IN 1967, Coming of Age in Samoa was described by its author Margaret Mead as a "classic scientific study," and in 1988, The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, a scholarly work of reference said to record "what every American needs to know," hailed it as a book that set "new standards for anthropological fieldwork" and "revolutionized the field of anthropology." The scientific status of Coming of Age in Samoa has already been discussed in my book of 1983, Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth. Since around 1988, I have given my attention to the fieldwork on which Mead's conclusions rest, and my archival discoveries cast a highly revealing light on Margaret Mead's Samoan research of 1925-1926. From close examination of a wide range of evidence, it has emerged that her exciting revelations about sexual behavior were in some cases merely the extrapolations of whispered intimacies, whereas those of greatest consequence were the results of a prankish hoax. 1
The historical analysis on which these conclusions are based arose from a series of dramatic and quite unforeseen events. In November 1987, I accompanied the documentary filmmaker Frank Heimans on a visit to American Samoa. Heimans was making a film about Mead's fieldwork there in 1925-1926 and hoped that while in Manu'a, he might be able to videotape someone who had known Mead. This seemed to me most unlikely. During our flight to Pago Pago, I told Heimans that from the intensive inquiries I had made in Manu'a in 1981, there was no possibility whatever of discovering surviving informants with whom Mead had worked in the mid-1920s. In this, however, I was mistaken.
Heimans's original letter seeking permission to enter American Samoa and to film there had been referred to Galea'i Poumele, secretary for Samoan affairs of the government of American Samoa. It so