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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology


The Samoan islands form an important center for western Polynesia. They are now divided into two groups: Western Samoa, consisting of Upolu and Savaii with the small islands of Manono and Apolima; and Eastern Samoa, comprising the large island of Tutuila and the Manua group of Ofu, Olosega, and Tau. Western Samoa is administered by New Zealand, originally under mandate from the League of Nations. Eastern Samoa is administered by the United States Navy, and the Naval Station at Pago Pago has the finest harbor in the two groups.

Samoan mythology states that after the creation of the islands by the god Tagaloa, the inhabitants developed from worms. The Samoan mythology and page 98religion forms a western Polynesian pattern which differs widely from that of other parts of Polynesia, and the social organization is somewhat unique. The great development of power by talking chiefs in administrative activities even influenced the succession to chiefly titles. Some customs, such as the power of the sister's son over his maternal uncle's family and brother-and-sister avoidance have evidently diffused from Fiji for they are not present in the parts of Polynesia to the east. In material culture, a guild of carpenters controlled the building of the better houses and canoes, and even high chiefs had to submit to their labor rules.

The first European discoverer was the Dutch navigator, Roggeveen, who sighted the Manua group in 1722, but he did not land. The other islands were seen by Bougainville in 1778 and, owing to the speed of the native canoes with lateen sails, he named the group the Archipelago of the Navigators. Other well-known navigators who visited were La Pérouse, Kotzebue, and Dumont d'Urville. The Wilkes Expedition also made important observations.

Among the missionaries, Stair and Turner contributed general works and Pratt compiled a dictionary and grammar. Of other writers, Pritchard published his reminiscences and Augustin Krämer published his "Samoa-Inseln" in German; Fraser contributed articles in the Polynesian Journal; and Keesing wrote a work on "Modern Samoa."

The Bishop Museum-Bayard Dominick Expedition to Tonga took physical measurements in Samoa en route. E. S. C. Handy and Mrs. W. C. Handy made some field studies on their way back from the Bishop Museum staff expedition to the Society Islands. Other Museum field expeditions took place in 1926 and 1927, and during the latter, I made an exhaustive study on material culture. Margaret Mead, on a National Research Fellowship, contributed a work on the social organization of Manua, published by the Museum, and also a work on "Coming of Age in Samoa" which was published in London. An independent study by John W. Coulter on land utilization was published by the Museum.