‘Coming of Age’ with Margaret Mead

[Blog and photos by Mike Foley: Originally published July 8, 2009]

In 1925-26, armed with a Columbia University Ph.D. in cultural anthropology, 23-year-old Margaret Mead spent about six months on the island of Ta’u, Manu’a, American Samoa, conducting field research on whether nurture or nature was predominant in determining behavior. Her controversial book, Coming of Age in Samoa (which I was required to read in Anthropology 101 at the University of Utah in 1964), described an idyllic place where adolescent promiscuity was a natural part of their society.

Even though her book captured the imagination of many, while raising the ire of others, that didn’t stop the people of Ta’u from giving the doyenne of anthropology a royal welcome when she returned for the first time in 46 years on November 11, 1971 . . . and I had fa’amolemole‘d [i.e. begged] and bluffed my way onto the official traveling party to see it:

Margaret Mead (center) with American Samoa Governor John Hayden
(on the left) arriving at Faleasao, Ta’u, Manu’a, on November 11, 1971
photos by Mike Foley
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Electrifying!

The first sign on Friday evening, December 26, was a little flicker of the lights. I remember saying to my wife, Sally, I wonder if someone hit a telephone pole somewhere down the highway. Then a few minutes later the lights went out — then soon enough all over Oahu. Yup, for the second time in two years the complete island of Oahu went dark as HECO totally shut down:

People were stuck in elevators, the airport was basically shut down, traffic lights were out, of course. Stores closed early, a lot of gas stations couldn’t operate. In short, it was a disaster.

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