Growing Up Sexually


SAMOANS (2,-,2+,-,3,3;7,7;E) (POLYNESIA)

IndexPacificsPolynesia French PolynesiaSamoa


Featured: Pukapukans, Ra’Ivavae, French Polynesia [Marquesans, Cook Islands [Tahiti, Aitutaki, Mangaia], Samoa, Tonga Isl.]; Santa Cruz Isl.


The greatest sin of children would be to appear “precocious”, or generally forward, their lives being filled with babies instead of dolls (Mead, 1928:p636)[1]. Mead (1928)[2] remarks that, although she thinks it “inevitable that children should see [genital] intercourse, often and between many different people”[3], thus “coupled with the sophistication of the children went no pre-adolescent heterosexual experimentation and very little homosexual activity, which was regarded in native theory as imitative and substitutive for heterosexual”. This “lack of precocious sex experimentation is probably due less to a direct parental ban on such precocity than to the strong institutionalised antagonism between younger boys and younger girls and the taboo against any amiable intercourse between them”. Further, no Samoan girl would cohabit with an uncircumcised boy (Krämer, 1903, II:p61)[4], the operation performed at ages 10 to 14. Schidlof (1908:p11-2)[5] quotes Turner on the promiscuity that followed from Samoan single-room housing. A later report by Shore (1981)[6] states that “[a]lthough discouraged by public morality and church teaching, premarital sex play is part of growing up for many Samoan boys and girls”. Premarital virginity remains “an important value” in Samoan society (p197). The pōula or night dance, traditionally a time of relative freedom, discontinued under missionary influence.


Mead’s work caused a major discussion among anthropologists following Freeman’s 1983 attack[7], as judged from a 74-item annotated bibliography (Laurie, 1998)[8] on the matter. One of the objections reads that a key informant would have subjected Mead to “fibbing pranks”[9] when discussing Samoan sexual liberalism. Another role would be reserved for Edward Craighill Handy at the BishopMuseum in Hawai’i, introducing Mead to her proneness to be hoaxed by suggestions regarding premarital permissiveness. The controversy has led to an influx of data as well as reinterpretations (e.g., Côté, 1994; Tcherkézoff, 2001a)[10] [11].










Additional references:


§         Tcherkézoff, S. (2001b) Is Anthropology About Individual Agency Or Culture? Or Why "Old Derek" Is Doubly Wrong, J Polynesian Society 110,1:59-78 []

§         Tcherkézoff, S. (2001c) Samoa again: on "Durkheimian bees", Freemanian passions and Fa'amu's "confession", J Polynesian Society 110,4:431-6 []

§         Côté, J. E. (2000) The Mead-Freeman controversy in review, J Youth & Adolescence 29,5:525-38 []

§         DiPaola, K. (2004) Samoa - 'Perle' der deutschen Kolonien? 'Bilder' des exotischen Anderen in Geschichte(n) des 20. Jahrhunderts. PhD Dissertation, University of Maryland (College Park, Md.) []

§         Mead/Freeman controversy:

§         Samoa: A Selected Bibliography (Karen Peacock, May 1997):

§         Margaret Mead:






Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology, Berlin

Last revised: Oct. 2004


[1] Mead, M. (1928a) Samoan children at work and play, Natural Hist 28:626-36 

[2] Mead, M. (1928b) Coming of Age in Samoa. New York: William Morrow. See also Lewandowski, H. (1958) Ferne Länder, Fremde Sitten. Stuttgart: H. Günther Verlag, p133; and Süssmuth, R. (1968) Zur Anthropologie des Kindes. München: Kösel

[3] “[…] souring the village palm groves in search of lovers is one of the recognized forms of amusement for the ten-year-olds”.

[4] Krämer, Au. (1903) Die Samoa-Inseln. Stuttgart: Schweizerbartsche. Vol. II


[6] Shore, B. (1981 [1986]) Sexuality and gender in Samoa: conceptions and missed conceptions, in Ortner, Sh. B. & Whitehead, H. (Eds.) Sexual Meanings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p192-215

[7] Freedman, D. (1983) Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth. Cambridge: HarvardUniversity Press.

[8] Margaret Mead and Derek Freeman: Bibliography of a Controversy (John Laurie, Febr. 1998). Offlined in Growing Up Sexually Digital Archive.

[9] Freeman, D. (1989) Fa’apua’a Fa’amu and Margaret Mead, Am Anthropol 91,4:1017-22; Freeman, D. ([1983] 1996) Margaret Mead and the Heretic: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth. Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin; Freeman, D. (1999) The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead. Boulder, Colo: Westview Press; Freeman, D. (1999) Was Margaret Mead Misled or Did She Mislead on Samoa? Current Anthropol 41,4:609-14 et seq.

[10] Côté, J. E. (1994) Adolescent Storm and Stress: An Evaluation of the Mead/Freeman Controversy. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum

[11] Tcherkézoff, S. (2001a) Le Mythe Occidental de la Sexualité Polynésienne 1928-1999: Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman et Samoa. Paris: PUF [reviewed in French]