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The Oceanic Ethnography of Margaret Mead

Franklin and Marshall College

Margaret Mead did fieldwork in seven Oceanic societies: Samoa, Manus, Arapesh, Mun-
dugumor, Tchambuli, Bali, and Iatmul. Several major concerns that characten'xe all of
her ethnographic work are examined: her conviction that data must be useful; her experi-
mentation with, and desire to improve, methods of ethnographic reportage; her focus on
process and system; the importance of companion; and the interplay between data and
theory. Brief descn$tions of each body of ethnographic material are provided, and special
highlights of each are indicated. [Oceania, ethnography, Margaret Mead]

. . . for the investigator becomes entranced with the beauty and integration of any interwoven
pattern over which many people have worked for generations until all the basting threads have
been removed and the whole, seen abstractly, and seen in varying human representations,gives
the type of fulfillment which one receives from a great work of art. But contemplation of human
culture is specially touched with wonder and hope because a culture is made by all who live
within it, and one learns to trust ordinary men as well as to wait for genius [Mead 1954c:7].

MARGARET MEADWAS ONE of the best ethnographers in the American cultural anthropo-
logical tradition: her fieldwork and published reports stand as models for any beginning
field-worker to follow even today. Though most of her major fieldwork was done in the
1920s and 1930s, her descriptions read as thoroughly modem and contemporary. A r g o -
nauts of the Western Paczyic (Malinowski 1922) could not have been written today; Social
Organization of Manua (Mead 1930a) could have. This is a telling statement about the
standards and brilliance of her work.
Apparent throughout her writings is her fascination with cultural diversity. Clearly,
her first fieldwork in Samoa, her first encounter with another human tradition, had a
profound and lasting impact. One need only compare A n Inquiry into the Question of
Cultural Stability in Polynesia (1928a), a thesis written predominantly before her first
trip, a lackluster exposition of traits (canoes, houses, tattoos) and their travels, with any-
thing written later to see the extent to which human beings and their lives, their cultural
creations, became her central concern. This focus is what gives life to her ethnography, a
vividness unmatched and unrivaled in the professional anthropological literature.
Her ethnography is all the richer because there is much of it; she did fieldwork in seven
Pacific cultures as well as in an American Indian one, and her work is replete with
enlightening and insightful comparisons. The material is diverse and complex. Here I
discuss only the work on the seven Oceanic cultures (including Bali). The first section is
devoted to general topics and issues that permeate all of the material, continuing con-
cerns and characteristics of her ethnography as a whole. The second section examines
separately her descriptions of each culture.

Copyright @ 1980 by the American Anthropological Association




An understanding of several concerns that characterize all of Meads ethnography

heightens our appreciation of her work. I have chosen to discuss the following as most
significant: her conviction that data must be useful; the way in which she presents actual
ethnographic materials; her focus on sociocultural process and system, not structure, and
related interests in change and individual deviation; the importance of comparison; and,
finally, her significant theoretical contributions and comments made within the context
of the ethnography.

Usefulness of Data

The fundamental premise that data are always raw material to be used to further
understanding of human behavior and to improve the quality of life is explicitly behind
all of Meads work and explains its dual nature. Simply, data can be used in two ways: (1)
to enlighten nonanthropologists, educated laypeople, and professionals in other fields,
and to inform social-policy decisions; (2) to provide the material for professional scien-
tific work and theory-building on the nature of human behavior.
Many of Meads ethnographic publications are specifically designed for use by the
general public (e.g., Coming of Age in Samoa [1928b], Growing Up in New Guinea
[ 193Ob1, and Sex and Temperament [ 19351);they are meant to inform and enlighten, to
educate on the nature of human cultural diversity. Further, she holds the mirror in
which we, specifically Americans, might see and understand ourselves better. In Coming
of Age in Samoa (1928b), for example, she informs us that adolescence need not be
traumatic, that such a stormy period is a cultural creation. Her work on Manus (1930b)
provides a platform upon which she makes astute comments on the American educa-
tional system and recommendations for changing it, and allows her to test then-contem-
porary educational theories. She uses ethnographic data to debunk current myths, such
as mother-right (193Ob:66), as well as to illustrate more general theoretical arguments
(see, for example, 1942b, 1946, 1949a, 1959b). Her data, however, are useful as a mirror
not only for us but also for the people studied and the developing countries in which they
live. She does not fear to make recommendations in this direction: she advocates, for ex-
ample, using the best teachers at the early levels in Papua New Guinea schools, rather
than saving them for the secondary levels (1956a:xiv-xv); she makes suggestions on the
establishment of courts in Papua New Guinea (1956a:305); she is critical of the way in
which the Australian colonial government instituted the council system for local govern-
ment in the Admiralty Islands (1956a:413ff). Always aware of the social and political
context within which anthropology is practiced,* she has the main goal of documenting
human plasticity and variability so that we might better understand ourselves: From
these contrasts, which are vivid enough to startle and enlighten those accustomed to our
own way of life and simple enough to be grasped quickly, it is possible to learn many
things . . . (1928b322).
Mead is also keenly aware of the scientific use of data. She frequently makes reference
to other societies as natural laboratories (e.g., 193Ob315-16) but goes beyond by ex-
plicitly ensuring that her data are of use to other, perhaps later, scholars with more ad-
vanced theories. In 1961, in a new preface to Coming of Age in Samoa, she wrote:
. . . but because each generation must begin anew and, in doing so, must stand on the
shoulders of the one before, there is perhaps a continuing usefulness in this book . . . (p.
15). She once chided participants in a conference for being inadequately aware that data
must be in a form useful to researchers in the future (1956b:lOl). She directs readers to
alternative ways of using and analyzing the data she published (e.g., Mead and

Macgregor 1951:60-61), and frequently suggests areas needing future investigation (e.g.,
Most significant is her concern for the precision and accuracy of the data she gathered;
unsound and weak data are of use to no one:
When field data are so good that they can be used retrospectively, especially by other investi-
gators, it is a genuine tribute to the thoroughness of the field-work, and incidentally,a validation
of the accuracy of the cultural interpretations [ 1949b:7-8].
Her concern for exactness relates directly to the second major characteristic of her work,
as discussed below.

Presentation of the Material

Mead is acutely aware that data derived from the study of primitive societies are indeed
a precious commodity; never again might field-workers have access to such human cre-
ations, and each person is obligated to report with scientific precision and completeness.
She presents her material in such a way that it is not only clear but useful to others. Her
own work on Manus can serve as an example. She looks back at her original material in
order to understand the profound changes that had occurred in the 25 years between
field trips. She found The Roots of Change (1956a:138) in her earlier descriptions but
confesses that these facets of Manus culture had not been intelligible then. It was only
later, with more advanced theory as well as the changes, that the earlier relevant data
could be fully meaningful (1956a:lOSff). But she did not ignore or neglect what was puz-
zling: the facts are there, in the published data, for anyone to use.
One of the most striking characteristics of Meads work is that every major body of eth-
nographic material (except the Mundugumor and Tchambuli in Sex and Temperament
[ 19351) contains an explicit statement of methodology. She clearly delineates assump-
tions, aims, and major questions being asked (e.g., 193Ob:205ff; Mead and Macgregor
1951:xi). The focus of each report is clear and the reader knows what, if any, aspects of
the society were ignored or discussed superficially, and why. For example, she tells why
the data on Samoa are not complete: the topic under investigation was puberty and
adolescence, and because she needed strong rapport with a relatively small group, some
topics were ignored and no areal survey was possible (1930a:4-5).3 The methodological
statement is sometimes a simple description of participant observation with additional
detail, such as whether formal interviews were conducted. But, because Mead used so
many new techniques in the field,4 her discussions of methodology are occasionally
elaborate and complex: the use of observation, drawing, ink blots, and stimuli questions
for Manus children (1932:176); a lengthy footnote on the variety of sources of data for
Sepik cultures (1938:lO-lln): a discussion of the nature of sampling, selection, and levels
of abstraction (1940a:207ff); a complex description and discussion on the use of one in-
formant and Rorschach tests (1949b:l-20). The use of the native language, itself a re-
search tool, is always specified (see 1939~).She uses native texts where appropriate (e.g.,
1930a:103-104) and frequently relies on the use of indigenous words and concepts, such
as the Samoan tautala lai titi (talking above ones age), mafaufau (judgment), and
m u m (unwillingness)(1930a:81-82). Readers know the linguistic situation and are ful-
ly informed about the prevalence and use of a lingua franca such as Melanesian pidgin.
Much of the discussion and delineation of methodology is in great detail. She discusses
at length, for example, how she took field notes (e.g., 1940a:209ff). She published ex-
cerpts of her notes and diaries to illustrate method (e.g., Mead 1946:758 [for Manus],
756 [for Bali]; Mead and Macgregor 1951:195-197). In New Lives f o r Old
(1956a:482-489), she compares Manus field notes taken in 1929 with those of 1953,

noting the changes, differences in style, and improvements. She even cites an Arapesh ex-
ample (1949b:53n) of how not to take notes1
In presenting her material accurately and precisely, Mead is a careful and excep-
tionally honest ethnographer. She describes the conditions within which fieldwork was
conducted, including the extent to which the presence of the investigator might warp the
material (e.g., 1947b:127-132). Reasons for choosing a particular field site are explicit
(e.g., 1977:61; 1947b3128-129; 1935:164-165). When photographs are used, especially
where they provide the basis for analysis, as they do for Bali, the reader is told the condi-
tions under which the photographs were taken, who took them, whether they were in any
sense posed, and which if any had been retouched (e.g., 1956a:473-480; Bateson and
Mead 1942:49-52; Mead and Macgregor 1951:55-56). She is also careful to record those
situations in which she intervened (e.g., 1956a:379). When she is unsure of the data, she
explains why (e.g., traditional Samoan religion 1930a:147; Admiralty Island kinship
1934a:338; Arapesh gardening 1938:140, 142; 1947b3141).
One of the most interesting aspects of Meads insistence on accuracy and precision is
the way in which her relationship with her coworker is delineated. Only in Samoa and on
short trips was she alone in the field, and she is careful to describe the composition of,
and division of labor within, the team. She worked with Fortune in Manus, Arapesh,
Mundugumor, and Tchambuli; Bateson in Bali and Iatmul; Schwartz in later work on
ma nu^.^ Who did what is especially clear. In studying the Arapesh, for example, Fortune
(Mead 1938:2) concentrated on linguistics and most aspects of the mens tamberan ac-
tivities; when Mead uses his data, that is so noted (e.g., 1938:63n; 1940a:361n, 403x1,
422n), and likewise for her collaboration with Bateson on Bali (e.g., Bateson and Mead
1942:49-50). When materials are published jointly, who wrote what is also clearly in-
dicated (e.g., Bateson and Mead 1942).
The way in which materials are presented and organized, especially in the mono-
graphs, depends on the purpose of the publication. In those intended primarily for pro-
fessional use, such as Social Organixation of Manua (193Oa), Kinship in the Admiralty
Islands (1934a), and the various monographs on the Arapesh (1938, 1940a, 1947a,b,
1949b), detailed and technical material is of course included in the body of the work. But
in books intended specifically for laypeople, technical material is contained in appen-
dices that provide vast amounts of minute detail. These are best in Coming of Age in
Samoa (1928b) and Growing U p in New Guinea (193Ob). (Unfortunately, Sex and
Temperament [1935] contains no such information.) Aware that such a presentation was
not optimal, Mead later compromised somewhat:
I have experimented in the past with various sorts of complicated methodological appendices in
books designed for the general reader and found them unsatisfactory; the technical reader ig-
nores them and the general reader does not need them. Publishing a schematic census of an en-
tire tribe, as I did in The Changing Culture of an Indian Tribe. using up fourteen good pages, or
the replies of my entire sample to a long check list, as I did in Coming of Age in Samoa, or a list of
householders, as I did in Growing Up in New Guinea, seems always to fall between two stools

Mead experimented with various means of presenting technical ethnographic data.

Those experiments were the result of her desire to increase the accuracy and usefulness of
the data, of theoretical and methodological advances, and of her continual efforts to im-
prove on fieldwork techniques themselves.6 Her presentations of Samoan and Manus data
are relatively traditional; it is in later work, particularly in Arapesh and Bali, that she ex-
perimented radically with the form of ethnographic reportage. In the Arapesh presenta-
tion, she continues to search for a way in which readers with different objectives could use
the material.

I have divided it [the first paper] into two parts: first, a general treatment; and second, I have
presented the detailed material upon which the general statements in the first part of the section
were based. As the mass of ethnographic literature increases, it becomes . . . increasingly un-
justifiable to present the material in systematic reports in such a way that selective reading for the
total cultural emphasis becomes impossible . . . The only way in which material can be so pre-
sented that a student can acquire a real comparative knowledge, is to use the methods which have
already been well established in the experimental sciences, in which it is possible to read an ac-
count of an experiment without ploughing through every detail. Yet, the detail is always there,
ready for the student to turn to at any point (1938:4-5).
She has another motive in dividing the presentation into two parts, a general description
a n d a mass of detail: . . . it is desirable to preserve a formal a n d structural relation-
ship between the raw data and the abstractions drawn from it (1938:96). But the most
significant innovation invoked in the Arapesh material is the publication of Diary of
Events in Alitoa (1947b):
It would have been possible to follow the more conventional usage and illustrate the discussion of
sorcery with examples of sorcery, of kinship, with instances of individual kinship behavior, and of
feasts, with the details of a feast. But this method has two great disadvantages. An event as com-
plicated as a quarrel between kindred in which sorcery is invoked after a feast is in progress has
many facets: the time, its position in a sequence of other quarrels, sorcerizings, and feasts, and
the actors personalities are all significant. All the details classifiable, for purposes of analysis, as
economic or religious behavior are part of a unit to which any illustrative use of an event does
violence. Secondly, any partial use of an event to illustrate first one type of discussion, then
another, necessarily makes for much repetition. The D i a y presentation is designed to obviate all
these difficulties. Every event on which I have detailed material is presented in its proper se-
quence and in context only once, and specific theoretical discussions may be referred to it
[ 1947a:2].

The last publication in this series, The Record of Unabelin with Rorschach Analysis
(1949b), continues the conscious experimentation: it is an account of work done by Mead
with a single informant. She hopes to provide data on . . the degree to which any given

informant distorts his culture in presenting it and . . . on what given identified in-
dividuals think about their culture . . . (p. 6).
The presentation of the Balinese material is even more radical. Accompanying the in-
novative use of photographic methods in doing fieldwork is a n equally innovative way of
using photographic materials as raw data for analysis. Again, the consciousness of experi-
mentation is present:
The form of presentation used in this monograph is an experimental innovation. During the
period from 1928 to 1936 we were separately engaged in efforts to translate aspects of culture
never successfully recorded by the scientist, although often caught by the artist, into some form of
communication sufficiently clear and sufficiently unequivocal to satisfy the requirements of
scientific enquiry. Coming of Age in Samoa, Growing Up in New Guinea, and Sex and
Temperament all attempted to communicate those intangible aspects of culture which had been
vaguely referred to as its ethos. As no precise scientific vocabulary was available, the ordinary
English words were used, with all their weight of culturally limited connotations, in an attempt to
describe the way in which the emotional life of these various South Sea peoples was organized in
culturally standardized forms. This method had many serious limitations: it transgressed the
canons of precise and operational scientific exposition proper to science; it was far too dependent
upon idiosyncratic factors of style and literary skill; it was difficult to duplicate; and it was dlf-
ficult to evaluate [Bateson and Mead 1942:xil.
Bateson and Mead incorporate the best talents of each of them in this innovative experi-
ment: Mead wrote the beginning of Balinese Character, using . . the same order of

vocabulary and the same verbal devices . . . (Bateson and Mead 1942:xii) that she used
in previous ethnographies. Batesons part complements that of Meads: h e applied

I. . . to the behavior depicted in the photographs the same sort of verbal analysis which
he applied to his records of Iatmul transvestitism in Naven,. . . (p. xii). The authors
continue: . . . and the reader will have the photographic presentation itself to unite and
carry further these two partial methods of describing the ethos of the Balinese (pp.
xii-xiii). In this experiment, Bateson and Mead lay open their own methods of analysis
for examination, so that the reader may judge the validity.
Meads deft use of individual examples is also of note. Actual people appear repeatedly
in all of her work; she thought it important to know not only what was done but also who
did it. Often the example is designed to illustrate some general principle but more fre-
quently it involves a deviation, a person or behavior out of the ordinary. Such examples
are always well chosen and, further, are clearly labeled and analyzed as deviants. They
always serve to further the readers understanding of how the culture actually works. One
of Meads greatest talents is using individual situations and people to illustrate the com-
plexity of how general principles work and how the same concept can have differential
impact on people depending on their personalities, histories, or situations. For example,
the concept of rank is critical in Samoa but it affects people, especially children, dif-
ferently as Mead clearly shows by discussing the influence of rank on the children of two
particular households (1928b:49-50).
If Meads data were only useful and accurate, she would be a good ethnographer.
What makes her more than that is the keenness of her observation and insight, the deft-
ness of her description. The ease and grace of her style often mask the subtlety of her
perception, but the observations and perceptions are always insightful, whether she
describes the use of speech as a marker for occasions to begin in Samoa (193Oa:57), or
whether she compares Balinese conceptions of the body to house building:
. . . the construction of a Balinese house-a system of prefabricated independent parts put
together, temporarily, in the house-building-expresses the same attitude that the Balinese
always express towards the human body as a system of independent parts, assembled into one
body but with the assemblage never quite certain [ 1949a:53].
It is this combination of perception with professional attention to accuracy and detail
that makes for superb ethnography.
Pattern and Rocess

One of Meads major interests is in pattern, the regularities in human cultural life.
Although she is concerned with the individual, it is the relationship between individual
and pattern that is of special importance. Child rearing is one aspect of the process by
means of which people incorporate the pattern and thereby become cultured beings. Her
keen sense and use of personality and individual differences only serve to heighten our
awareness of the pattern, its complexity, and the relationship between it and deviation.
Her early article The Role of the Individual in Samoan Culture (1928~) is an example
of this concern. She asks whether cultural flexibility, as manifested in Manua, is a
stimulus for or receptive to individual initiative, and answers negatively: the flexibility
seems to absorb any possible innovation on the part of individuals, and thus the elastic
pattern remains unaffected.
The continual interplay between pattern and individual relates to another striking
characteristic of Meads ethnography: the extent to which her concern is predominantly
with process and system. Her descriptions are never static, always dynamic. Whether she
is discussing the development of personality or the workings of the social structure or in-
deed the interaction between the two, she sees a fluid, dynamic, processual system, some-
thing we are only now beginning to appreciate fully. She perceives human cultures to be
very complex systems composed of a variety of elements: social, political, and economic

structures, personality and ethos, eidos, ideology- all aspects of sociocultural life are
combined in a web of interconnectedness. Her focus on process and system is explicit even
in her early work. In Social Organization of Man- (193Oa:7) she says that the emphasis
of this paper is upon cultural dynamics, the study of social processes rather than the
description of culture traits. When introducing the Arapesh series, she asserts that
I.. . cultures must be treated, not as chance arrays of essentially unrelated traits, but as
highly integrated systems, the student must learn to think comparatively in terms of
systems . . . (1938:5). Because her conception of system is more far-reaching and in-
clusive than mere social structure, she is able to perceive subtle and fascinating relation-
ships between diverse elements. She delineates connections, for example, between the
symbolic richness of a culture and the way in which the stages of child growth are recog-
nized and organized (1947~);between discontinuities in child maturation and a peoples
ability to change (1956a); between the way in which the Balinese conceptualize their
bodies and the way in which they build their houses (1949a; see above).
Meads continuing interest in the discrepancy between ideal cultural formulations and
what actual people do is a significant element in her conceptualization of the system as a
whole. The distinction is so important that it is the central theme in Social Organization
of Manua (193Oa:5). Her most sophisticated statements appear in the Arapesh context:

. . . I have tried to deal with this problem under the concepts of the ideal pattern and sub-
version of the ideal pattern in which the statement of the subversionwas abstracted from an ac-
count of what identified individuals actually had done, as placed in opposition to the articulate
statements of what carriers of that culture should do. When the ideal pattern is close enough to
actual practice so that any deviation from it is noted and commented upon, rationalized, or
deprecated, this subversion concept is relevant. But when every individual is, as a matter of
course, acting very differently from the way in which the articulate forms suggest he should act,
and when such action is not accompanied by any sense of deviation and requires no rationaliza-
tion, the concept of subversion becomes useless [ 1947a:3].

She continues to discuss the permutations possible when this ideal/real discrepancy is
complicated by a consideration of the explicit and implicit aspects of culture.
Mead clearly recognizes that time is also an important dimension in these dynamic
systems. Her discussion and analysis of the Samoan council orfono, for example, demon-
strates that . . . the ideal fixity is continuously subjected to reinterpretation and
change (193Oa:21). She examines the complex operation of the fono through time and
isolates, as one important variable, the divisiveness of childhood peer groups and alle-
giances: this early factionalism is carried into adult life and provides the germ forfono
fission. What she suggests here is something akin to a developmental cycle forfono divi-
sion (1930a:ZZ). She adeptly recognizes the significance of time in Manus as well. Adult
men fall into three general categories (big men, independent men, dependent men),
and she shows how the status of a childs father influences the childs personality. But
time is a critical element: a particular man passes through the stages of dependent and
independent before becoming a big man, and children born to him during these dif-
ferent periods will vary predictably in terms of personality (1934a:292-295;
Mead never neglects the influence of Western contact and colonialization (e.g., 1928b,
1929, 193Ob, 1947a, 1977); change of this sort is a primary interest. There is a con-
siderable range of variation in her ethnographic treatments of change. On the one hand,
there are relatively circumscribed accounts of change in one particular aspect of the
culture, such as the analysis of the profound impact of Western markets on Balinese art
(1959a). On the other, there is the exhaustive, detailed study of radical changes on
Manus spanning almost fifty years (see Mead 1956a; Schwartz 1962).


Mead expressed the importance of comparative material in a letter to Boas in 1938: I

never realized as vividly how very dependent I am in my thinking upon having good com-
parative material always present in my mind (1977:213).
Always attuned to fine cultural differences, Mead carefully differentiates the group
specifically studied from its close neighbors, and thus provides minute and detailed com-
parisons. The differences between Manua and the rest of Samoa are explicit (see,
especially, 193Oa); the Manus culture is clearly a variant within the Admiralty Island
group (e.g., 1934a); Beach, Mountain, and Plains Arapesh are differentiated and de-
scribed (e.g., 1938).
Meads recognition of, and interest in, regional networks leads her to exacting com-
parisons within a culture area, an approach especially appropriate in the Pacific. Her
foremost concern is with influences, relationships, and variations on a general pattern.
She places Samoa, for example, clearly within a Polynesian context and compares it fre-
quently with other Polynesian societies, always aware of its special variations. In discuss-
ing the Samoan concepts of taboo she says that
. . . it is necessary to discover which of those things that the Samoans regard as su (forbidden)
preserve a genuine Polynesian flavor; which show more decided western [Melanesian] affiliations;
and how Samoa has reinterpreted these general Oceanic, these specific Polynesian attitudes
[ 1930a:1171.
She extends the comparison of western Polynesia and Melanesia in Kinship in the A d -
miralty Islands (1934a:SlO). Her early discussion of the Sepik basin (1938:8-62; see
below) still offers insights to those working in the area.*
The most significant use of comparative material is to highlight cultural variation by
contrasting diverse constellationsand to evolve theories and generalizations about human
behavior. For these purposes Mead often uses her own field materials (surely the jwtapo-
sition and comparison in Sex and Temperament [ 19351 is striking) or other Oceanic data,
but she does not restrict herself to one area. If one is to . . . think comparatively in
terms of systems . . . (1938:5), then the systems being used are not geographically de-
fined or restricted. She compares, for example, Arapesh affective coherence with
Murngin cognitive coherence (1940a:238n). Such insightful comparisons are inter-
woven throughout her ethnography.


Mead does not hesitate to make theoretical comments whenever appropriate: indeed,
she is continually aware of the very close interplay between data and whatever we con-
clude from them.g Critical theoretical points, of course, are her emphasis on process and
system; the discrepancy between the real and the ideal; ethos, eidos, and the relationships
among these within the context of system. And there are others.
Mead is among the first to emphasize the importance of network and to question the
validity of basing ethnographic work strictly on a society or community. This is
especially true of her work among the Arapesh (e.g., 1947a:83; 1937a:36). She articu-
lates the earlier groping for a network concept in the 1968 preface to the Arapesh series:
when this monograph was written, we still attempted to treat villages or clusters of villages whose
members spoke a common language as to some extent analogous to that .hoary unit of primitive
society-now somewhat in disrepute-the tribe. It was clear that it was impossible to bound the
Arapesh as a distinct group, but it was not so clear then as it is now that in New Guinea and many
other parts of Melanesia, we should be dealing with villages simply as focal points in areal net-
works in almost every respect [1938:~ii].~
286 AMERICAN A N T H R 0POL OGIS T [82, 1980

Although economic systems were certainly not a primary interest to her, she makes
significant observations about their nature, especially Melanesian ones. She draws an
analogy between Manus marriage payments and investing (1930b:70n), discusses the
significance of compulsive barter in the Manus scarcity economy (1934a: 190), and sug-
gests similarities between Arapesh exchange partners (buanyin) and banking
(1947a:73-74, 122).
In what almost seem to be tangential asides, she makes considerable contributions to
the study of kinship. She asserts that behavior, not genealogical position alone, defines
Manus kinship (1934a:m -323) and tries to grapple with the nature of complementary
filiation without the concept (1934a:229-233). She addresses Radcliffe-Browns
hypothesis on the roles of mothers brother and fathers sister in patrilineal societies, sen-
sibly noting that the Manus fathers sister is as indulgent as the father (1934a:355-356)
but that among the Arapesh,
the special warmth of this tie [with mothers brother] cannot be attributed . . . to an extension
of a wanner attitude toward the mother than toward the father, an explanation which fits so
many primitive cases so perfectly, because among the Arapesh there is no differentiation either in
the ethos of men and of women or in the attitude of a man toward his own or his sisters child
She offers insights into the continuing extension versus category controversy sur-
rounding kinship terminology: in Manus, the extensionist argument is appropriate but
the categorical approach meshes better with the Samoan data (1934a).
One of the most interesting theoretical contributions Mead makes in her ethnographies
is the recognition that human cultures may indeed be integrated systems but that they
may also embody tensions and internal contradictions. She compares Samoa, Tonga, and
Fiji in terms of the way in which each manifests a tension between two contrasting prin-
ciples, locality and descent group, and maintains a delicate (but different) balance be-
tweer. the two (1934a:310-311).
Meads data provide grist for a variety of theoretical mills but her own use of the data is
often sophisticated and frequently avant-garde. Additional theoretical contributions
contained within the ethnography, such as the nature of Arapesh symbolism and
thought, are apparent in the specific discussions below.


Space does not permit a complete summary of the ethnography of all seven societies.
Here I provide only a general description and discuss some special highlights of each.


Mead did fieldwork in Samoa, primarily on the island of Tau, in the Manua Ar-
chipelago, for nine months in 1925-26. There are two major publications of the data:
Coming of Age in Samoa (1928b) and Social Organization of Manua (193Oa). Additional
data can be found in articles specifically relating to Samoa as well as in comparative
and general works.14
The specific goal of the research was to study adolescence, and much of the data per-
tain to a sample of 50 girls from 3 villages. But Mead is careful to publish significant
ethnological material as well, to place the girls in an appropriate context, and to provide
information and data for other scholars. Social Organization of Manua is a good basic
ethnography and includes discussion of each of the following: social structure; the
organization of the villages and districts; the fono; ranking and titles; political organiza-

tion; descent and kinship relationships; residence and the importance of locality; mar-
riage; ceremonials; ideology; economic organization and the division of labor; affect;
death; kava; tapu; dreams; and more. When read in combination with Coming of Age in
Samoa, in which she uses a developmental approach and stresses child rearing and per-
sonality, the organization of Manua is clear.
Several aspects of Meads presentation are worthy of special note. She depicts Samoa as
a dynamic system characterized by great flexibility. Of interest is her awareness of
dynamic tension within the social system, particularly that between descent groups and
political groups based on locality. Political organization centered on thefono, a hierar-
chical series of councils composed of titled men (especially chiefs and talking chiefs).
Mead contrasts this organization with that of the descent group and shows clearly how the
two interact dynamically over time. She further suggests that a gradual shift was occur-
ring on several levels, increasing the importance of locality and decreasing the
significance of kinship principles. As the neighborhood is a dynamic factor in the
political structure, so the household, the residential unit, asserts itself over against the
relationship group (1930a:23). She discusses the ways in which the fono (especially the
talking chiefs; see below) had been assuming the various powers and roles traditionally
(or ideally?) belonging to kinship groupings and concludes:
In all of these instances, the origin of the political structure, both intravillage and intervillage,
must be seen not only in the gradual assertion of the principle of locality against the principle of
relationship, but also in the translation of the ideology of the blood group into political terms

Meads description of the pattern of Samoan culture and the ways in which Samoans
manipulate it is excellent. Samoans seem to be preoccupied with pattern and she stresses
its importance and how it is manifested in various ways: Coupled with the feeling that
those things done within the pattern are important . . . goes a complementary feeling
that those things done alone are at least suspect . . . (193Oa:81); In their personal rela-
tions the pattern is a dominant force (p. 83); Only as individuals, places, or occasions
are given importance by this peculiar social sanction [a place within the pattern], must
they be treated with respect . . . (p. 125). Work, personality, social relationships-all
are affected by the pattern (pp. 83-84). The interest in pattern is an overriding concern:
I. . . social organization is the principal preoccupation in Samoa . . . (1928c:481). It
allows for a special disassociation between the individual and his or her place within the
pattern, a critical facet of Samoan society (1937c:286).
The pattern, of course, sets limits and might lead to a perception of Samoa as a rigid
society; indeed, it is static in terms of individual behavior: this picture of an ideal pat-
tern to which each individual approximates as best he may is a curiously static one
(19SOa:82). But Mead demonstrates that the Samoans dont just fit themselves into the
pattern, within limits they play with it. In some passages the Samoans appear to be
natural bricoleurs:
. . . the highest pitch of etiquette is reached not by observing the fixed procedure, but by point-
edly reversing or rearranging it. One of the principal reasons for knowing who should receive the
kava cup is so that one may honour another by giving it to him instead. In this dexterous,
graceful play with social forms the Samoans find their chief artistic expression. In the more
serious manipulation of the social structure, for purposes of economic gain or political ambition,
lies the most powerful dynamic force in Samoan society [ 1928c:493-494].
This tendency is clear in ceremonials: never . . . does an item of general ceremonial
behavior lose its individuality in a larger pattern (1930a:55) - these items are always
separable and are continually being recombined in new ways, to the delight of the Sa-
moans. It is also present in the dance: every dance is believed to be idiosyncratic within a
288 AMERICAN A N T H R 0POL OGIS T [82, 1980

series of known patterns . . . (1937c:311). Samoans have an . . aptitude for manipu-

I .

lating ideas, and moving things and persons about in a schematic and ideal chess
board . . . (193Oa:147).
One of the major elements in this pattern is a concern with hierarchy. Samoans have a
. . . tendency to reinterpret each situation in terms of a hierarchy . . (1937c:286);

the continual recombination of units in a cooperative hierarchical scheme is charac-

teristically Samoan . . . (1937c:291). The structural organization of the fono is a model
that is duplicated in other areas:
the arrangement of the fono is reduplicated three times: for the wives of matais [title-holders,
household heads]; for the untitled men, the aumaga; and less elaborately for the unmarried girls,
wives of untitled men, and widows who constitute the aualuma [1930a:13].
Recognition of this reduplication of the same structural pattern is an important element
in Meads description of Samoan culture.
The analysis of economic transactions is subtle and complex. A central exchange is be-
tween affines, or itu. In addition to land (fianuu),there are only two kinds of property:
bridewealth (oloa), composed primarily of pigs and other foods, and dowry (toga),
primarily mats and bark cloth (1937c:293; 1930a:70). Affinal transactions occur not only
at marriage but relate the two groups permanently and continue even after divorce
(1930a:75-76). The most highly institutionalized reciprocity lies between the two itzcs,
the two descent groups which are a party to marriages, births, and deaths. Their func-
tions as givers of toga and givers of oloa are clearly defined (1930a:62). A mans
economic well-being depends on a balance in these affinal ties, receiving toga for oloa in
some relationships, oloa for toga in others (1937c:294; 193Oa:76). Even adoption can be
incorporated into this pattern: . . . in western Samoa a child was frequently adopted by
its paternal aunt and was regarded as toga for which oloa was given in return
(193Oa:gl). What is especially interesting here is that the affinal relationship is
duplicated in the relationship between chiefs and their talking chiefs: the exchange of
toga and oloa between affinal relatives is reflected in the exchanges between chiefs and
talking chiefs, in which the chiefs always give toga and the talking chiefs give oloa
(1937c:294). The deft observation and analysis do not end here, however, for Mead sug-
gests that this dichotomy is related to that between two kinds of relatives: in less institu-
tionalized ways there is close parallelism between the relationship of talking chiefs and
chiefs, and the relationship between tama fafine [mothersside] and tama tune [fathers
side] groups (1930a:28-29).13 The association of talking chiefs and matrilateral ties is
clear (e.g., they were gradually assuming the veto power restricted to the tama fafine
[1930a:26]); as the locality structure nudged that of descent, the talking chiefs fell easily
into the position of tama fafine. One is tempted to carry Meads analysis one step further
and suggest that talking chiefs, who act as matrilateral relatives and give dowry-all
products associated with and made by women (1937c:294)-in some way embody or s y m -
bolize the female in Samoan society, and that chiefs do the same for the male. That such
a temptation exists is a powerful compliment to Meads skill and perception.


Meads fieldwork on Manus, one of the Admiralty Islands off the northern coast of
New Guinea, spanned over forty years; the two main periods were December through
June 1928-29 (with Reo Fortune) and June through December 1953 (with Theodore and
Lenora Schwartz), but she also visited there in 1964, 1965, and 1975. There are three
main publications by Mead on the Manus: Growing V p in New Guzitea (1930b), Kinship
in the Admiralty Islands (1934a), and New Lives f o r Old (1956a). Many other materials

InailUte for Intercultural Studin

Margaret Mead and Re0 Fortune during their fieldwork in Manus, 1928.

are available in articles dealing predominantly with the Manus* as well as in com-
parative and general publication^.'^ Publications by her coworkers add to the total cor-
pus of material available.16
The specific research problem that took Mead to Manus was to study the nature and
extent of animistic thought among primitive children (1932). If, as many at the time
suggested, primitive thought was comparable to the thought of civilized neurotics and
children, what were the characteristics of the thought of primitive children? She uses
what were then very sophisticated psychological techniques and her conclusion is
negative: Manus children exhibit no tendency to think animistically, and in fact react
against such interpretations when presented with them. The most interesting aspect of
the analysis is Meads explanation of how and why Manus adults think in terms of
animism whereas the children do not (1932:186-189).
The Manus ethnography is full and rich. The descriptions of Manus ethos and child
rearing are good, especially analysis of the interaction between ethos, the family, and
religion. Mead cites Fortunes work on the relationship between the two major religious
cults and the two kinds of kinship groups with which they are associated (1934a) and
suggests an intimate psychodynamic connection between the traditional family and
religion: The Manus attitude towards the spirits is a composite of the attitudes of the
child towards the father and of a man towards his children (1930b387). The monograph
on kinship (1934a), written in response to a reviewer of Growing U p in New Guinea who
asserted that she didnt understand the kinship system (1977:101), is one of the most de-
tailed ever published on a Melanesian society.
Meads description of the interaction of economics and kinship is an especially dynamic
one. In traditional Manus society, kinship ideally provided the structure for social action.
Patrilineal clan membership was complemented by significant ties to matrilateral and af-
final kin.
The ideal marriage in Manus is arranged by child betrothal between the children of two male
cross-cousins, or of two cross-cousinswho are fathers sisters daughter and mothers brothers son
to each other . . . The crora-cousin of the female line, lorn pezn, is said to make the road. He ini-
tiates the marriage negotiations on behalf of a male child, demanding a female child from lorn
kamal [ 1934a:t28].
Marriages were the bases for extensive affinal exchanges that took place on several occa-
sions (e.g., betrothal, brides first menstruation, marriage, birth [ 1934a:318]) and car-
ried through to the next generation: If the ideal marriage plans were followed out, and
true cross-cousins were pataran, economic exchange partners who initiate a marriage,
their sons would inherit their fathers relationship to one another (1934a:296). Such is
only the ideal:
. . . thus, by the provisions of the kinship system, each adult male would be involved in a series of
affinal exchanges, in which he would be called upon to contribute perishable goods if he is on the
brides side and imperishable wealth if he is on the bridegrooms side. These exchanges he would
make, in the name of his own marriage, with his brother-in-law, and, in the name of his childs
marriage, with his cross-cousin.Were the kinship system adhered to in these exchanges, it would
mean that a mans position depended upon birth, since the size of the exchanges he could make
would be entirely dependent upon the economic possessions of the designated relatives, his
brother-in-law and his cross-cousin. For exchanges must be equal. In order, however, to allow an
individual full rein for his capabilities, that he should not be confined and restricted by the acci-
dent of birth, the Manus, while still giving lip service to the kinship system, carry out another,
more congenial, arrangement of affinal exchange [ 1937b:214].
In reality the Manus deviate considerably from these ideals and stress the importance
of individualism, wealth, trade, and exchange. It is true that they make . . . the affinal
exchange system a pivotal point in their culture (1934a:316), but to accomplish that the
McDowell] OCEANIC E T H N O G R APH Y 291

importance of consanguineal ties is reduced and flexibility is introduced in several ways.

The ideal is that parents initiate the betrothal and accompanying exchanges, but
parent is defined to include classificatory mothers and fathers as well as those acquired
through adoption. Thus a man can easily initiate a betrothal for children other than his
own actual sons and daughters should he desire to do so. Another source of elasticity is
that . . . the category of a mans children is expanded to include any younger person in
his own, his mothers, his wifes, or other related family line for whom he cares to become
responsible in terms of the affinal exchange system . , . (1934a:327). A final critical fac-
tor is the disassociation of the one who made the road, i.e., the actual parent or relative
involved, and the one who did the financing:

This disassociation has been carried to the most extreme lengths. Actually, in practice, anyone
can make a road for anyone else. Roads can be made nominally by small children for anyone else.
A man may get a distant connection on his mothersside to make a road, along which he finances
the marriage of a young distant connection on his fathers side [1934a:328].

These avenues for individual initiative in arranging and financing marriages provide the
space needed for the development of big men, and the result is that a few aggressive ini-
tiating men finance half the marriages in the community . . . (1934a:328). Mead
carefully and deftly shows how the Manus concern with wealth, trade, and exchange
meshes with and occasionally overshadows the ideals of kinship. She is not led astray by
simple structural and ideological statements.
A second special aspect of this ethnography is the way in which Mead relates personali-
ty structure to the social changes that occurred over the period. Manus is the best and
most fully documented case of radical culture change in the anthropological literature.
Growing U p in New Guinea (1930b) and Kinship in the Admiralty Islands (1934a)
describe in detail traditional Manus culture as Mead and Fortune found it in 1929. When
Mead returned, with Ted and Lenora Schwartz in 1954, Manus had changed con-
siderably: the lagoon houses were gone, replaced by rows of houses on the land; formerly
separate villages and groups were combined; large-scale exchanges were no longer held;
male-female relations had changed drastically; the old avoidances, especially between af-
fines, had vanished; kin terminology had been altered; there were informal courts and
village meetings; the old tyrannical and moralistic Sir Ghosts had been replaced by the
Manus own version of Christianity; there was more laughter and less anger; in short, the
Manus had changed their whole pattern significantly in an extraordinarily short period.
Because data existed for Manus in 1929, Mead is able to trace actual individuals
through this period of radical change and she provides incomparable data on the general
process. She discusses and analyzes how these changes occurred and how a complex set of
factors, including historical accident, is relevant. One of the main questions she asks,
however, is that, if there is some connection between social form and character structure,
how can a people, the same individuals, completely change the former and institute
totally new social patterns?
One of the most important aspects of Meads answer to that question concerns the rela-
tionship between character structure and the potential for change. This question hadnt
occurred to her during the first field trip: it was assumed that gradual, slow change was
the rule, and she clearly would not have predicted any radical changes for Manus. What
was lacking, she states, were important theoretical tools, specifically the relationship be-
tween . . . type of personality and politics (1956a:106) and a general theory of
character formation (1956a:108). Mead had seen a significant discontinuity in tradi-
tional Manus society between childhood and adult experience but, because the
theoretical concepts were not available, failed to realize its potential for change: What I

lacked was any clear theory of how the presence within the adult character of this ex-
perience of discontinuity would function in implementing change (1956a: 108).
It is precisely in this discontinuity between the world of children and that of adults that
Mead finds the mechanisms for change within a single generation. Manus culture laid
heavily on the adults, and the children were loath to enter as full citizens. Items that
puzzled Mead earlier, such as the lack of imitation of adult activity in the play of
children, became comprehensible when she realized the significance of the discontinuity:
the adults communicated to the children their dislike of much cultural behavior, and,
when presented with possible alternatives, the young adults were quick to conceptualize
the avenues to change:
. . . this lack of either imitative or real participation in the whole superstructure of adult life
seemed to me in 1929 to be one of the reasons why Manus adolescents hated to play a role in adult
life, and assumed their responsibilities so ungraciously, one of the reasons why such strong sanc-
tions were required to bring them into line. I did not, however, realize the opposite and
reciprocal point: that this very hatred which adolescents and young adults expressed toward the
social superstructure might be one of the conditions which led to the childrens refusal both to
participate in and to re-enact the adult ceremonies. When the extent of the adult rejection of
their adult roles is taken into account, and the extent of the childrens identification with their
fathers, then the relationship between the two superficially contrasting positions becomes clear
Mead goes on to analyze carefully and precisely just how this discontinuity played a
significant role in Manus culture change, and indicates a critically important distinction
between form and content:
When the young middle-aged men in their early thirties succeeded in building their New Way,
they were doing two things which were wholly congruent with their childhood rearing. In the first
place, they were copying reality as they had experienced it, rearranging a series of elements . . .
In the second place, they showed a continued rejection of the traditional adult way of life which
they had learned from their elders to hate and chafe under. Neither activity was new in form; on-
ly the content was new [1956a:369-370].

A rapesh

Mead did fieldwork in the Mountain Arapesh village of Alitoa from December 1931
through August 1932. The result is her most extensive and complete body of ethno-
graphic material. In addition to the substantial section of Sex and Temperament (1935)
that is devoted to the Arapesh, she published five monographs: I. A n Importing Culture
(1958); II. Supernaturalism (1940a); III. Socioeconomic Life (1947a); I V . Diary of
Events in Alitoa (1947b); and V . The Record of Unabelin (1949b). She also wrote several
articles predominantly about the Arapesh and included data on them in several general
and comparative works as well. l 9 Fortunes published material on the Arapesh provides
additional depth and perspective.40
She went to her first mainland New Guinea society to investigate the relationship be-
tween sex and personality. She left the Arapesh with the awareness that male and female
temperaments were substantially the same despite contrasting sex roles, etc. (1935). But
she also left with a vast amount of detailed ethnographic material. Perhaps that is the
most significant thing about the Arapesh ethnography: the wealth of minute detail pub-
lished and available for future work and analysis. The first volume of the series (1938) is a
detailed and complete analysis of material culture and the Sepik basin in general; it con-
tains precise descriptions of such activities as house building and clothing manufacture as
well as an explicit inventory not only of what the Arapesh make but also what they im-
port, from where, and how. The second, on supernaturalism (1940a), is a discussion of

cosmology, ritual, and belief; it includes detailed descriptions of significant aspects of

Arapesh culture such as conceptions of blood, the antipathy between sex and growth, the
use and importance of food in Arapesh ideology, and affective organization. Kinship and
social and economic organization are the subjects of the third volume (1947a).
The last two volumes on the Arapesh are the least traditional. I know of no publication
comparable to the Diuy (1947b; see above). It not only is a n exact recording of all events
she observed in Alitoa between June 28 and August 16, 1932, but also includes the follow-
ing: a description of the conditions under which fieldwork was conducted (p. 127ff); a
map and table (for Alitoa) of house type, owner, owners clan, occupancy, and use (pp.
145-149); a complete description of everyone in the village, including marital history and
political significance (p. 150ff); a census of all men who had working experiences away
from the village (p. 195ff); precise relationships among all social groups (including a list
of actual ties between individuals of different clans) (pp. 199-205); a summary of specific
ties the residents had with people in other localities (pp. 205-212). The volume ends with
a Tabular and Analytical Treatment of Alitoa Data (p. 462ff) that contains a complete
census (including interrelationships, clan membership, hamlet affiliation) and in-
valuable raw data on religious aspects of Arapesh life (e.g., a list of marsalai places: lists
of omens, portents, and charms; a census of outstanding sorcery exuviae; a list of herbs
planted in the village) as well as social (e.g., tabular analysis of marriage) and economic
data (e.g., ownership and outstanding debts and obligations). The last of the series
(1949b), an extensive presentation of the materials from one informant, Unabelin, is
singularly valuable in understanding theoretical problems and methodological
possibilities as well as providing an individuals perspective on his own culture.
It is especially in the Arapesh material that Meads orientation toward system deserves
special mention. Perhaps it was the nature of the Arapesh themselves, fragmented and
fluid, continually interacting with those around them, who think . . . from a point out-
ward and never [look] at themselves as a whole (1947a:17) who triggered the emphasis,
but Mead was, given her earlier work on Samoa and Manus, quick to recognize the
significance of areal networks and the superiority of that concept as an ethnographic
tool. She clearly places the Mountain Arapesh in context and delineates their connections
with neighboring groups. She goes further, however, and discusses the general charac-
teristics of what is probably the Sepik region as a whole (1938:l-62) and traces major
routes of importation and influence. She shows how some specific group, such as the
Arapesh, can take a general idea or custom prevalent in the area and incorporate it,
adapt it to the societys own ethological emphases. A superficial reading of these descrip-
tions would leave one with the impression that she is discussing a simple case of diffusion
of culture traits within a culture area, and indeed she occasionally uses such language,
but she is seeking something more subtle and far more complex. She utilizes, certainly,
aspects of the diffusionist approach and cites another way of viewing regional variation,
. . . Radcliffe-Brownswork on Australian kinship, demonstrating the way in which the
same principles produce similar forms in different kinship systems in various parts of
Australia (1938:4). In her early groping for a way in which to view this variation, one
can see the influence of American cultural anthropology on Lhi-Strauss:
It is characteristicof the diversity of this region that contrastingforms of this dynamic opposition
[between male and female] should occur. Among the Urat, directly north of the Arapesh, the
emphasis has been reversed and yams are felt as dangerous to women, rather than women as
dangerous to yams [1938:31].
This same instability of direction of symbolic emphasis is shown in the matter of the sacred flutes.
Mr. Bateson found that the Iatmul flutes are undoubtedly phallic symbols, even to the copulatory
rhythm in the flute music, and that they may be regarded as symbolic of the entire male ethos.
294 AMERICAN A N T H R 0POL OGIST [82, 1980

Among the Mundugumor, however, a sacred flute, with a carved head representing a crocodile,
was the valuable dowry of the eldest daughter of a rope,and an eloping girl took pains to steal
her sacred flute when she fled with her lover. Among these people also, the dangerous symbol
which can never be seen by women without doing them damage is an elaborate carving of a
snake. The men dance with these carvings between their legs and they are sometimes placed in
fishing ditches of the enemy to do damage to their women. The type of double twist in symbolism
which may occur is also illustrated in the Arapesh taboo upon the eel. It is ritually tabooed to
boys during their period of growth; to the fathers of newly born children; to men who have killed;
and to men who have just made a ceremonial presentation of yams to the community. Here the
danger situation has been made specific to the male sex and their own virility is the danger
against which the Arapesh males must be guarded during ntes de passage [1938:31-32, all em-
phases except on males added].
The idea is explicitly stated in another context:
This age opposition illustrates particularly well what may be said to be an apparently fundamen-
tal aspect of this whole region. The most widespread traits cannot be traced to diffused com-
plexes of traits, but rather to the presence of underlying ideas of such a general character that
any one of them can occur in a given locale in a positive or negatiueform. So the contrast between
men and women, which is perhaps the most basic idea of the region, may be expressed in friendly
and solicitous terms, or in terms of sex hostility . . . [1938:38-39,emphasis added].
There are several other fascinating aspects of Meads description of the Arapesh. One
is the way in which kinship relations are used as models for intervillage alliances and
trading partnerships (e.g., see 1938:190; 1937a:X); another is her characterization of
Arapesh kinship ties as being of two types, those based on direct descent and a connection
of same sex links, and those based on cross sex ties (e.g., 1947a:39-40). Of particularly
special interest is the analysis of Arapesh ethos or affective tone and style. Readers of only
Sex and Temperament (1935) are familiar with her description of ethos, of nurturant
and mild adults of both sexes, but may be unaware of how she handles the concept and
materials in other contexts. Almost casually, she makes the profound suggestion that the
Arapesh conceptualize and experience things affectively rather than cognitively:
The fundamental premises of Arapesh culture are organized on an affective, rather than upon a
cognitive, basis. Two things are associated, or stand for one another, in myth or rite, not because
of some logical connection, but because both are symbols of the same emotional attitude. Only by
tracing each symbol to its emotional background is it possible to understand its relationship to
other symbols occurring in the culture. Arapesh thinking may be said to resemble the kind
underlying artistic work as opposed to that fundamental to scientific work . . . Affective think-
ing . . . occurs at every age and at every level of social integration. It is probable, however, that
cultures differ very much in the extent of their dependence upon one type of thinking or the
other, and in the way in which they combine the two types [ 1940a:237-238].
It is within this context of affectivity that Arapesh myths, for example, acquire meaning,
rather than in a cosmological or cognitive one: . . . myths provide the clues to an affec-
tively organized system rather than to a logical frame of reference (1940a:248).
Mead also invokes ethos as a significant factor in Arapesh deviations from their own
formulated ideals. It is the characteristic Arapesh affective organization, a stress on
mutual helping and a concern for nurturing and growing, that makes Arapesh behavior
seem contradictory to their ideals:
But in order to derive a full understanding of the way in which Arapesh actual behavior modifies,
distorts, and completely changes the formal phrasings of the culture, it is necessary to record and
analyze a large amount of individual behavior. Only then can we understand that institutional
behavior can be habitually rendered innocuous through the existence of personality standards
which negate their formal intent but are present in full force, to be invoked by all the individuals
whose personalities have assumed the typical Arapesh mold . . . What we have to record,
therefore, is no subversion of one form by another, but the continuing, inexplicit, inarticulate

subversion of the intent explicit in a form by the actual intent of the individuals whose behavior
embodies that form [ 1947a:7].
She also shows how ethos and individual personality affect the tamberan cult
(1947a:4-5), economic cooperation, gardening, and work groups (1947a:95), and kin-
ship ties (1947b3204). Thus, ethos is a significant factor in the complex nature of the en-
tire sociocultural system.

Mundugumor and Tchambuli

Mead and Fortune left the Arapesh and went to Kinakatem, a Mundugumor village on
the banks of the Yuat River (a lower Sepik tributary), where they did fieldwork for three
and one-half months in the autumn of 1932. Compared with the ethnographies discussed
above, the data on the Mundugumor are relatively thin. The major source of information
is the section in Sex and Temperament (1935); other data appear in her discussion of the
Sepik region, and in general and comparative works.42Although Sex and Tempera-
ment is designed for use by the general public, no appendices appear and there is no
technical publication devoted predominantly to the Mundugumor .93
The thinness of the data is, however, only relative; what is most striking about Meads
Mundugumor ethnography is the amount of material gathered in such a short time. The
general outlines of Mundugumor social structure are known, if not in detail. Her descrip-
tion of ethos is vivid and appropriate for other upper-Yuat River group^;^' they are in-
deed volatile, aggressive, harsh, and individualistic. Mead went to Mundugumor to ac-
quire additional data on the relationship between sex and temperament, and found that
although the Mundugumor ethos differed strikingly from that of the Arapesh, a similari-
ty did exist: in neither place was there a sexual difference in terms of temperament.
Of special interest is the way in which Mead perceives the role of deviants. If all Mun-
dugumor approximated their own ideals, it is difficult to see how the society could func-
tion. It is an irony that the gentle allow for maintenance of the aggressive:
. . . in actual practice there are a fair number of sheep in the society, men to whom pride,
violence, and competitiveness do not appeal. Because of these men a certain number of rules are
kept, and so are passed on to the next generation; some families of sisters are equally divided
among brothers, the dead are mourned for, children are fed. When the proud polygynist quar-
rels with the son whose sister he is about to use in exchange for a wife for himself, the son can take
refuge with one of these milder men. The atmosphere of struggle and conflict would become
unbearable and actually impossible to maintain if it were not for them, for each man would have
only an army of one to put in the field. Instead of complicating the social life by taking up posi-
tions that are confusing and unintelligible, as do the misfits among the Arapesh, they actually
make possible the violent competitive life that is really so uncongenial to them [ 1935:226-2271.
When Mead and Fortune left the Mundugumor, they proceeded to the Tchambuli (or
Chambri) people who live on a lake connected to the Sepik by waterways, and remained
there for the first few months of 1933. Published material is even less abundant on the
Tchambuli than on the Mundugumor. A small segment of Sex and Temperament is
devoted to them and they receive even fewer references in Meads general and compara-
tive The material is fascinating, however, and provides the essential contrast with
Arapesh and Mundugumor. There is a difference between male and female ethos here,
but it is an unexpected one: men and women almost seem to reverse the Americanpat-
tern. Meads analysis of the developmental difficulties of Tchambuli boys is excellent.
Despite the scarcity of published material, again what is surprising is the amount of
usable data available. Gewertz (n.d.) was able to use Meads data in combination with
her own field observations in analyzing the complex historical changes that have occurred
in the relationship between Chambri men and women.

Gregory Batcson

Margaret Mead in Bali. 1937.


Bali and Iatmul

Mead and Bateson did intensive fieldwork on Bali from March 1936 through March
1938, and again for six weeks in 1939, in a variety of cultural settings (Bateson and Mead
1942:xiv). They published no general ethnography of Bali, probably because an exten-
sive body of literature already existed and has certainly been expanded recently. Two
monographs did result (Bateson and Mead 1942; Mead and Macgregor 1951) as well as a
number of articles on specific topics.46 Mead uses the Balinese data in a number of
general and comparative works.27
The most significant aspect of the Balinese material is the use of photographs (over
25,000 stills) and film (about 22,000 feet of 16-mm film) for analysis, not merely illustra-
tion. This experiment is noted above, and here it only needs to be mentioned that these
basic photographic materials are used in a variety of ways and settings, particularly in the
monographs, in articles (e.g., 1946), and in talks and lectures (e.g., 1942a, 1940~).It is
an experimental method designed specifically to increase the accuracy and ensure the ob-
jectivity of analysis, to separate raw data from the field-workers analysis.**
Meads publications on the Balinese exhibit her usual keen grasp of the subtlety of
culture and contain insightful observation and analysis. Her discussion of how the
Balinese lack of climax is instilled in children is excellent (e.g., Mead 1942a:59;
Bateson and Mead 1942:32) as is the way in which she weaves theater and drama into her
descriptions (see especially Bateson and Mead 1942:l-48). She captures a variety of com-
plex behavior with the perfect juxtaposition of words: As Americans doodle on a piece of
paper while attending to the words of a lecture, so the Balinese doodles in words, while
his body flawlessly and quickly attends to the job in hand (Bateson and Mead 1942:15).
Mead and Bateson found themselves with a body of data, particularly photographic
material, that was so detailed, extensive, and innovative that no other body of data ex-
isted with which they could compare it. So in 1938 they spent eight months in the Iatmul
village of Tambanum, on the Sepik River, to acquire comparable data. Bateson had
worked among the Iatmul before and had published significant work on them.29Some of
the Iatmul photographic materials have been published (e.g., Mead 1946) although not
systematically or thoroughly. Mead never published a major work on them but uses the
data primarily for comparative purpose^.'^ Although it is unfortunate that more of this
material has not been published, one can be assured that the data do exist for the use of
scholars in the future.


One of the goals of ethnography must be that of cultural translation; no one has yet
surpassed Meads abilities to communicate the essence, the touch, smell, and feel of the
totality of another way of life as well as its structure and organization. An intuitive em-
pathy pervades her work and conveys a sense that the people are indeed living human be-
ings deserving of respect and concern. It is not only the ethnographer who . . . becomes
entranced with the beauty and integration . . . or the aesthetic creation of another peo-
ple, but the reader as well.
But contemplation of human culture is specially touched with wonder and hope because a cul-
ture is made by all who live within it, and one learns to trust ordinary men as well as to wait for
genius [ 1954c: 71.


Many of Meads works have appeared in various editions: citing the specific edition used in

preparation of this paper, including the year of its publication, would not convey the appropriate
historical context. I have therefore compromised: the year refers to the date of first publication and
the page number is that of the specific edition used (cited fully in the reference list).

* See, for example, the introduction to New Livesfor Old (1956a) or the first chapter of Growth
and Culture (Mead and Macgregor 1951).

Meads standards are high; all ethnographies stress some aspects of the society at the expense of
others: she, however, is much more explicit than is typical.

Mead recognizes the progress that anthropologists have made, and she places her own work in
The original work on Manus, . . . was a first attempt to do systematic work on young children in a
primitive culture, and was among the first studies in which ethnologists learned to speak the
native language. It was a first attempt to handle a single community and its entire population
and even sequence over a definite period of time . . . Moreover, it was a first attempt to use pro-
jective tests, to make a systematic use of childrens drawings, and to project the pattern of in-
terpersonal relationships in the childrens group into the future. Photographic methods were
limited to still photographs taken for purposes of illustration . . . The methodological impor-
tance for personality study of verbatim recording of large blocks of verbatim material had not
been recognized. There were no motion pictures, no tape recordings, no projective tests except
those that I devised myself on the spot, no systematic approach to nonverbal behavior. Most of
the significant conceptions of the culture and personality approach were still to be developed . . .

It is clear, however, that the work with the Tchambuli was influenced by Bateson. He was, at
the time, working among the nearby Iatmul and contacts with him were frequent (1972:208ff).

Mead is an innovator in many ways and continually tries new techniques. Her own ideas and
approach change through time; one fieldwork experience taught her new things, which she then
used in the next. The evolution of her ethnographic concepts and methods will be an important
theme in any definitive biography.

She was also, of course, interested in evolutionary change; see Mead 1964: Schwartz and Mead

Her special interest in the Sepik as a culture area never abated; see Mead 1978 for a recent

The most explicit consideration of the issue of the relationship between data and theory ap-
pears in the Arapesh ethnography (1940a:207ff).

l o She discussed many of these ideas with Schwartz, who later published a significant paper on
them (Schwartz 1963).

See Mead 1928~.1928d, 1928e. 1929.

12 See, for example, Mead 1928a, 1937c, 1947c, 1959b, 1977.

Mead worked with early and often vague terminology; a variety of concepts pertaining to kin-
ship had not yet been developed or had not been standardized (e.g., clan). Thus some of her
discussions seem confusing today (e.g., relationship group for Samoa [1928b:47] ).

*See Mead 1930~.1930d. 1931a, 1931b, 1932, 1954a. 1954b, 1954c, 1956b
l5 See, for example, Mead 1937b, 1943, 1947c, 1949a. 1955b, 1958, 1959b, 1961, 1977.

l6 See Fortune 1931, 1933, 1935; Schwartz 1962, 1963, 1973, 1976; Schwartz and Romanucci-
Ross 1974; Romanucci-Ross 1966: Mead and Schwartz 1960.

" Mead certainly was one of the first modem anthropologists concerned specifically with the
nature of thought in other societies; further, she designed and executed field research on the topic,
not only in Manus but also in Samoa (1928e).

See, for example, Mead 1933a, 1933b, 1934b, 1934c.

l9 See, for example, Mead 1934d, 1937a. 1939c, 1943, 1949a, 1955b, 1961, 1977, 1978.

4o See Fortune 1939, 1942, 1943, 1947. Donald Tuzin has worked among the Arapesh on the
Plains, and his material suggests some interesting contrasts; see, for example, Tuzin 1972, 1976.

41 See, for example, Mead 1934d, 1938, 1978.

44 See, for example. Mead 1947c, 1949a, 1961, 1977.

L3 I will soon publish some of this material.

24 See, for example, McDowell 1977, 1978a, 1978b.

45 See, for example, Mead 1941b, 1949a, 1977, 1978.

p6 See Mead 1939a, 1939b, 1940b, 1941a, 1942a, 1955a, 1959a.

L7 For example, see Mead 1937d, 1940c, 1941b, 1943, 1946, 1947c, 1949a, 1959b. 1977. See also
Bateson's work on Bali (Bateson 1937, 1941. 1949).

Meads pioneering work in ethnographic film is of special note but beyond the scope of this

2g See Bateson 1932, 1934, 1935, 1936.

See, for example, Mead 1934d, 1937d, 1938, 1940c, 1941b, 1943, 1947c, 1949b, 1955b, 1961,
1977, 1978.


NOTE: All references below refer to original editions. When another edition was w e d in
preparing this paper, it is included in parentheses. Page numbers in the text refer to these
later editions.
Bateson, Gregory
1932 Social Structure of the Iatmul People of the Sepik. Oceania 2:245-291, 401-453.
1934 Music in New Guinea. The Eagle (St. John's College, Cambridge) 48:158-170.
1935 Culture Contact and Schizmogenesis. Man 35:178-183.
1936 Naven. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
1937 An Old Temple and a New Myth. Djawa 17:l-17.
1941 The Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis. Psychological Review 48:350-355.
1949 Bali: The Value System of a Steady State. In Social Structure: Essays Presented to A. R.
Radcliffe-Brown. Meyer Fortes, ed. pp. 35-53. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Bateson, Gregory, and Margaret Mead
1942 Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis. Special Publications of the New York
Academy of Sciences, Volume 2.

Fortune, Reo
1931 Manus Religion. Oceania 2:74-108.
1933 A Note on Some Forms of Kinship Structure. Oceania 4:l-9.
1935 Manus Religion. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.
1939 Arapesh Warfare. American Anthropologist 41:22-41.
1942 Arapesh. American Ethnological Society Publications, No. 19. New York: Augustine.
1943 Arapesh Maternity. Nature 52:164.
1947 The Rules of Relationship Behavior in One Variety of Primitive Warfare. Man
47: 108-1 10.
Gewertz, Deborah
n.d. An Historical Reconstruction of Female Dominance among the Chambri of Papua New
Guinea. In Sexual Meanings. Sherry Ortner and Harriet Whitehead, eds.
Malinowski, Bronislaw
1922 Argonauts of the Western Pacific. New York: Dutton and Company.
McDowell, Nancy
1977 The Meaning of Rope in a Yuat River Village. Ethnology 16:175-183.
1978a Flexibility of Sister Exchange in Bun. Oceania 48:207-231.
1978b The Struggle To Be Human: Exchange and Politics in Bun. Anthropological Quarterly
Mead, Margaret
1928a An Inquiry into the Question of Cultural Stability in Polynesia. Columbia University
Contributions to Anthropology. Volume 9. New York: Columbia University Press.
1928b Coming of Age in Samoa. New York: William Morrow and Company. (New York: Dell
Publishing Company 1961.)
1928c The Role of the Individual in Samoan Culture. Journal of the Royal Anthropological
Institute 58:481-495.
1928d Samoan Children at Work and Play. Natural History 28:626-636.
1928e A Lapse of Animism among a Primitive People. Psyche 9:72-77.
1929 Americanization in Samoa. American Mercury 16364-270.
193Oa Social Organization of Manua. Honolulu: Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin No. 76.
1930b Growing Up in New Guinea: A Comparative Study of Primitive Education. New York:
William Morrow and Company. (New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1968.)
1930c Water Babies of the South Seas. Parents Magazine 5:20-21, 61.
193Od Melanesian Middlemen. Natural History 30:115-130.
193la Living with the Natives of Melanesia. Natural History 31:62-74.
1931b Savage Masters of the Sea. Safety Education 10:228-230.
1952 An Investigation of the Thought of Primitive Children, with Special Reference to Ani-
mism: A Preliminary Report. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 62:173-190.
1933a The Marsalai Cult among the Arapesh, with Special Reference to the Rainbow Serpent
Beliefs of the Australian Aborigines. Oceania 4:37-53.
1933b Where Magic Rules and Men Are Gods. New York Times Magazine, 25 June, pp. 8-9,
1934a Kinship in the Admiralty Islands. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of
Natural History 34:181-358.
1934b Where Sorcerers Call the Tune. Asia 34:232-235.
1934c How the Papuan Plans His Dinner. Natural History 34:377-388.
1934d Tamberans and Tumbuans in New Guinea. Natural History 34:234-246.
1935 Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. New York: William Morrow and
Company. (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1968.)
1937a The Arapesh of New Guinea. In Cooperation and Competition among Primitive Peoples.
Margaret Mead, ed. New York: McGraw-Hill. (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1976, pp.
20-50. )
1937b The Manus of the Admiralty Islands. In Cooperation and Competition among Primitive
Peoples. Margaret Mead, ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.(Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1976,
pp. 210-299).
1937c The Samoans. In Cooperation and Competition among Primitive Peoples. Margaret

Mead, ed. New York: McGraw-Hill. (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1976, pp. 282-312.)
1937d Public Opinion Mechanisms among Primitive Peoples. Public Opinion Quarterly 1:5-16.
1938 The Mountain Arapesh, I. An Importing Culture. Anthropological Papers of the Ameri-
can Museum of Natural History 36:139-349. (New York: Natural History Press, 1970, pp.
1939a The Strolling Players in the Mountains of Bali. Natural History 43:17-26, 64.
1939b Researches in Bali 1936-1939. Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences 2:24-
1939c Native Languages as Fieldwork Tools. American Anthropologist 41 :189-205.
1940a The Mountain Arapesh, 11. Supernaturalism. Anthropological Papers of the American
Museum of Natural History 37:317-451. (New York: The Natural History Press, 1970, pp.
207-491 .)
1940b The Arts in Bali. Yale Review 30:335-347.
1940c Character Formation in Two South Sea Societies. Transactions of the American Neuro-
logical Association, 66th Annual Meeting (1940), pp. 99-103.
1941a Community Drama, Bali and America. American Scholar 11:79-88.
1941b Administrative Contributions to Democratic Character Formation at the Adolescent
Level. Journal of the National Association of Deans of Women 4:51-57.
1942a Educative Effects of Social Environment as Disclosed by Studies of Primitive Society. In
Environment and Education. Burgess, Warner, Alexander, and Mead, eds. Supplementary
Education Monograph No. 54, University of Chicago, pp. 48-61.
1942b Anthropological Data on the Problem of Instinct. Psychosomatic Medicine 4:396-397.
1943 The Family in the Future. In Beyond Victory. Ruth Nanda Anshen, ed. pp. 66-87. New
York: Harcourt, Brace.
1946 Research on Primitive Children. In Manual of Child Psychology. 2nd ed. Leonard Car-
michael, ed. pp. 735-780. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
1947a The Mountain Arapesh, 111. Socioeconomic Life. Anthropological Papers of the Ameri-
can Museum of Natural History 40:163-232. (New York: Natural History Press, 1971, pp.
1947b The Mountain Arapesh, IV. Diary of Events in Alitoa. Anthropological Papers of the
American Museum of Natural History 40:233-419. (New York: Natural History Press, 1971,
pp. 127-535.)
1947c Age Patterning in Personality Development. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 17:
1949a Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World. New York: William Mor-
row and Company. (New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1968.)
1949b The Mountain Arapesh, V. The Record of Unabelin with Rorschach Analysis. Anthro-
pological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 41965-340. (New York:
Natural History Press, 1968.)
1954a Manus Restudied: An Interim Report. Transactions of the New York Academy of Science
(Series 11) 16:426-432.
1954b Twenty fifth Reunion at Manus. Natural History 63:66-68.
1954c Cultural Discontinuities and Personality Transformation. Journal of Social Issues, Suppl.
Ser., No. 8:3-16.
1955a Children and Ritual in Bali. In Childhood in Contemporary Cultures. Margaret Mead
and Martha Wolfenstein, eds. pp. 40-51. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
1955b Energy Change under Conditions of Culture Change. Sociometry 18:201-211.
1956a New Lives for Old: Cultural Transformation-Manus, 1928-53. New York: William
Morrow and Company. (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1966.)
1956b Applied Anthropology, 1955. In Some Uses of Anthropology: Theoretical and Applied.
Casagrande and Gladwin, eds. pp. 94-108. Anthropological Society of Washington.
1958 Cultural Determinants of Behavior. In Behavior and Evolution. Roe and Simpson, eds.
pp. 480-503. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
1959a Bali in the Market Place of the World. Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts
and Letters, and the National Institute of Arts and Letters (Series 11) 9:286-293.
1959b Cultural Factors in Community Education Programs. In Community Education: Princi-

ples and Practices for World-Wide Experience. Nelson B. Henry, ed. pp. 66-96. 58th Year-
book for the National Society for the Study of Education, Part I.
1961 Cultural Determinants of Sexual Behavior. In Sex and Internal Secretions. William C.
Young, ed. pp. 1,433-1,479. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins Company.
1964 Continuities in Cultural Evolution. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
1972 Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years. New York: William Morrow and Company.
1977 Letters from the Field: 1925-1975. New York: Harper and Row.
1978 The Sepik as a Culture Area: Comment. Anthropological Quarterly 51:69-75.
Mead, Margaret, and Frances Cook Macgregor
1951 Growth and Culture: A Photographic Study of Balinese Childhood. New York: G. P. Put-
nams Sons.
Mead, Margaret, and Theodore Schwartz
1960 The Cult as Condensed Social Process. In Group Processes: Transactions of the Fifth Con-
ference, October 12-15, 1958. Bertram Schaffner, ed. pp. 85-187. New York: Josiah Macy Jr.
Romanucci-Ross, Lola
1966 Conflits Fonciers 1 Mokerang village Matankor des iles de 1Amiraute. LHomme 6:32-52.
Schwartz, Theodore
1962 The Paliau Movement in the Admiralty Islands, 1946-1954. Anthropological Papers of
the American Museum of Natural History 49:207-422.
1963 Systems of Areal Integration. Anthropological Forum 1 :56-97.
1973 Cult and Context: The Paranoid in Melanesia. Ethos 1:153-174.
1976 Cargo Cult: A Melanesian Type-Response to Culture Contact. In Responses to Change.
George De Vos, ed. pp. 157-206. New York: Van Nostrand.
Schwartz, Theodore, and Margaret Mead
1961 Micro- and Macro-Cultural Models for Cultural Evolution. Anthropological Linguistics
Schwartz, Theodore, and Lola Romanucci-Ross
1974 Drinking and Inebriate Behavior in the Admiralty Islands, Melanesia. Ethos 2:213-231.
Tuzin, Donald
1972 Yam Symbolism in the Sepik: An Interpretive Account. Southwestern Journal of Anthro-
pology 28:230 -254.
1976 The Ilahita Arapesh: Dimensions of Unity. Berkeley: University of California Press.