A Scholar’s Brave Exploration in Samoa, 1928


The study of islands is generally a new horizon to many people across varied disciplinaries and often categorized with some lazy thoughts of smallness, boundedness or just being relaxed to say it as an “insularity” land. In people’s mind, those such features are not so different from perceptible appearance of circular drawing surrounded by, perhaps, a few more lines representing waves or ocean in a piece of paper:

“Ask anyone to take a sheet of paper and to draw an island as seen from the air. Most likely, that person would draw a stylized image of a piece of land. Without much detail other than being surrounded by water.”

(Baldacchino, 2016)

Nevertheless, there is a greater matter than a dot sphere in the paper or from aircraft’s view to pull out imagination towards islands.  They are insular occasionally, but then, insularity does not need to be a base for judgement as such to simplicity or inferiority :

“Primitive, untouched societies were simple, such simplicity did not correspond to inferiority

(Baldacchino, 2004)

In that context, Islandness sounds to be a decent and less destructive word to tell about an island, frankly saying. I am personally appreciated and spiritually enthusiastic as well as proud when I need to think or say it out to whoever the audience are.

In this article, there are two main concepts of Islandness were discussed and Baldacchino did not feel comfortable yet to both whichever, remain the Island studies itself needs more exposure, at least I feel so.  The first concept mentioned islands’ nominal value:  border finite, resources limited, less diverse etc. We may quickly digest this idea into two key words: small and close.

Small and Close ?

Baldacchino stated a quote from Mandelbrot that the limitation of island, just as the sky or mountains are not the physical boundary but the universe it holds:

“Cloud are not spere, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles and bark is not smooth

(Mandelbrot 1983, p.1)

The second principle refers to that, sounds more superior, Islandness is an interface to deal with the outsiders’ world and expressed as its filters:

“It is that condition which acts as the filter, broker and interface of/for the island with the rest of the world”

(Baldacchino, 2004)

However, the author provided important questions on this perception what the locality is and how the said interface are coped with island-identification, as when the original islanders are not living in the island  and those from somewhere else, who are currently living there, declare they belong to it ?

 “ In other words, islanders are not necessarily people who are geographically surrounded by the sea , but a people who say that they are geographically surrounded by the sea, or that they belong to a human group which is so”

( Hache 1988, p.47; my emphasis)

That raise the matter of what is in and what is out ? Locality and Externality ? Once again.   Baldacchino has used comparative analysis method to put his opinion in the work of making a theory for Islandness. It is terrific to learn about wide-ranging sides of the researchers’ work but  that didn’t make  a positive  assessment on island studies due to the fact that those activists’ backgrounds are distinct , so are their viewpoints ; sooner than a merged island studies  as an integrated science itself.

Brave exploration from Margaret Mead

Margaret first book: “Coming of Age in Samoa “, published in 1928, has played a crucial role in the next dialogue of this article. Mead works were originally used as seeing island as a locus group for the impacts of modernism:

“Island were useful and convenient settings towards the pursuit of her investigation into the effects of modernity

(Baldacchino, 2004, p.274)

Precisely ,   the celebrity woman was working around her question : what could be done with human nature , and impulsively, she drew the island imagination obsessed by Western fictional documents into another  side of the Moon, at that time; which was in contrast of its commonly fictional display as “Utopia” or untouched paradise :

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

“Isolated on small Pacific islands, in dense African jungles or Asiatic wastes , it is still possible to find untouched societies which have chosen solutions of life’s  problem different form our own , which can give us precious evidence on the malleability of human nature 

( Mead 1973, p.11)

And naturally, Baldacchino (2004, p.275) reminds her belief in realizing that “Westernization” for carelessly and shamelessly exporting its discrepancies to societies and cultures that had their own, distinct, identity”

From her significant foresights, Mead’s discovery seems just started a new battle in disputes from separated scholarship disciplines but in actual fact, it brought together as one on the table as preliminarily interdisciplinary Island Studies afterwards.

With this being said, her profound on the research of Samoa , aimed to  a different group of adolescent  girls, women and children as research subjects , evidently from a Pacific island to find out responses for her stylish at-that-point-in-time-question which initially derived from psychology and anthropology’s interest, are evaluated as a brave walk ever. From the island, she intended to envision human nature of the whole planet Earth.

Author’s reflections

Additional to Mead’s, specified-island-researches mentioned in the editorial were Darwin’s on the Galapagos islands and Wallace’s on the Aru island. What did Baldacchino have to say?

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Initially, he raised a concern that these data-based research could lead to “a false sense of control over the situation and especially so in relation to the small island case” (Baldacchino, 2004, p276). Godfrey assessed those researches as wrong estimation of the authentic perspectives of island’s humanity.   Their observation was, to some extent, repeatedly trapped in the outdated image of primitive or small, savage, or close.

Following, Mead was also cited to “falls for this enduring island image as a mythic space which permits “mastering nature through reason “(Loxley 1990, p.143) , for instance, the Samoa’s quantitative research was focused merely to the small group of 68 girls aged between nine and twenty in seven villages (estimated 600 people),  which was criticized as a big error sample to immediately state any conclusion on the island’s society on its own term.  Correspondingly, the locus group were described as minor in quantity and lack of principal of looking at the whole forest, be consistent with Godfrey’s claim on theorizing the island mentioned at the first part of this writing:

 “These are gross generalizations that fail to recognize that small islands may harbor small but otherwise total societies, and the absence of specialization, literacy or a priestly elite cannot be assumed to be the equivalent of simplicity”

(Baldacchino, 2004)

Baldacchino preference?

The author complimented Mead on her fearless revolutionary of her comparative island- research with a supporting point to her technique:

“… there is no better comparison for an island than another island. There may also be no better comparison for a mainland than an island “

This practice was admired whilst he highlighted the aforementioned use of position of islands civilization being primitive, and savage is obsolete and inappropriate diplomatically and he also doubted about the status of the research subjects, likewise Smawfield said:

“Island stuff is either romanced, rendered as coy subject matter seen only, and fleetingly, through rose tinted glasses

(Smawfield 1993, p.29)

Though, he gives more reflections on the new-found interdisciplinary science of island studies which has been emerging until today. A strong belief from his word on island studies:

“…never has there been such a real possibility of studying different island on their own terms

How would it be relevant in 2020?

Were I Mead, I still wish to conduct such a daring trip to the field for my research although in the contemporary way of exploration. Humankind behavior is continually changing and unpredictable, thus it would not be reasonable to relate to the hypothesis of existing frameworks for those “living bodies”. Furthermore, there are relatively a few added variables to be studied for example:  mobility, technology, natural resources versus renewable resources and a significant add-on is the context of political affairs across landmasses.

To illustrate the thought, the unforeseen epidemic Covid 19 is a noticeable picture to look at the difference  governments’ reaction to get grips of it from mainland continents of Europe , North America, South America versus Asia to Islands’ jurisdictions of Singapore, Australia, Iceland versus sub-national islands of Prince Edward Island, Hawaii , Java  and more to be named. Will Vaccine deliveries become a remedy once and for all or the root cause, in truth, evolved by those above-mentioned factors?

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In closing, studying island on its own terms and in diverse expertise will trigger new generation’s interest. I would follow a phenomenological way of doing the research, which requires sort of systematic projects conducted in a well-timed period , possibly by years or generations , to theorize “the observation” for a “performative geography” , or else relate to them as the world of Islands . There comes a mission of visualizing the identity of continents, nations or islands, all sort of jurisdictions, per se are not within its boundary on earth but in the state of mind in this century.


1.Mead, M., & Boas, Franz (Sonstige beteiligte Personen). (1961). Coming of age in samoa : A psychological study of primitive youth for western civilisation New York. Retrieved from https://proxy.library.upei.ca/login?qurl=http%3a%2f%2fsearch.ebscohost.com%2flogin.aspx%3fdirect%3dtrue%26db%3dedszbw%26AN%3dEDSZBW148642446%26site%3deds-live%26scope%3dsite%26profile%3Deds

2.BALDACCHINO, G. (2004). The coming of age of island studies. Tijdschrift Voor Economische En Sociale Geografie, 95(3), 272-283. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9663.2004.00307.x

3.Baldacchino, G. (2016). Editorial: Islands — objects of representation. Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography, 87(4), 247-251. doi:10.1111/j.0435-3684.2005.00196.x

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