I have sketched an ethnographic comparison of the FulBe and the RiimaayBe that not only shakes our common belief that early childhood is the decisive period for the formation of personality, but also strongly attacks theories such as those of classical culture- and-personality, which claim that personality traits shared by a group of people are formed in childhood by the practices parents use to care for and bring up children. 1 There are no systematic differences in the ways parents and other caretakers handle children during the first four to six years of life that might account for the striking personality contrasts between FulBe and RiimaayBe adults. Within each group I found some variation between households, though more in attitudes than in practices, and there were in some cases variations even for a given mother in how she treated different children, though this I could learn only from what mothers told me themselves of how they had changed. My general conclusion from all these observations is that the child-rearing practices of the FulBe and the RiimaayBe are quite indistinguishable from each other.
I have, therefore, proposed an alternative theory of personality which views personality not as a set of traits or qualities acquired during childhood but rather as the active portrayal--sometimes more deliberate, sometimes more unaware--of a person's sense of self. 2 Personality is an interpretation others make of a person by reading a sense of self from the person's actions. While a person's sense of self is entirely subjective to each individual, it is nevertheless built out of common understandings shared by that individual and other members of society. Its single most important component, I have argued, is identity--that is, how a person is located in