Samoan research disputes Margret Mead’s findings of Samoan women


The photo of an American marine and a Samoan maid is from the poster that publicized last weeks workshop where the research findings were presented at the National University of Samoa

BY Lagi Keresoma

APIA, MONDAY 13 MARCH 2017:  A research on Samoan women and their young (American) marines (maligi) by Saui’a Louise Mataia Milo has disputed the highly regarded findings by Margret Mead in Coming of Age in Samoa that Samoan women were easy and free loving.

The research by Saui’a of the Social Science Department of the National University of Samoa was based on archival documents and interviews with women that lived through the Second World War.

The paper O Keige Samoa ma lakou kamai maligi – women and their little marines” explores the Samoan women’s wartime lives when the American marines were stationed in Samoa during the Second World War.

It looks at “their women’s wartime roles, popular culture, sexual encounters and allows more historical visibility of women’s wartime agency during a disruptive episode of their lives.”

Saui’a never accepted what has long been documented as the actions and attitudes of Samoa women then.

“I did not accept the history given to me, I thought it was too much of an archetype history we tend to inherit,” she said.

“The thought then that Samoan woman were ‘free loving’ amongst other things have paved the way for misleading and a wrong perception of our women then,” said Saui’a.

For three years, Saui’a traveled throughout Samoa, American Samoa and the Manua islands where she met some of the surviving elderly women who shared their wartime experiences.

She also looked into archival material and read the accounts from various writers including the late Aggie Grey who strongly opposed “these misleading perceptions in her biography.”

What Sau’ia found are interesting stories that have been hidden for years, which she believes is evident that the perception then about Samoan women “was very wrong”.

The research dug into curfews set up by the newcomers, and how the Samoan women had to cope with it.

“There were some things Samoan women could not do because they had to follow the rules and some of things they had to do were beyond their control,” said Saui’a.

She came across one aspect that was never mention before and that was ‘rape’.

She stated that Samoan women were raped by the maligis and as a result, became mothers of children of the maligis.

She said women were forced to do things they did not want to and for that they have been labeled as “prostitutes or talitane.”

“Samoa is a small place but has a big space, and has a wild variety of experiences, and different dynamics that help shape the experiences during the war, especially during the arrival of the US troops, and the reaction of the older people,” said Saui’a.

She said the older generation then did not like it, and were reluctant to accept, because it disrupted the normality of life.

It was difficult for Samoa then, who was a mandate of the United Nations and for American Samoa under the United States administration.

“Here we have one island group, two different territories and different administrative systems.”

Saui’a said because she was dealing with the older age group, whose experiences of wartime remains locked in their minds, required a lot of patience to listen as they recant the events of years back.

“Some of them have passed on since our interviews, and I am grateful for them for sharing their experience,” said Saui’a.

The Samoan experience of US marines and attitude towards Samoa women’s relationship with marines and occupation is recorded in songs and in a contemptuous manner.

* Outou teine o le atunu’u    (You girls of the nation)
Na ou faapea e le vaea lou ulu  (Thought you not lose your mind)
Tama mai Meleke ua taunuu   (Men from America have arrived)
Ae vali ai fua lava ou laugutu   (And suddenly you paint your lips)
Su’e mai se’evae ma fa’amaulu (Search for shoes to wear)
E le masani talu ona e tupu   (Never used since you were born)
E usu lava i le toga’ulu   (You go early to the breadfruit groves)
Su’e main i ulu e fai se umu  (To get some breadfruit to make umu)

NB: * The English translation of the song by To’omalatai Siaki Laban is that of Talamua and not the official words of the song

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