Letters

The Real Samoa

SIR: Re John Whitworth’s poem about Samoa (May 2008). This nonsense about Samoan women is all Herman Melville’s fault! In his novel Oomoo, he created the myth of the Polynesian maiden as a fantastic sexual being, an image that somehow resonated with the puritanical culture of the United States in the late nineteenth century. Ageneration later, Margaret Mead reinforced the myth, by giving it anthropological respectability. Her research in Manu’a, undertaken in the context of the then fashionable debate about “nature versus nurture”, gave her a cachet that survives. But, like Melville’s maiden, it is as fake. I’d like, on…

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