Children's Space in Samoa
Kids playing on a beach: In the Spring of 1981, Elinor Ochs and I went back to the village
of Falefa, in Western Samoa, to do some more fieldwork and collect
images of children's activities (we were sponsored by the Research
School of Pacific Studies at the Australian National University).
One morning, as we were going to meet a family in another part of
the village to film their daily activities, we noticed a group of
young kids playing on the beach. We stopped and started film their
interaction. When I ran out of Sound Super 8 film, I took some slides.
This is one of them.
remember that when we arrived at the site where the kids were
playing, they stopped their game and started to interact with
us. I told them to go back to what they were doing but they seemed
unable to return to their game. They were staring at us, schocked
by our attention to them and probably curious about our cameras
and tape recorder. I then started to imitate the way they had
been talking while playing, mocking their intonation and phrasing.
That did it. They slowly went back to their fantasy game made
up of trucks delivering cement, people getting coconuts, preparing
the fire, collecting garbage, and making 'vaisalo' (coconut purridge).
I filmed them for over 10 continuous minutes from a few feet
away, while Elinor was holding the microphone, trying to protect
it from the strong wind.
playing inside house: This is another playing activity
we filmed in 1981. These three boys are playing one of their favorite
games inside the house while
their younger sister and one of their neighbors are watching them.
This activity has the flavor of being supervised by adults. The
kids are sitting on mats in the center of the house, as if on certer
sweeping a house: In Western Samoa, boys and girls routinely
participate in household chores. In this picture, two boys and
a girl are engaged in cleaning up their 'fale' (house). The floor
is completely covered by 'fala' (mats) and they are sweeping
away dirt and little rocks. The absence of objects on the floor
and the paucity of furniture is typical of traditional Samoan
households, where most items are stored under the roof, between
beams, and the curtains sometimes used to separate different
sleeping spaces during the night are lifted in the morning.
while working: In the Spring of 1981, we spent several
days at the house compound of the orator Leuta, in the subvillage
of Sanonu, in Falefa. The entire family was engaged in the task
of rebuilding one of their 'fale Samoa' (Samoan-style houses).
While the men were cutting and lifting the wooden posts, the
women were preparing new 'pola' (screens) and a new thatched
roof. The children in the meantime were also helping. In this
picture, young girls sit in the main house of the compound making
brooms while baby sitting their younger siblings.
at pastor's school: School instruction was one of the
activities Elinor Ochs and I were interested in documenting in
1981 (see our article reproduced in Ochs, Culture and Language
Development, ch. 10). We filmed two settings: the local Catholic
school and the local pastor's school, where children learn to
read and interpret the Bible. In this context, the children dress
and act quite differently from other situations in their daily
life. The presence of books (mostly the Bible) is only one of
the elements that enters into the constitution of the activity
and play: This is a picture I took in the late afternoon
of a group of older children taking care of infants and enjoying
each other. Given that older children are usually in school in
the morning, groups of caregivers tend to form in the afternoon.
This scene is a good reminder of the fact that in real life activities
interpenetrate each other. In this case, these girls are caring
for their younger siblings and enjoying each other telling stories
and playing games. The participation in these activities is a
primary context for language socialization (see Elinor Ochs,
Culture and Language Development, Cambridge UP,
to exchange news: Another
moment of children's life. In the afternoon, older children are
sent off to fetch food, borrow
utensils from relatives, or wash clothes. These tasks occupy
their time away from school with chores rather than playful activities
but also give them an opportunity to walk from one end of the
village to the other, meet some of their peers and more distant
relatives, and find out about the latest news. This picture shows
two girls carrying a basket with food and a girl with a large
pot chatting on the side of the main road before returning to
their respective family compounds.