The Ecology of Humans (17-7) New Guinea Tribes

 New Guinea Tribes

American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead observed various tribes in New Guinea. Two in particular – the Arapesh and the Mundagamors – were studies in extreme contrast.

The Arapesh delighted in their children, fondling them regularly. An infant was rarely out of someone’s arms. Mothers carried their infants in slings within them throughout the day. A child nurses 3 to 4 years. Mealtime was a happy time for both mother and baby, with much affection. Other adults reveled with affection to children. The Arapesh were pacifists: easy, gentle, peaceful; a society in which competitive or aggressive games were unknown. Exploitative warfare was absent.

In contrast, Mundagamors treated children as a labor. Often, before a child was born, there was discussion about whether to let it live. If the infant survived birth, it was carried in a rough basket on its mother’s back. The basket was hung on a wall while she was working. Infants were suckled only when their crying could not otherwise be stopped. As soon as suckling stops, back into the basket. An infant had to practically fight for food, clamping a mother’s breast aggressively, frequently choking, and infuriating a mother. The Mundagamors’ nursing experience was, Mead wrote, “one of anger and frustration, struggle and hostility, rather than one of affection, reassurances, and contentment.” As soon as a child could walk, weaning abruptly ended, even slapping a child when it approached the breast. Mead reported that the Mundagamors were “an aggressive, hostile people who live among themselves in a state of mutual distrust and uncomfortableness.” Both men and women were warlike in temperament, seeking power and position. The Mundagamors were cannibals.