Gender and Religion

While traditionally men were most likely to be title holders, women as sisters had spiritual power—mana. Some of the fine mats women wove were considered the resting place of spirits. When missionaries demanded that Samoans destroy their idols, Samoans took their most sacred fine mats to the sea and "drowned" them.

Even today, if a man goes against his sister's wishes or offends her, she may curse him. Ill luck, injury, sterility, even death, may then befall him or his descendants. In old Samoa, if a man fell seriously ill, his sister came to his bedside and sprayed his body with coconut juice from her mouth; this was a ritual forgiving offenses against her and lifted whatever spiritual cause the illness might have.

A change to more sexually restrictive norms for girls was gradually introduced and differentially enforced prior to World War II. After that time enforcement seems to have been more consistent. This change was psychologically problematic, as indicated by the increasingly prominent role female spirits began to play in spirit lore. Girls who were believed to have been taupou prior to having been "taken" by spirits became major figures in spirit-induced illnesses and possessions. While the taupou's virginity was closely guarded prior to a brief marriage with a highly titled partner, these spirit girls were notorious for following attractive young men home at night and seducing them. Remember that in old Samoa, lower-status girls often married by elopement, which involved following a boy back to his family compound.

Spirit girls united the figure of the high-status virgin with the sexual agency that common girls exercised in pre-Christian times.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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