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Margaret Mead 1901 - 1978
Margaret Mead was a famous anthropologist who studied a number of different tribal cultures in the 1930s.
One of her most famous studies was of three different tribes in New Guinea, each of which, she said, had a different view of gender from Westerners.
She travelled to remote and difficult areas to live among people who had never met Westerners before. She made notes on their daily lives and tried to learn their languages.
The Arapesh
The Arapesh lived in the mountains. Men and women displayed similar attitudes and actions. They had feminine personalities and were cooperative and sensitive to others. The Arapesh didn't have any conception of the ownership of land, so they never had wars or even arguments over possession of property. Their culture was simple and kind. They were naked until they met Westerners, and then they started to wear bark to hide their private parts. Rape was unknown among the Arapesh. Men seemed feminine in looks and behaviour and take care of the children as well as the women. Children were not allowed to cry, but petted gently. They were never put down when they were very young, but carried and cuddled. Adults spent much time with their children.

The Mundugumor
The Mundugumor were a group of cannibals and headhunters. Here, too, males and females were similar. However, these people had personalities that we in the West would associate with masculinity: assertiveness and insensitivity to others. They were unemotional. Mundugumor women, according to Mead, were just as violent, just as aggressive, and just as jealous as the men. They were harsh with children and carried them in scratchy baskets. They did not play with the children much and spent little time in their company. Mead described the Mundugumor as having a strong sex drive and being hostile. They were very boastful. Mundugumor people live apart from each other in small isolated homes.

The Tchambuli
The Tchambuli lived by a large lake. The Tchambuli did have male and female personalities. Their gender expectations were the opposite of what we expect in modern societies. Tchambuli women were bossy manager types; Tchambuli men were quiet and emotional and were seen as delicate. They were artistic and vain, spending hours putting on war paint. They were headhunters, however.

Margaret Mead is shown here with the Arapesh men who are playing flutes.

Questions (Answer on separate paper)

  1. How did Margaret Mead learn about the people she studied?

  2. Which three tribes did Mead study in New Guinea?

  3. Why were these three tribes so different from Western societies?

  4. Which society was gentle and peaceful?

  5. Why did the Arapesh start to wear clothes?

  6. What clothing did the Arapesh wear?

  7. Which society was warlike and fierce for both men and women?

  8. How did the Mundugumor bring up their children?

  9. How did the Arapesh differ from both the Tchambuli and the Mundugomor?

  10. How did Tchambuli men and women differ from Western men and women?

  11. Which tribe would you like best, why?

  12. Which tribe would you like least, why?

  13. What can we learn about child rearing habits and personality from Mead’s work?

  14. What lesson can we learn about gender roles from Margaret Mead’s work?

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