The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead: A Historical Analysis of Her Samoan Research

By Derek Freeman | Go to book overview

7
Ethnological Research in
Pago Pago and Vaitogi

WHEN MEAD WROTE TO BOAS on October 11, 1925, she noted that her "knowledge of the language" was "progressing more slowly than at first." She was still having "one definite lesson" each day at the naval station, after which she would "prospect about for chances of conversation." She had also been taking texts in Samoan for "several hours a day" and had collected "a good deal of information," which, although it did not bear on the problem she had come to Samoa to investigate, was "of value ethnologically." Mead, ignoring Boas's repeated instructions to her, had begun this research on the general ethnology of Samoa on September 30, 1925, just one month after her arrival in Tutuila, with an inquiry into tattooing. Some Mormon missionaries she had come to know had found her an informant named Asuegi. He was an ali'i, or titular chief, of the nearby village of Pago Pago. An elder in the Mormon church, he had been to a Mormon school and so spoke "a good deal of English." He was "very intelligent" and "well informed," but "rapacious." Thus, although he demanded "no pay," he and his "stalwart brothers" always had "something to sell" and marshaled kava bowls, necklaces, and canoe models before Mead's "obligated eyes." At first, getting information out of Asuegi was "like pulling teeth." He had no objection to revealing anything but kept his "most ordinary knowledge," so it seemed to Mead, "in some strange inaccessible spot." He reminded her of those "old fashioned country wells" that it is necessary to prime with a bucket of water before anything will issue from the

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