entire village.“ Brown mentions fines of „as much as a thousand head of taro, and a thousand fish, all cooked,“ or of „from one to twenty or thirty pigs.“

Under Samoan custom it is usual when an offender is an untitled individual for a fine to be imposed on his chief, who then draws on the general resources of the family of which he is head. In January 1943, for example, when a 23-year-old man surreptitiously raped an 18-year-old girl of another family, his chief was fined two pigs and ten six-pound tins of meat by a specially summoned juridical fono; this food was then shared among all the other families of Sa'anapu.9

It is also customary for fines to be imposed on any chief who fails to obey a ruling of the fono to which he belongs. It is usual, for example, for a fono to require all its members to plant a certain amount of taro, or to make standard contributions to village enterprises, such as the building of a school. Those chiefs who do not meet these obligations are almost always penalized, the most common fine in the 1940s and 1960s being a six-pound tin of meat. Both the imposition and the collection of these and other fines are strict, the principle being, as a senior talking chief of Sa'anapu remarked to his fellow chiefs in 1967, that „no one may make light of something that has been decided upon by the fono.“

This principle is also followed in all the other social groupings of a village community, such as the 'aumaga. For example, in 1942 the Sa'anapu 'aumaga ruled that all of its members were to join in a malaga to a village on the north coast of Upolu. When one of them, Filipina, aged about 40, disobeyed this injunction he was fined £2, and when he refused to pay this fine he was expelled from the 'aumaga and formally ostracized, all other members being forbidden, on pain of a heavy fine, to communicate with him. After a few months of this punishment Filipina formally admitted his wrongful behavior and, on the prestation of a large pig and other food to the 'aumaga in lieu of the fine he had refused to pay, was readmitted to its membership.

In other village groups, such as church choirs, there are often elaborate sets of rules, each with its own fine for disobedience. In 1943 the church choir of Sa'anapu had a total of some thirty finable offenses, ranging from a fine of sixpence for sitting down too quickly after the singing of a hymn, to £1 for the divulging of a choral arrangement to a rival village. As this example indicates, the imposition of punishment is very much a part of the religious life of Samoa. Thus, it is commonplace to hear Samoan pastors admonishing their congregations that eternal torment in hellfire is the punishment of those who disobey the commandments of God. This notion is no great novelty to Samoans, for their traditional afterworld, as Stair records, contained, in addition to an Elysium called Pulotu, a dread place of punishment known as Sa le Fe'e. Again, very strict discipline, with the infliction of physical punishment as necessary, is maintained during church services. For example, Moore and Farrington, when they attended a protestant service in Tutuila in 1930, noted that an elder armed with a fly switch patrolled the church swatting unruly boys and shaking them „by winding his fingers in their hair.“ Often the punishment inflicted for misbehavior at services or when under religious instruction is more severe, and I have recorded several instances of both male and female adolescents having had a bone fractured by a punishing blow inflicted by an irate pastor.10

Fines may also be imposed directly upon an individual when marked disrespect has been shown to a chief. In 1946, for example, when Pomate threatened a talking chief with a bush knife during an argument over a plot of land, the fono summarily sentenced him to banishment from Sa'anapu. When Pomate pleaded for his case to be reconsidered, he was made to crawl on hands and knees with head bowed into the house where the chiefs of Sa'anapu were meeting in fono, and to remain in this abject posture while his behavior was condemned in the roundest terms. Pomate, who was married to a Roman Catholic woman from the nearby village of Mulivai, was in the habit of attending Mass with her there on Sundays. From the nineteenth century onward Sa'anapu had been exclusively protestant, with one of the main rules of its fono being that any villager who became a Roman Catholic must leave the community. Pomate was heavily fined and told that he could remain in Sa'anapu only if he gave up attending Roman Catholic services, an imposition which, in fact, drove him from his natal village.

In 19661 witnessed another case of severe punitive action by

chiefs, which involved the disputed boundary of the plantation of Samala, an untitled man of Sa'anapu, Several chiefs, acting on behalf of the fono, marked the boundary by planting a line of breadfruit saplings, depriving Samala of a few yards of land to which he claimed he was entitled. Samala uprooted these cuttings and threatened to shoot the chiefs who had planted them. At a specially summoned fono Samala was fined one bullock and one very large pig, animals he had been rearing for some years with the intention of selling them. When Samala saw his animals being killed he threw himself on the ground, groaning and weeping in a paroxysm of frustrated rage, and tore the shirt from his body in a violent display of redirected aggression, ij The imposition of heavy punishment frequently provokes | rage, yet the penalized individual well knows that any action he j might take against the chiefs of his community would be certain ! | to lead to even heavier punishment. This situation sometimes »| has tragic consequences, as in the case of Tulei, an untitled man of the village of Safa'atoa. Early only morning in June 1966, the boundaries of a plot of newly cleared agricultural land of the family to which Tulei belonged were formally inspected, as is usual in Samoan villages, by the chiefs. During this inspection Tulei was overheard to say of these chiefs, „What's the point of their frequent measuring of the land, the earth is befouled by their tread.“ After the inspection the chiefs at once met in fono and imposed on Tulei's family the fine of ten sows, ten cases of tinned fish, five large tins of biscuits, and 5000 corms of taro, stipulating that this food was to be provided if not that very day then without fail on the morrow, under the threat of further penalties. Their fono was still in progress when the news , reached them that Tulei, having heard of the severity of this I punishment, had killed himself with a shotgun.

Samoa then, far from possessing a social order that „is kind to all and does not make sufficient demands upon any,“ as Mead would have it, has a culture in which it is traditional to have recourse to punishment, and frequently very severe punishment, in the interests of obedience and respect for authority. Furthermore, those who have erred are expected to accept their punishment without demur. This is especially so when a chief is

being found fault with by his fellow matai. I was present in October 1966 when a 53-year-old titular chief, who had disobeyed a ruling of the Sa'anapu fono, tried to justify his actions. He was peremptorily told that his only course was to admit the error of his ways and to sit patiently without a word while the indignation of his polity was vented upon him. This, as we shall see, is what is also required of children who are being reproved or punished by their parents, or, for that matter, by anyone else set in authority over them.