(A sociobiography from Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa)
My mother told me once that I was a daughter she must part with some time later in her life. I did not understand what she meant by this, but I knew it was not death that she talked about and I am still sure of it. Death is too commonplace since it is a part of our being, and knowing my mother, I am quite convinced she did not mean anything as obvious and ordinary as death when she told me that some years ago (such shame I cannot exactly remember when), not when she said so with a tone that clearly told me she was torn between being happy and not being happy.
I did not exactly understand her till that eventful day.
Soft orange was splayed across the still puce canvas that was the sky as I opened my eyes and stretched the arms I had most probably pressed on as I slept last night. My mother could be heard splashing water in the kitchen and I cracked my neck as I headed to help out in the preparation of breakfast. My father would be up in a little while as we finished then he would go fish with the other fathers in our little village.
It was a usual day we would be spending, I supposed.
My younger brother, Rata, and sister, Miku, rose from their beds as my father was bidding us goodbye. Our youngest took their places on our small dining table and I served them their share of the breakfast. With still half-closed eyelids, they whispered their thanks and greedily started munching. As soon as they would finish, they would head out to the open and find their friends to play with till noon when their feet could no longer stand the heat of the sand.
My mother and I headed out and she again told me to be careful with the rocks that I might have wounded myself a long time ago had I not been careful when we crossed to the shallower part of the stream we usually did the laundry at. My mother imparted on me that it was for safety purposes – the crossing, that is – clothes that decided to swim away from us were quite hard to catch and such a brave act would be too risky for us if we were on a deep portion. I find it funny that she referred to clothes as though they were fishes, and all the while quite clever too. I never told her that, nor am I planning to, since she would just look at me funny and tell me I should not be talking such absurdities. I do not find anything absurd in that, but since she was my mother, I opted to listen to her.
I occasionally caught myself staring at my reflection in the sparkling waters of the stream and my eyes always drifted to my mother’s. From what I could see, I was sure my mother looked very much like me – no, I looked very much like her, that is how I should always put it since I am the daughter and she is the mother. She often told me not too long ago that I should always take care of my face and myself since they were just a few my future depended upon. I did not know exactly why, and at fourteen, I should already know, shouldn’t I? I was not in the place to question my mother and so I did not. I appeased myself with the thought that I would eventually know about it anyway.
When the men of the village came home from fishing they cast their nets away and my mother joined the crowd to help picking out the fishes that we were to serve to the chief and the fishes we could cook for ourselves. Just before the sun set, I took off to meet my friends so we could enjoy bathing in the now cooling waters of the beach… and so that we could properly groom ourselves for the evening to come.
I had been told countless times before that I should not engage in more than talking to a boy in the absence of day but out of curiosity, a curiosity that was incensed by my friends’ constant invitation to a late night gathering in one of the houses where we could enjoy dancing with the youths of the village, and after many of their failed attempts, I pleaded with my mother, putting upfront the fact that I enjoyed dancing – it was something that I could actually be carefree about, and whatever stance I put on as I moved in time with the music, no one told me off for being improper. And so I went with them, assuring my mother I did nothing more than dancing and merrymaking with my friends and that I would come home more than a little while before dawn broke.
Then I met Hano. He was introduced to me when I first joined my friends in the gathering and he was kind and had a sweet smile when he kissed my hand. It turned out that he was sixteen years old and the eldest son of one of my father’s co-fishermen. I was not aware of what I felt in my stomach around that time when he was talking and joking with me and my friends, but I knew it felt like when I just bathed in the beach, you know, that giddy feeling that the waves are still rocking and whispering in your head – not quite in your body, I know it does not have anything to do with the body since I am not in contact with cool waters so I know it is all in my head. Yes, I did feel giddy and fresh and light whenever I was with Hano. And since I could only meet with him in the gathering, I always looked forward to it and bathe in the beach to freshen myself and to freshen up my memory of the past nights that we had spent together shrouded in the darkness of trees.
My mother told me I would one day be parted from her. I did not understand her until that fateful evening when she told me to get ready and put on my best clothes and jewelry. When I warily asked her why – I learnt to be able to know when she would answer a question from me and I was quite sure that she would –, she told me I was to be ushered into the chief’s home to dance with other younger ladies. I did not understand this but since she gave me a look that said I should do as she told and not question her further, I kept my thoughts to myself.
Why was I to go to the chief’s house? Why was I to dance with some random ladies? Why should I put up some glamour and look smart in a dress and jewelries I barely used?
All these questions swam in my head already giddy from swimming and it was not until I was in the actual home of the chief that I registered what was happening.
I had been told countless time before that I should take care of my face and myself. I had been told that I should not do anything more than talking with a boy in the absence of daylight. I had been told not to utter absurdities for they made me look foolish. I had been told that I was to part with my mother some time late in her life. I did not understand until that night when the chief announced that given the circumstances faced by the immediate successor of the late taupou, I was the only viable candidate next in line, as my father was the grandson of the uncle of the chief’s cousin. They assured me that I was the closest to being the perfect taupou and my mother gravelly accepted this on my behalf. In fact, I was not able to say anything, completely aghast at this sudden turn of events.
I only wanted to feel giddy when I bathed in the beach and when I was with Hano. But the giddy feeling of all of this suddenly gave me a headache that I was not able to stomach. It hurt so much that I had to hang my head just a little so I could close my eyes and breathe.
My mother gave my shoulder a slight nudge that took me out of my reverie. I was asked to dance and when I finally found my legs to drag myself to the center of the room, the music that filled my ears and the lights that twinkled made my headache throb more painfully. When I raised my arm to finally dance, I caught sight of Hano in the window, standing amidst my friends and the other youths.
He stared at me with hurt.
And then everything was nothing.
Feinberg, R. (1988, September). Margaret Mead and Samoa: Coming of Age in Fact and Fiction. American Anthropologist New Series. 90. 656-663.
Mead, M. (1928). Coming of Age in Samoa. New York: William Morrow and Company. Retrieved from http://archive.org/stream/comingofageinsam00mead/comingofageinsam00mead_djvu.txt
Samoa: The Adolescent Girl. (n.d.) Margaret Mead: Human Nature and the Power of Culture. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/mead/field-samoa.html
SJMorrow. (2011, January 19). Microblogs for Coming of Age in Samoa. Computer Human Interaction - CSCE 436. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://chiblog.sjmorrow.com/2011/01/microblogs-for-coming-of-age-in-samoa.html