Sex Is A Myth In Samoa"
by Victoria San Remo
Sir!: A Magazine For Males
Vol. 6, No. 1, 1950
When a guy gets rough with a dame he calls it cave-man stuff. He
has a mental picture of himself wearing a lion skin, waving an uprooted
apple stump and making like Tarzan. He thinks of himself grabbing his sweetie
where she's long and glossy and dragging her through the Paleolithic swamps.
There's not a word of truth in it, so modern
anthropologists tell us. Dr. Margaret Mead has made a detailed study of
life in Samoa, a group of South Sea Island, where love among the alleged
"savages" has reached its zenith. Dr. Mead, Dr. Bronislaw Malinovsky and
Dr. Ralph Linton, among others, report the results of half a century of
field study and observation among the natives of these islands. Viewed
against a backdrop of American sexual customs, their findings are extremely
For two hundred years visitors from the civilized
world have come home to rave about Samoan women--or keep their mouths discreetly
shut. After a visit to these islands, Herman Melville wrote Typee,
an idyll of American sailors stranded among women who had not yet learned
the meaning of sin. Nauseated with the cloying artificiality and insincerity
of a decadent Paris, the artist Paul Gauguin fled to the bosom of a saronged
Tahitian beauty, Aflame with his vision of an earthly Paradise, he painted
his best pictures.
Many generations of whalers and sailors have
discovered this Eden for themselves, and a lot os our men in the last war
came home from the Polynesian Pacific telling a similar story. More than
one has gone back.
What is the fascination of these coral islands
where they use coconut mats for money, where the great white shark and
the giant man-eating clam lurk on the ocean bottom to devour pearl divers?
Maybe it's that wonderful institution they call "love under the coconut
palms." There's nothing quite like it in the so-called civilized world.
So, give with the imagination, my friend,
and pretend you're a Samoan cowboy. There's a dame named Lita you want
to make. She's a honey. She's got nothing on but a lavalava (a geestring
made of insubstantial bark cloth) and she makes jane Russell look as flat
as a pancake.
So you want to get close to this Lita. Do
you hand her a fast line? No. Do you try to show off what a smart guy you
are--maybe catch more fish than anyone else, maybe dazzle her with a wad
of mazuma, which locally is coconut mats? Naw, it's considered crude in
Samoa to outdo anybody, or to have too many of those coconut mats. Do you
make passes at her? Definitely not. Well, what about that old reliable
club? How about snatching that up, whacking her over the head, and dragging
off by the aforementioned long and glossy? My friend, you wouldn't even
get to first base.
Then what the hell do you do?
Well, brother, it's a long, sad story. This
is how it is:
When soft firelight flickers o'er the lagoon,
and the folks gather round for a neighborly hula, you sit back in one corner
of the palm-thatched house by yourself, with your head between your knees.
You don't say a mumblin' word, and you're careful not to look too hard
either. Right in the center of everything sits a young buck of your age,
a regular Nature Boy with wavy black hair and white teeth that would make
him a million dollars in the tooth paste ads, if they had tooth paste in
Samoa. Nature Boy has got his hand on Lita's knee, he flashes his personality
smile, grabs the hibiscus flower from her hair and sticks it between those
glittering incisors, and hands her some sweet talk about meeting him under
the coconut palms. Maybe you should use that sawed-off apple stump on Nature
Boy! But no, wait a minute. This Nature Boy, it seems, is your representative,
what the Samoans down yonder call a soa. He's pulling off
a John Alden act. Like a salesman, he has to turn on the charm to sell
the product. And the product is you.
If Lita says yes to his proposition, she and
Nature Boy know perfectly well it's you she'll meet under the palms--unless
there's a dirty double cross in the making. Plenty of times the soa
puts on such a good act that the dame runs off with him, leaving the other
guy biting his nails and gnashing his teeth.
If your soa is on the level
through, and has spoken his lines convincingly, but not too convincingly,
midnight finds you hanging out in the coconut grove, listening to the roar
of the Pacific on the reef, drinking in big gulps of air perfumed with
tropical flowers, expecting at any moment to see the golden-skinned Lita
come tripping across the sands. all around you, you can hear the soft voices
and laughter of earlier arrivals.
By-and-by Lita shows up, and after she keeps
you panting for an hour or two, or maybe a night or two, she finally says
"I love you" in Samoan, which is supposed to be one of the most seductive
languages in the world. It sounds like honey drooling from a great big
Well, you and Lita soak up the liquid trills,
and it's the wee small hours before she leaves you to slip back into the
palm leaf hut of her parents.
In Samoa, pre-marital affairs are not considered
immoral but are looked upon as natural, healthy and desirable. Numerous
love affairs are taken as a sign of popularity. Only one girl in the tribe
is expected to be a virgin when she marries--that's the taupo,
or princess. And not one of her plebeian sisters would exchange places
So you're in good with Lita. Everything is
hunky-dory until one night she tells you she won't meet you at the old
rendezvous under the coconut palms. A story has been going around that
a male ghost with a special weakness for young girls is lurking out there
in the dark, waiting for a chance to carry off a personable miss. Besides,
it looks like rain. So, with some coy and inviting giggles she suggests
that you take advantage of another highly respected Samoan custom--"sleep-crawling."
So that night, after a swimming and fishing
party by torchlight on the reef, you don't go to your hut. After giving
your friends and family the slip, you take off your lavalava and smear
your body with coconut oil. You make yourself as slippery as a greased
pig, and for the same reason--you may be chased!
Then, when everything is quiet in the village
except for maybe a few laughs and calls from couples who have decided to
defy the ghost, you sneak up to Lita's house, raise the blind, and, without
making a rustle, crawl over to the spot where Lita is waiting for you.
There are fifteen people and several dogs
sleeping in the one-room house--Lita's father and mother, her grandmother,
and her six brothers and sisters. It's pitch dark, and with all their snoring
and turning, the chances are you won't be noticed. If somebody happens
to light a torch, or if you are foolish enough to fall asleep and remain
in the hut until daybreak, you will be discovered by the family, and your
presence will be taken as a more or less public announcement of your engagement.
However, neither you nor Lita wants to get
married just now. This is the carefree, irresponsible part of your lives,
and you want to make it last as long as you can. Before dawn you slip away
as quietly as you came.
Maybe you're thinking about your friend Falo
who was caught. His girl friend didn't want to get married; so she pretended
she hadn't invited him there at all and yelled, "Love thief!" Whereupon
the whole family--men, women, and children--fell upon him, kicking, scratching,
biting, and beating him. Falo would never have gotten away at all if he
hadn't been well greased.
Then he was the laughing stock of the village.
The kids made up a song about the incident, and followed Falo wherever
he went, singing it. He became known as a love-thief; and if there's anything
a Samoan girl abhors, it's a man who is believed to have taken unfair advantage
of the custom of sleep-crawling. They all snubbed him. No one would meet
him under the palms.
Falo the began to slip into houses where the
girls sometimes mistook him for someone else. He became a love-theif in
fact. It was on the only way the poor miserable guy could have any pleasure
at all. If he is ever able to marry, it will be only because he has amassed
a lot of property, and even then the girl's parents will have to put plenty
of pressure on her. Almost every Samoan village has one or two love-thieves.
You can always recognize them in the gay life around them because they
have the woe-begone expression of a famished Hyena.
Sometimes a boy becomes a love-thief to get
revenge on some Hoe who has nabbed his girl, or to punish a cutie who is
cold to his advances, or who takes someone else in his place.
After five or six years of experimentation
and intrigue, if you and Lita still click, the ground in the coconut grove
gets uncomfortable. Too many bugs and ghosts are crawling around. Sleep-crawling
depresses you, and it gets to be a nuisance to grease yourself with coconut
oil. You begin to grow up a little--you get fond of kids and begin to wish
you had some of your own.
It's a pet belief of the Samoans that only
marriage and persistent monogamy lead to conception. Interestingly enough,
girls rarely get pregnant "under the coconut trees." The celebrated anthropologist
Bronislaw Malinovsky made a special study of this phenomenon in the neighboring
Trobriand Islands, where love and marriage customs are much the same. He
is mystified by the fact that these unmarried girls do not use any known
methods of birth control. He was never able to discover the reason for
their sterility during this period of irresponsible adolescence.
Anyway, after some year of sub rosa
affairs, you decide to ask Lita to marry you. Again you corral Nature Boy,
your soa, and the two of you set off with delicacies--some
choice fish from the day's catch, and octopus or two, a chicken, and maybe
some breadfruit and papayas. You present these goodies at Lita's just before
dinner, when everybody's hungry, while Nature Boy, in a formal and ceremonious
speech, explains that you have come to ask for Lita's hand in marriage.
If your basket of food is accepted, it is a sign that her family looks
with approval upon your formal courtship. Generally the family approves
if the girl does.
But wait a minute. What's come over Lita?
She's been sweet as molasses for six months and all set to marry you. Now
that you've become honorable in your intentions, she suddenly gives you
the cold shoulder, stops meeting you under the palms, and in general leads
you a hell of a chase, gratifying her vanity and showing her power over
you at every turn.
After about a month, when you have almost
decided that the game isn't worth the candle, she suddenly accepts your
proposal. You move right in to her parent' house. The marriage ceremony
itself is not performed until your family has collected sufficient gifts
in food and property, and Lita's relatives have provided her with a plentiful
supply of coconut mats and sine bark cloth.
There is no such thing as a permanently unhappy
marriage in Samoa. If you and Lita don't get along you do what other Samoan
couples do: One little flare-up and back you go to your own home. If Lita
does not care to make up, the marriage is off. Your friends shrug and say
the marriage has "passed away." Both you and Lita go after someone else--and
there's not a case on record of a discarded spouse clinging to the other
like a drowning man clutching at a rope.
The children do not keep mismated parents
tied together, as in out "civilized" world, because children are cared
for by all the relatives of both husband and wife--in fact, by the entire
clan. Incidentally, it is interesting also that not only are there no unhappy
marriages; there aren't even any permanently unhappy and frustrated children.
If a child quarrels with his parents, he simply leaves and goes to live
with relatives where he will be loved and treated like their own children.
Even though marriages are easily dissolved,
most marriages are stable, and many couples, especially those past thirty,
are essentially faithful. This in spit of the fact that there is no strong
moral pressure in favor of permanent marriages, and no strong moral disapproval
of broken marriages. In Samoa, a lasting relationship between two people
of the opposite sex is not even an ideal; Samoans scoff at such a relationship
as impossible. But they have it!
Anthropologists have pointed out two reasons
for the stability of marriages in Samoa: The first is that neither the
husband nor the wife is an economic liability to the other. The wife, throughout
her life, retains her claim upon her family's property, and so is independent.
Society is so organized that she does not make demands upon her husband
to keep up with the Joneses--or to get ahead of them. Quite the contrary,
it is considered very poor taste in Samoa to outshine or outdo anyone too
On the other hand, the husband never resents
the wife as a millstone around his neck, because she is a breadwinner as
well as he. Samoan women fish and work on the plantations; both men and
women weave and participate in the cooking which is generally done in large
pits in the earth, for several families at once.
The second reason for the large number of
successful marriages is the happy sexual adjustment. Because of the freedom
accorded adolescents and the fact that the marriage bond is easily broken,
both partners have ample opportunity to find a really suitable mate. Permanent
marriage, when it comes, is based upon real finity rather than romantic
illusions and property ties.
Not every marriage in Samoa follows a coral
path from the coconut grove to that little palm-thatched hut of your dreams.
If the girl's relatives have put an undue amount of pressure on her to
marry someone she doesn't love for reasons of wealth or prestige (and this
is very rare), she may revolt and run away with the boy of her choice.
Unfortunately for her, this boy frequently deserts her, for he has eloped
with her only to enhance his reputation as a lover. The poor girl, having
renounced all nominal claims to virginity, must return to her family, who
may beat her soundly and shave her head.
The princess elopes rather more frequently
than other girls because her choice of a husband is rigidly limited. She
may marry only a man of similar rank selected by the chiefs. Ten to one
he is old or unpersonable.
In fact, the princess has a tough time. She
is forced by law to remain a virgin until she marries. The she is forced
to endure a terrible ordeal. Her husband's chief publicly deflowers her
in a brilliantly lit room before the eyes of the entire village. If it
is found that she is not a virgin, her female relatives, enraged at the
disgrace that she has brought upon the village, fall upon her with stones--wounding,
disfiguring, and sometimes even killing her.
Even if her highness survives this defloration
ceremony, the princess will usually be ill for a week or so afterwards.
Since most Samoan women don't even find it necessary to remain in bed after
childbirth, the princess' illness is not primarily physical. Her trouble
is undoubtedly the result od the extreme mental anguish and humiliation
which accompanies the torture of this public deflowering--really a refined
form of rape.
This cruelty to the princess, and the peculiar
case of the sneak thieves of love, are the only institutions in Samoan
life which resemble sexual perversion.
Not only is there very little sexual perversion
in Samoa, but sexual relationships in general are lusty, gay, and healthy.
There's no such thing as a nagging wife, a brutal or stingy husband. Not
even a quarrelsome household. And, needless to say, before the invasion
of what we presumptuously call "civilization," there was no rape, no prostitution,
and Samoans had never heard of a sex criminal.
Well, there's the picture. Is savage love
savage? By the standards of New York, Los Angeles, and Kalamazoo, love
in Samoa is just about as savage as a kiddies May-basket. A Samoan man
on the make is more like a calf-eyed boy with a Valentine than a caveman
with a club.
Those of us who are clawing our way through
the jungles of "civilized" love can take a tip from the "savages."