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Growing up in New Guinea: A Comparative Study of Primitive Education

Growing up in New Guinea: A Comparative Study of Primitive Education

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by Margaret Mead

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Following the sensational success of her first book, Coming of Age in Samoa, Margaret Mead continued her brilliant work in Growing Up in New Guinea, detailing her study of the Manus, a New Guinea people still untouched by the outside world when she visited them in 1928. She lived in their noisy fishing village at a pivotal time — after warfare


Following the sensational success of her first book, Coming of Age in Samoa, Margaret Mead continued her brilliant work in Growing Up in New Guinea, detailing her study of the Manus, a New Guinea people still untouched by the outside world when she visited them in 1928. She lived in their noisy fishing village at a pivotal time — after warfare had vanished but before missions and global commerce had begun to change their lives. She developed fascinating insights into their family lives, exploring their attitudes toward sex, marriage, the rearing of children, and the supernatural, which led her to see intriguing parallels with modern Western society. Reissued for the centennial of her birth and featuring introductions by Howard Gardner and Mead's daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson, this book offers important anthropological insights into human societies and vividly captures a vanished way of life.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) launched Mead's career as an anthropologist, which was reaffirmed with the 1930 publication of New Guinea. In both volumes she theorizes that culture is a leading influence on psychosexual development. She also surmises that the so-called civilized world could learn a lot from so-called primitives. Essential volumes for academics. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Perennial Classics Series
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.69(d)

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Chapter One


The way in which each human infant is transformed into the finished adult, into the complicated individual version of his city and his century is one of the most fascinating studies open to the curious minded. Whether one wishes to trace the devious paths by which the unformed baby which was oneself developed personality, to prophesy the future of some child still in pinafores, to direct a school, or to philosophise about the future of the United States -- the same problem is continually in the foreground of thought. How much of the child's equipment does it bring with it at birth? How much of its development follows regular laws? How much or how little and in what ways is it dependent upon early training, upon the personality of its parents, its teachers, its playmates, the age into which it is born? Is the framework of human nature so rigid that it will break if submitted to too severe tests? To what limits will it flexibly accommodate itself? Is it possible to rewrite the conflict between youth and age so that it is less acute or more fertile of good results? Such questions are implicit in almost every social decision -- in the mother's decision to feed the baby with a spoon rather than force it to drink from a hated bottle, in the appropriation of a million dollars to build a new manual training high school, in the propaganda plans of the Anti-Saloon League or of the Communist party. Yet it is a subject about which we know little, towards which we are just developing methods of approach.

But when human history took the turn which is symbolised in the story of the confusion of tongues and the dispersion ofpeoples after the Tower of Babel, the student of human nature was guaranteed one kind of laboratory. In all parts of the world, in the densest jungle and on the small islands of the sea, groups of people, differing in language and customs from their neighbours, were working out experiments in what could be done with human nature. The restless fancy of many men was drawing in diverse ways upon their historical backgrounds, inventing new tools, new forms of government, new and different phrasings of the problem of good and evil, new views of man's place in the universe. By one people the possibilities of rank with all its attendant artificialities and conventions were being tested, by a second the social consequences of large scale human sacrifice, while a third tested the results of a loose unpatterned democracy. While one people tried out the limits of ceremonial licentiousness, another exacted season-long or year-long continence from all its members. Where one people made their dead their gods, another chose to ignore the dead and rely instead upon a philosophy of life which viewed man as grass that grows up in the morning and is cut down forever at nightfall.

Within the generous lines laid down by the early patterns of thought and behaviour which seem to form our common human inheritance, countless generations of men have experimented with the possibilities of the human spirit. It only remained for those of inquiring mind, alive to the value of these hoary experiments, to read the answers written down in the ways of life of different peoples. Unfortunately we have been prodigal and blind in our use of these priceless 'records. We have permitted the only account of an experiment which it has taken thousands of years to make and which we are powerless to repeat, to be obliterated by firearms, or alcohol, evangelism or tuberculosis. One primitive people after another has vanished and left no trace.

If a long line of devoted biologists had been breeding guinea pigs or fruit flies for a hundred years and recording the results, and some careless vandal burnt the painstaking record and killed the survivors, we would cry out in anger at the loss to science. Yet, when history, without any such set purpose, has presented us with the results of not a hundred years' experiment on guinea pigs, but a thousand years' experiment on human beings, we permit the records to be extinguished without a protest.

Although most of these fragile cultures which owed their perpetuation not to written records but to the memories of a few hundred human beings are lost to us, a few remain. Isolated on small Pacific islands, in dense African jungles or Asiatic wastes, it is still possible to find untouched societies which have chosen solutions of life's problems different from our own, which can give us precious evidence on the malleability of human nature.

Such an untouched people are the brown sea-dwelling Manus of the Admiralty Islands, north of New Guinea. In their vaulted, thatched houses set on stilts in the olive green waters of the wide lagoon, their lives are lived very much as they have been lived for unknown centuries. No missionary has come to teach them an unknown faith, no trader has tom their lands from them and reduced them to penury. Those white men's diseases which have reached them have been few enough in number to be fitted into their own theory of disease as a punishment for evil done. They buy iron and cloth and beads from the distant traders; they have learned to smoke the white man's tobacco, to use his money, to take an occasional dispute into the District Officer's Court. Since 1912 war has been practically abolished, an enforced reformation welcome to a trading, voyaging people. Their young men go away to work for two or three years in the plantations of the white man, but come back little changed to their own villages. It is essentially a primitive society without written records, without economic dependence upon white culture, preserving its own canons, its own way of life.

The manner in which human babies born into these water dwelling communities, gradually absorb the traditions, the prohibitions, the values of their elders and become...

Meet the Author

Margaret Mead (1901-1978) began her remarkable career when she visited Samoa at the age of twenty-three, which led to her first book, Coming of Age in Samoa. She went on to become one of the most influential women of our time, publishing some forty works and serving as Curator of Ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History as well as president of major scientific associations. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom following her death in 1978.

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Growing up in New Guinea; a comparative study of primitive education 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
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