Manu’a women celebrated on Margaret Mead’s 119th birthday

The young women of Manu’a at the centre of Dr. Margaret Mead’s classic academic study “Coming of Age in Samoa” will be celebrated on the occasion of the late, legendary American anthropologist's 119th birthday. 

The subjects of the study of Samoan culture that shot Dr. Mead to the peak academic fame in America will be commemorated at an event in the American state of Oregon, Afega orator Fata Ariu Levi told the Samoa Observer.

The Manu’a women who were interviewed during Dr. Mead’s research cannot lay claim to all of her academic accomplishments. 

But the “princesses of the Paramount Chief King Tuimanu’a” should definitely be remembered, Fata - a Vaimoso native and former banker turned historian - said. 

Fata is a native of Vaimoso with Manu's roots currently living in Salem, Oregon, United States. He is the author of a new book, “Navigators Quest for a Kingdom in Polynesia.”

“I only caution, let us celebrate and memorialize the scientist, but let us not forget the research ‘control group’—in this case the 68 young girls of Manu’a that Dr. John Derek Freeman, in his quest to refute Dr. Mead’s ethnographic study in Manu’a, accused of lying and making up stories during the questionnaire and interviewing process,” Fata said in a statement. 

“Let us not shovel away the memories of those young girls onto the edge of the village. They are not ‘specimens.’ They are princesses of the Paramount Chief King Tuimanu’a.”

A bitter dispute about the nature of Samoan culture between Dr. Mead and Dr. Freeman was one of the most famous and long-running academic rivalries of the 20th Century. 

Published in 1928, Dr. Mead’s work, based on interviews with young Samoan girls and its conclusions had a profound impact on American academic thinking and made her one of the most famous anthropologists, if not academics, in America. 

Dr. Freeman, who studied Samoan customs years later disputed the book’s findings in what became a bitter feud. 

Fata is participating in a 16 December event hosted by the non-profit Salem Multicultural Institute and World Beat that marks the 119th birthday of the late Dr. Mead.

Born on 16  December 1901 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dr. Mead, a Presidential Medal of Freedom honouree, died on 15 November, 1978.

Although some Pacific island scholars dismiss Dr. Mead's field of anthropology as “obsolete,” Fata said Dr. Mead cannot be discounted because she is an icon and a giant.

Dr. Mead drew some fundamental conclusions about human nature on the basis of her study, which was based on interviews with young Samoan women in the 1920s. 

“Dr. Margaret Mead is iconic in the field of Anthropology worldwide. She was a feminist before Gloria Steinem became famous in 1960s,” he told the Samoa Observer from Salem.

“Her efforts in child and women labour laws, world hunger initiative, adolescence development, children's education and nutrition requirements which lead to school lunch programmes, nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean protesting and total elimination, and so on. You just can't minimize the impact of a giant like her,” Fata said in a statement. 

“Dr. Mead’s legacy is like an umbilical cord, inextricably tied to Manu’an American Samoa. 

“But, as we celebrate her 119th anniversary this December 16, do we even remember the contribution Manu’ans made to her popular book “Coming of Age in Samoa?”

“Manu’ans cannot lay claim to all Dr. Mead’s accomplishments, but she clearly developed, in “Coming of Age in Samoa”, an alternative, field-based approach to the challenges of adolescence in post-WWI society and in an era of accelerating industrial revolution—a different approach to Western Society’s old tenets of laboratory-based, empirical science.”



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