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Children's Play Style: Potentialities and Limitations of Its Use as a Cultural Indicator

Author(s): Margaret Mead

Source: Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 3, Anthropology: Retrospect and Prospect A
Special Issue in Honor of Regina Flannery Herzfeld (Jul., 1975), pp. 157-181
Published by: George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3316922
Accessed: 28-11-2015 12:00 UTC

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AmericanMuseumof NaturalHistory

I have chosen play as a topic because my first conversationabout

theory with Regina Flannerywas about methods of studyingprimitive
children, especially primitive children at play (Flannery 1937, 1941,
1962). I had alreadybegun my field studies of childrenwhen Dr.John
Cooper asked me if I would discuss methods with her. During the
subsequent forty years very little has been done with the study of
children'splay and still less on the study of play which includes not
only games and toys, but the style of imitative and imaginativeplay,
the ways in which adults participate in directing or originating
children'splay and children'splay style over time.1
The occurrenceof toys and identifiablegames,however,is very easy
for a superficialobserver, or an inexperiencedfield worker to record,
and cat's cradles, for example, have been a frequent recoursefor the
industrious, but unskilled observer. So Boas kept remarkingwith
humorous repetition, that a student who accompaniedhim on his last
field trip to the Northwest Coast was as "an expert at cat's cradles"
(Mead 1959b:407). Children'sgamesalso tend to be listed with riddles,
other word games, children's songs, etc., and collected along with
folklore, especially in studies of less literate groups in modern
Periodically,as methodologiesof the study of humanbehaviorshift,
interest may be focused on children'splay as a suitablesubjectfor the
exploration of regularities in child development, for the study of
individual pathologies, or for the study of creativity in childhood.
Although this researchis concentratedin modernsociety, there are also
periodic, and often half-hearted,requests for comparativematerial.
Regina Flannery's (1937) paper on children's behavior was given in
response to such a request. Similarly,in 1961, I prepareda Report on
the Preparation of Play Materials for International Use on behalf of the
WorldFederationof MentalHealth (Mead 1961). A decadelater, some

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of the recommendationsfor the use of local materials and for the

inclusion of unfamiliarconcepts were put into effect. Furthermore,the
educational and therapeutic use of play materials is now so well
establishedthat the equipmentof a nurseryschool and the productions
of the children are hardly distinguishable from San Francisco to
There is also a new interest in play within current cultural
anthropology, signalled by Edward Norbeck's leadershipin the field,
particularlyby the symposium he arrangedfor the meeting of the
American AnthropologicalAssociation in New Orleansin 1973 (Nor-
beck 1974). Here the interest in play is not focused on children,but
instead draws in discussions such as Gregory Bateson's (1956, 1972)
"The Message 'This is Play', " Victor Turner's (1974) discussion of
ritual, and Geertz's (1973) beautiful study of the cockfight. An
expanded interest in play takes in, as it has done before, the classic
study of homo ludens (Huizinga 1953), and the possible use of
miniaturesin psychological explorations which transcendthe explora-
tion of pathologies,as was originallydone by Erikson's(1938) dramatic
test, and in the Murrayproject (Erikson 1937) which used Harvard
students as subjects. All of these current interests taken together
suggest the advisabilityof giving some considerationto the method-
ology of studyingchildren'splay in primitiveor peasantsocieties.
In this discussion I will draw upon the few classic studies of
children's play (Kidd 1906; Grinnell 1923; Lowenfeld 1969; Henry
1944), upon my own field work in the South Pacific, and upon five
restudiesof Manusin 1928, 1964, 1965, 1967 and 1971, in which I was
able to follow the changes over 47 years among a people who had
moved from lagoon to land dwelling and had been exposed to
Euro-Americanstyle of school (Mead 1954a, 1968).2 I will also use as
backgrounda long series of discussions in which Erikson played an
important role (Zachry 1940; Erikson 1951; Tanner and Inhelder
1957-1960; Ekistics 1972; Mead 1961); work with Lois Murphy
(1962); the wideningdeliberationsof the ColumbiaUniversityResearch
in Contemporary Cultures (Mead and Metraux 1953) under the
direction of Martha Wolfenstein (Mead and Wolfenstein 1963); long
associationwith the work of MargaretLowenfeld(1960) at the Institute
of Child Psychology in London; and materials collected for the
Conferenceof MentalHealth and Infant Developmentin 1952 (Soddy
1956), particularly material on French children presented by the

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French team, and studies initiated by L. K. Frank (Hartley 1952;

Hartleyand Goldenson1957; Metraux1957).
The simplest level of the comparativestudy of children'splay is a
record of the presenceof toys, and whether toys are specificallymade
as toys, by childrenor adults. The most naive observercan record the
presence of a pin wheel, a ball, a toy-sized canoe, a child-sizedcanoe, or
a group of children playing house in which a house is present. The
presence of a toy is of interest, but it must be clearly recognizedthat
one cannot record the absence of toys, nor can informantsbe relied
upon to testify that a toy is absent.In many societies, it is appropriate
for adults to "forget" the games of childhood, and the extraordinarily
episodic quality of children'splay means that the memory of a toy or
game may be carriedfor many yearsafter its existence (Mead1966). In
1953 there was a tremendousspurt of housebuildingin Manus,which
meant the manufactureof new thatch in large quantities. Duringthe
weeks of thatchingin the villageof Pere,everyone-adults and children
alike-spent their time playingdartgames,usingthe strippedribs of the
sago palm leaves. An observer would have been fully justified in
believing that such a game was a regularaccompanimentof thatching.
Yet no such game was played when a house was thatched in Pere in
1928, nor could it have been played, for the shallowlagoon wherethe
village was then located would have been unsuitablefor a game where
the fall of the darts had to be marked. Nor was the game played in
1953 by the Manus of the next village of Bunai where Ted Schwartz
was working, although the villages were in close communicationand
they too were rebuildingtheir houses and makingthatch. Yet when I
made a study of rib dart throwing, I could find highly stylized
elements. Marriedwomen played nearer their own homes than did
unmarriedgirls. In an instanceof attemptedsuicide, partof the activity
to lure the desperateyoung man back to life was a gameof dartswhich
his age mates played underhis window.
In contrast, Ted Schwartz remarked that bows and arrows as a
children'sgame was undoubtedly introducedin Manuseven though the
adults did not use bows and arrows,and he had never been given any
name for bow and arrowexcept for the pidginEnglishbanara.But my
1928 field trip produced pictures of young boys playing with small
bows and arrowswhich they called by a Manusname. From instances
like these it is possible to conclude that toys and games are not
integrated into culture in quite the same way as ritual, even though

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ritual elements may also be latent for long periods of time. For
example, there were elements in the very much reduced ritual life of
the Iatmul in the 1960's, witnessed and recorded by Dr. Rhoda
Metraux, which were not enacted in the very much fuller ceremonial
life witnessedby GregoryBatesonand myself in 1938.3 In 1971 when I
revisitedSamoa after a period of 46 years, the problemaroseof which
form of kava ceremony was to be used to handle the need to
simultaneously honor the governor and myself. This situation was
resolvedby the use of a specialform of the ceremonyin which the kava
was made, but no one drank; the cup was merely touched. It was
claimed that his form of the ceremony had not been used in the life
time of those who elected to use it.
However,although elements of ritual may be carriedin memory to
be reenactedin the same or in a new form after long peribdsof time, as
described,for example,in "An Old Templeand a New Myth,"(Bateson
1970) there are differences between play and ritual. Play shareswith
ritual the characterof something that is intrinsicallyrewarding.Yet it
not only lacks the weight of ritual in which elements have intrinsic
efficacy, but in many cases, it seems to carry a negative weight,
variouslytreatedas unimportant,trivialor unworthyof adult attention.
So in 1925, when H. E. Gregory,the Directorof the Bishop Museum,
heardthat I was going to study the behavior of adolescent girls in
Samoa, he said to me "You may encounterHandydown there, but you
won't overlap because he will be studying important things like
Norbeckinterpretsthe neglect of play by anthropologistsas one way
of rejecting the animal side of human nature (Norbeck 1974). But I
would be inclined to include it within a generalneglect of childhood
which has been characteristicof "high cultures," especially including
our own. Aries' (1962) study documents the slight attention given to
childhood throughout Europeanhistory. It is almost as if one of the
prices paid for a "high culture"-which requires a long period of
learning,novitiate initiation and subordination,at least, for the section
of the population who carry the great tradition-is a denigrationof at
least some aspects of childhood. This is variously expressed in the
attitude that childrenare not yet full humanbeings.In England,upper
class children start out eating the food and using the accents of the
servantsand only graduallyassume upper class mannersand status; in
France, childrenhave to attain an "age of reason" (Metrauxand Mead

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But in addition to the neglect of childhood by seriousstudentsand

commentators in our own society-a neglect which is precariously
breached only occasionally even today-I believe that any attempt to
use the memory of adults as informantsabout children'splay produces
another complication. Childhood is a period in which preoccupation
with scatalogicaljokes and games often takes a form which adultswill
prefer to repudiate later. This was dramatizedby the behaviorof the
childrenof a behavioralscientist friendof mine;they had workedout a
code: "Go away Mother, we're talking newspaper talk," was a
euphemismreferringto the use of newspaperto housebreakkittens.
Associationswith early childhood, often includingthe style of dress
worn by mother and nurse, become vaguely shameful, best forgotten.
When these experiences are also components of songs or games that
present a stylized way of dealing with the forbidden or the best
forgotten, the tendency to forget and deny is even greater.In Bali, Jane
Belo stumbled by accident on a special kind of highly obscene
children's songs. When she questioned her very elegant, high caste
secretary about them, he exclaimed with delight, "Why,I'd forgotten
them. We used to clap our handsand sing them, but I'd quite forgotten
them."Games which themselveshave no forbiddenassociationsmay be
sucked into such a rejected cluster, so that the whole question of
childhood play may become inaccessible. For these various reasons,
students should be warned that one can never rely on a negative
statement that any toy, any game, any song is absent just becauseit is
neitherwitnessednor recalledby adults.
Yet many play skills are attained in childhood, especially when
weapons or tools are used, that are no longerused by adults. Ice skating
and bicycle riding skills in our society are almost exclusivelylearnedin
childhood and "come back" years later when an adult tries to skate or
ride a bicycle again.The question of how these behaviorsare carried"in
the feet" or "in the muscles"(Hunt 1970) duringthe many years when
they are unused, raisesa question which new researchon the reptilian
brain may help to answer (MacLean1973). It is possible that skills
which have become automatic may be kept better if they are relegated
to a kind of memory which can neither be verbalizednor recalled
except by reenactment.
One further aspect of play, which is especially characteristicof
children'splay, but is also found occasionallyin adult fads, is a kind of
contagious obsession whereby an activity is practiced over and over
again, spreadsrapidly from groupto group,occupies more and more of

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a group's time and attention, and then collapses. Examples of such

adult fads in the United States are mah-jongg and miniature golf. When
I returned to the United States in 1939, it was to find the country
pockmarked by little miniature golf courses which seemed to occupy
every empty lot. In a few months they had vanished. But the tireless
obsession with a particular game which may be played by an individual,
a pair or a group, over and over again, seems particularly characteristic of
children. The obsessional aspect provokes adults who, no longer able to
watch, may banish the children out of their sight. It has been suggested
that these obsessions are themselves either forms of covert expressions
of unacceptable impulses or defenses against such impulses, both of
which adults may vaguely sense, and to which they respond negative-
One amusing instance of such adult behavior in Manus occurred in
the village of Pere in October, 1965, after schools had been established.
I reproduce here my notes in full as the scene illustrates so aptly the
recognition of change, the concern of the community with the
children's achievement, the association of play with disapproved
activities-including defecating in the wrong place-and the drastic
measures taken to eliminate the play itself.

October 24, 1965 NGAI October 23, 1965

mm page 1
"The Banishing of the Hoops."
Discipline, punishment, style of
treatment of different ages.
T. Tyokal Setting. In front of T. Ty's house,
Paulus Pomat Pitylu no. 24. Teresa Nyalowen (adult
Akustin Saleyau (all 4 as woman) and small children on
Pius Samol school com- ladder. Chairs set up down below
mittee) for T. Ty's and me.
Class V boys: Akustin is now chairman of
Kalowin Samol-Prep.s school committee.
Bonyalo Pondros-fringe
Kalowin Bonyalo--Prep.
Selan Nyamal-Prep.
Tyolaia Noan-No
Polin Kiapin-was Prep.
(Powaseu son of Ponkob-No prep,
absent but accused)
4:45 The sky was overcast and I decided to go for a walk, walked
along to the playground where half a dozen children were
rolling hoops of old iron. I had been increasingly conscious of

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hoops all day. The village was pretty empty, it was Saturday,
but every now and again the hoops would appear usually only
one child, rolling a hoop between the houses. As I came back I
met Tomas Ty. with a long switch in his hand. He said that 1
child had broken the banana tree of Teresia, wife of Martin
Ng, and 1 [child] has stolen a tire. He has sent for the school
bell and he is going to gather all the children and make court
against them. I go back with him to his house. He brings out a
chair, and a chair is brought for me from my house. A group
of children keep aggregating to the group, who sit in a huddle,
not looking particularly worried. I am struck how small they
are, really almost all tiny children, only Kenawi, Selan, one
other boy, Nyalowen and 1 other girl have started their
adolescent spurt. This is the striking difference from last year
when the large out of age children were still in the school.
Finished sooner than I expected. Teresia Nyalowen is sitting
on the steps with small children. A first hoop is thrown over
the stake, and then another. I query. T. Ty. says he is going to
impound all the hoops because the children spend all their
time playing with them and don't think about their studies.
Queries of where is one, and another, boys-and hoops-and
they go and seek for them. Everything very leisurely. Four
members of the school committee are here, Akustin, who is
now chairman, Pius Samol, and Paulus Pomat Pitylu. The
hoops are the rings from tanks, heavy and rough, of different
5:00 Still looking for the missing children.
A few tiny children wander in the school group and are not
repulsed. There are a group of tiny ones on the ladder with
Teresia Nyalowne, later to be revealed as the culprits of the
banana tree destruction.
5:05 Powaseu Pokus, where is he. Send for him. Word he's in the
old place.
5:06 3 green bananas are laid in front of the group, on a piece of
The owners of hoops are asked to put their hands up, some do,
other only when urged. (Class V and IV boys). Paulus counts
the hoops and says there are 11 hoops there. The owners are
told to come and claim them, which they do. They are a little
sheepish but that is all, neither very serious nor very shamed.
More children come and another hoop.
Pwopit, one of the taller boys, is now singled out for scolding
for not having come at once. He stands, one side very much
lower than the other, face towards MK's house, while T. Ty
upbraided him.
"The bell sounded."
"They all came, except you."
"Who are you? A teacher?

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Or a pupil?"
Children all draw in the sand, at different angles to each other,
eyes down, disinterestedly.
T. Ty asks where bell is. Send a child, Patusiward.
Kialo (V) arrives carrying the bell, having rung it in the far
depths of the Patusi end [of the village].
T. Ty looks at the small children at the ladder, and demands,
"Who took the bananas?"
"Where is Sori Matuwai?"
Finally 5 small children, 2 dressed in pants that they keep
shifting and torturing, are lined up. Akustin stands his child
Cholai down among them. T. Ty leans down and in a gentle
but insistent voice interrogates them.
"Who did it? Who did it?"
Kalowin ways Powaseu (who is absent) in a barely audible
"You or you or you or Powaseu?"
(Note, this public berating would not have happened
to children below 12 or so, in 1928.)
Children fidget and don't answer.
T. Ty takes a stick and sticks it in the ground and bends over
it, demonstrating the damage that was done. (Paulus has left.)
Pius, T. Ty and Akustin are now on the ground. Akustin's
child cried when put down and was picked up again by his
All three squat to talk to the little children, typical [way] of
talking to a child. Their voices are gentle.
The tallest of the children says, "The three was on the ground
when they took bananas."
"Who put it there?" "Powaseu."
Well go and sit down until Powaseu comes-can't do anything
T. Ty explained to me that Taini, whose tire was taken, is out
fishing, so that case can't be heard.
Kenawi, in a very long laplap, sat on steps of MK's house for a
while and then left, with a sort of flourish.
T. Ty explains to me that they think of nothing but hoops.
"They don't wash, they don't study, they don't obey, they
just roll hoops."
(cf. JK's description of his obsession with canoes as a
I say, "Why don't you impound them during the week, and let
them play over weekends. Do you remember how you used to
play with little canoes."
T. Ty says, "Yes, but there was no school then."
Akustin, insists they are dangerous, will flop and cut a child's
hand or foot, and the school committee will be held

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(Note Akustin is one of the anxious fathers, always

has one and often two children with him. His
behaviour was conspicuous in 1964 when Dr. Willis
did his physical exam).
5:44 Bell had been taken away, (now) back again.
(Gus Buckam-[white school teacher]--said later,
they took the bell without asking for it and he was
Akustin (continues to me), "I'm going to take all of them and
throw them in the sea.
T. Ty then makes a speech, (I had said, "Well why not let
them play with them on the playgrounds over weekends?")
"But you play all the time, you never stop."
"You don't study, you don't hear the talk."
"Now who started this hoop business?"
Akustin; "Did it come from Bunai?" [village]
Children agree.
T. Ty talks again, "True, Missus says in her country, girls play
with hoops. But you are boys and you don't listen."
"Now, who were the ones who are the base of the game."
"Kanemon, Bopau and Matawi" (same size). 3 boys stand up.
Akustin; "Now where shall the hoops go? Into the deep sea. If
they stayed a child might be hurt."
Nenewai; "The discussion of the hoops is finished."
Church bell rings. They pay no attention.
(This is another example of deterioration in use of
time to coordinate activities. In 1953 there was a lot
of emphasis on stopping other things when Church
bell rang. School at a distance is probably partly
"Now you boys, you girls, pay attention."
"If something is damaged, you will have to pay."
"Look at these bananas."
(but they have been removed)
"Saturday you play with hoops and Sunday you destroy
They call Pokeu, another 5 year old.
He stands him, gently, hand on his shoulder.
"What is his name? (Children all shout, "Pokeu.")
"He didn't go to the house latrine."
"He defecated in a garden."
"This is forbidden, by the district office, by the Council."
"In Lorengau there is a policeman to see which children don't
do such things."
"If a child pees or defecates he will be put in jail."
Child is sent back to group, no roughness.
Akustin then calls on Selan and Dritako and Michael (Bopau)
to take the hoops, put them in a canoe and take them out

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beyond the reef and sink them. They ask me to speak to the
children. I pointed out that all the hoops have gone into the
sea because they didn't obey when told not to roll them in the
Back at the house, JK [John Kilipak, senior man] is
"Well then they will have to get something else, something
good for the children to play with."
The sense of obsession with play which worried the Manus elders
was described by John Kilipak, speaking in 1953 of his childhood.
When I was little I thought about a little canoe, a very little one. I
was little and so I could not think of anything else. However, I also
could think about shooting fish. When I woke from sleep in the morn-
ing I had no mind for anything else except going to get my little fish
spear, my little arrows-you remember the bows and arrows thatf
Pomat and I made and some of those you bought and took away
with you-and then I would hurry out to fish with them. But they
weren't big fish, they were only little ones. Sometimes they could be
eaten, sometimes they were too small to eat. These were just thrown
away. The day would pass and it would be night. I would sleep with
my father and mother, in the morning my thought would be on
going out fishing again. Then I would go and shoot fish again. I
wouldn't think of anything else. If it was bad weather I would stay
at home with my father and mother and other children would come
and we would talk of something that we wanted to make. We used
to talk about it first, talk about toy canoes, about coconut shell
[craft]. If the wind from one direction was right, all of us would go
there. All of us would gather [in a crowd] and do it. When play
finished and it was night, our minds would not give up thinking
about them [the canoes]. At dawn, I would get up and think of
nothing but playing with these little canoes. Later, I spent all of my
time in the sea. My mother would wait and wait but I would not
come home. The food cooked for me would harden. It would be
cold. My mother would wait and I would not come. Finally she
would shout for me. I would go and eat but my thoughts would still
be on the games with the canoes. As soon as I had eaten, back I
would go. Now I would play again with my little canoes. Each day it
would be the same. My thoughts never turned to anything else.
Because after all I was a young boy. Now my mind was set on play
only (Mead 1966:116).
In many parts of the world, the obsessional character of play activity
is masked because it is seasonal. There is a seakon for flying kites, or
spinning tops, playing marbles or hop scotch. These seasons may be
actually associated with weather-warm weather encouraging outdoor
games, for example-or they may be calendrically associated-games

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played at harvestor in associationwith specialadult ceremonies.In the

latter case, the involvement of all the children will often be seen as
something that will pass, and be no more resented than the smell of
burning autumn leaves or a burst of flowering trees in the spring.But
the activity will neverthelessbe exhausted, and if the observeris not
there at the right time of the year, it may neverbe recordedunlessit is
associated with some physical and relativelyimperishableobject. So I
never saw anyone play with a top (made of half coconut shell and a
wooden peg) among the MountainArapesh.These tops were a harvest
game among the Plains Arapeshwhere the yam harvestwas markedby
much ceremony (Mead 1938). The MountainArapeshgrow few yams,
so that yam harvestceremoniesare rare.But as I insistedon makingan
exhaustive collection of everythingthat was ever made or imported, a
top finally did turn up-followed by the appearanceof some eight tops,
which had been acquired over many years and tucked away in the
house rafters(Mead1938:311).
Another characteristic of games and toys which needs to be
recognized is the ease with which they are diffused. Children'sgames
not only spread very rapidly, they spread as units. It takes only one
contact between a group of childrenand a child or adult who knows
either a new game, how to make a new toy, or a new set of rules, to
import the new form of play. The simpler the toy and the more easily
obtained the materialof which the toy is made, the greaterthe speed of
acceptanceand spread.
This easy diffusion may be attributedto a varietyof circumstances.
There is no fixed set of units into which a new game or a new toy has
to fit, and competition among games can be easily resolvedby playing
them in sequence. Many toys carry in themselvesthe "rules of play"
such as a rubberball which bounces and can be caught,or a ball which
can be blown up or kicked, and replicatedby a pig's bladder.Thereare
a series of universalhuman responsesinto which toys fit. For example,
infants respond to moving objects swung before their eyes, and to
games of disappearanceand reappearancelike Peek-a-Boo,or the older
versions of Hide-and-Go-Seek.There are also a whole series of exigent
responses for which we have no name, like the fact that many events
have beginningsand ends which are suitable, "logical"occasions to be
markedby some ceremony.
Good examples of such near universalsituations are the protective
ritual games which childrenplay between school and home to reassure
themselves during the dangeroustransition: "If you step on a crack,

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you'll breakyour mother's back; if you step on a nail your father'llgo

to jail," or the demand that a ball must be bounced without errorfor a
given number of times. Wherethere are schools and a distancebetween
school and home, there is a space or slot into which new observances,
carried by children from place to place, can easily fit. As a result,
diffusion is easy, parallelinvention is frequent, and it is difficult to
distinguish old forms from those recently introduced. So Crack-the-
Whipmay have been introduced,lost and reintroducedmany times as a
modificationof Follow-the-Leader.
But the form of the game itself has only a limited value in the
description of the culture. Among the Arapesh there is a simple
Follow-the-Leadergame which is called Snake in which small boys
simply hold the waists of those in the front of them. But among the
Mundugumor,whose style of humanrelationsis harsher(Mead1963a),
the "head" of the "snake" bites the last child called the "tail". This
difference in such similargames does reflect a culturalcontent, but the
presence or absence of the game itself is not significant.Like widely
distributed folk tales, differences in versions can be used as precise
indicators of cultural style, as with the Baba Yaga tale of eastern
Europe or the different versionsof The MagicFlight. But the failureof
the Bluebeardstory to diffuse, althoughit is suggestiveas an indication
that male fearsmay be more operativein folklore diffusion than female
fears,cannot be used as the same kind of indicator.
One of the most striking differences between the play styles of
different cultures is the degree'to which childrenreenact, in miniature
or in child scale, the social events of adult life. The best example of
such instances come from the Cheyenne (Grinnel 1923), where the
adults made small tipis and weapons for the children to reenact the
whole of camp life. In 1938, Iatmul childrendescribedsuch full scale
enactments of hunting and trance behavior engaged in by mixed sex
groups in which girls were slightly older than boys (Mead 1967). But
while the Manuschildrenin 1928 displayeda greatdeal of imitation of
adult physical activity, play with child scale canoes (made by adults)
and miniaturesof schooners (made by children), there was a curious
absence of any imitation of adult social activities such as affinal
exchanges, trance or mock ceremonialbattles, which I found difficult
to explain at the time. But in 1953, I realized that the childrenhad
imitated the kinds of physical skill and proficiency which the adults
enjoyed; instead of imitating the ceremonieswhich the adults found so
burdensome, they had imitated the adults' desires to evade the

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ceremonies (Mead 1966). In 1953, after a social transformationin

which the adults were now enacting a new form of social life which
they enjoyed, the childrenbecamemuch more involvedand imitativeof
all adult activities(Mead1974).
But there are societies in which childrensimply participatein adult
activities, others in which they replicateadult activities in miniature-
building tiny houses, canoes, playing with tiny dolls-and others in
which child scale play, sometimes with puppies instead of human
infants, is highly stylized (Bateson and Mead 1942:204-11). And there
are groups in which children's play is severely restricted, as among
Puerto Rican childrenin New York, where we have recordsof mothers
solving rivalry for play objects around a sandbox by making certain
there are no sand toys available. Children may be given the most
beautifully executed toys which develop their aestheticsensesearly, or
left to their own devices to play with mud and water and kitchen
utensils (Mead 1959a). Or, againas in Bali, childrenmay develop their
own version of complex orchestras(McPhee1963) or theatricalthemes
(Mead 1963b) reflecting changes in their interpretations of adult
However, since we find such striking changes as those observedin
Manus,the definition of the culturalstyle of play has to be raisedto an
even higher level of abstraction if sequences in culture change and
modernizationare to be adequatelyrecordedand accounted for. I will
now reproducea set of field notes from Manustaken in 1953, after the
people had moved ashore,in which my side notes articulatelycomment
on changes as I wrote up a three-day play interlude. Childrenstill
played in mixed-agegroups;play clustersbrokeup and reformedon the
basis of differer* degrees of strength and skill; play was cooperative,
paralleland non-competitiveand characterizedby echoing of themes, as
it had been in 1928 (Mead 1960, 1966). So stated at a sufficiently
abstract level, the continuities could be distinguished, and such
continuities,in turn, could be relatedto the adult culture.
The scene, "ChildrenMake Toy Airplanesat Beach"was recorded
duringthe period of August 7-10, 1953, neara small "house wind,"-a
palm leaf pavilion referredto in my notes as "my house" which I had
erected as an observationpoint.

August 8, 1953 AIE 1953 August 7-8th

"Children make toy airplanes at the beach"

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Basic scenario on the development

August 7-main day. Lecias mm of microcosmic play for which
August 8th and 9th-trailing model airplanes and model musical
play instruments are clues.
Tomas Pomat (42)7 Basic scenario for the idea of acts
Stephen Posanget being arranged in rhyming, echoing
Selan +/8 Ngamseu of Patusi sequences in which form takes the
Rigat +/ Pinkes place of similarity of sound or
Krama Paliae +/ Pomele visual image. Reverberating motor
Martin +/ Poli patterns.
Ngalowen 0/ Stephen P (51) Types of open field play.
Nyamai O/ Nauna (27)
Alupwai o/
Molung 0/ Mano
Matuwai +/ Lukas Bonyalo
Pwoitchalon +/ (Gabriel Kalowin)
Posalo, deaf boy (40)
Pwailep 0/ Pinkes
Nagoli, o/ Kaloi
Nwawaseu 0/ R. Manuwai (42)

10:45 New Leica Roll.

Leica roll set up. Frame 1. Two Women way out on the dry
water scale, tiny figures against the enormous expanse of sky
and water.
Frame 2 and 3. Kenawi against the empty landscape.
(I leave the tripod for a moment and people
immediately go and look through the lens. Really no
possibility of concealing any technical point from
them. Note, small girls Nagalowen's age already have
grasped every detail of the typewriter. I think there is
an increase in the similiarities between boys and girls.
Note: that one often mistakes girls for boys, but I
have not yet made the opposite mistake so common
in Iatmul. )9
Frame 5-22. Sequence of 4 children playing with little stick
houses on beach. The general style is one or two children start
something, others either join in, or repeat, i.e. either become
part of the existing structure, repeat the whole, or echo the
11:22 (This observation was made at this point after
photographing the play houses. Sequence should
show this point.)
Leica taken, e.g. 1 house with 5 children in the group, then
another 4 houses, among 7 children, etc.
(I suspect that one of the clues here is the number of
activities which look different to us and are the same
to them, so very possibly doing something in a group,

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in the presence of others and all by oneself aren't

really different-as the focus is on what one is doing
oneself, anyway. Also note the fascination with the
introduction of change, especially of correction into
any situation, as if the crucial stimulus was: "Some-
thing should be done with or about this," rather than
"I want to do something, or make something." So,
bits of sticks on the ground start them building little
houses, a man working a canoe starts them drawing.
Peranis (young adult) sat fascinated for half an hour
while I was reading Lenora Schwartz's (now L.
Foerstal) notes this morning, checking points, putting
question marks, altering spelling where there was
ambiguity. And (he) was prepared to be interested in
every type of correction. 25 years ago the two things
that fascinated them most in typing were errors
(which I "killed" with x's) and erasures. Babies over a
month or so-depending on strength always need
something done about them-they should be
bounced, walked, talked to.
Five children are now way out on the flat, 2 wandered out and
two followed. (L?).
(Camera note. 2 rolls have jammed at 25.) Reloaded
at 11:45.)
12:55 I started to rest and then got interested in a group of six small
boys: R. Posangat, Selan, Martin, Tomas, Paliau and Kenawi
(ages somewhere from 12-16), who were gathered around the
new canoe-in process of being worked-of Lukas Bonyalo.
Two had ukeleles, the others were working on making
something out of the bits of wood lying about. I asked them
what they were making, they said, "Birds that move in the
sky" (airplanes).
1:00 I got up and took a Leica of one of the little planes, belonging
to R. Posangat. While he was playing with it, I asked, "Does it
really fly?" He carried it a little way from the group, held it
high in the air, into the wind so the propellor would whirl, and
then got a stick and stood it up on it.
(This stood up stick became one of the structural
themes-as distinct from the airplane as a whole-
which ran through the afternoon. A second theme
was the whirling object.)
Two boys pick up a small children's play canoe and carry it
still holding their ukeleles down on the beach.
(As if to reassert a canoe is something that can be
managed. 25 years ago with only model canoe in
which one sailed, or which one sailed, and model
schooners which one sailed, (was) the sense of reality
and control correspondingly higher?)

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One of these (two boys) sits down on the upturned play

canoe, the other goes back. This makes three on the beach, two
with ukeleles, playing softly. Two Leicas of fussing with the
canoe, they bring it back up again and set it across the small
upturned outriggerless canoe lying between LB's canoe and the
(Note the arrangement of these canoes will change
daily, even hourly, so it will be necessary to take a
general layout photograph each day when I get to the
beach, to make the recording more intelligible.)
They are partly conscious of me watching and of the
photography but their behavior runs so true to form that I
don't think it is influenced except it may have been slightly
One boy seats himself on this precarious post.
(At this point I only know the names of Tomas and
R. Posangat).
Plays the ukelele.
A second boy-with ukelele-goes out and sits on top of a post
in the dry lagoon.
(Note the whole body echo here to the airplane on
top of a stick stuck in the ground, also there is an
echoing between propeller movement, and music
which crops up later.)
A second plane maker puts his plane on a stick out on the
beach. Another takes a piece of rattan (lying about from canoe
making) and fastened the nose of the canoe, which they noted
was splitting off-as they carried it. This is completely realistic
1 boy picks up bits of canoe chips, hurls one towards Luluai's
house, while a second boy picks up two long sticks and
pretends to make stilts of them.
(Theme of up on the stick again. Note most of these
are old games, as available as a clich6 in verse writing
which rhymes dove with love.)
One picks up the play canoe and carries it off the scene. Two
more hurl the mock stilts as spears. Now only 1 boy working
on a model plane.
1:10 Three sit in the LB canoe and eat something and two others sit
on the overturned canoe side by side and play their ukeleles.
One still working on his plane. Tomas now has his on a stick
too-his is a weak caricature. Now two boys pick up a big post,
about 4 inches in diameter and 3-4 feet long and stand it up on
their shoulders. One boy with uIelele is now standing up.
Three boys now have their model planes on sticks. The two
boys with the post throw it down, shadow box each other.
Posanget takes his plane off the stick, the two boys who are
still standing have a short tug of war with a piece of stick.

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Then one sits down on beachward canoe, plays. The other one
goes back into shadow of LB canoe. Boy left in big canoe
begins to sing.
(It seems to me actions like participation and
repetition are felt as equivalent.)
Short chase by ukelele players then ukelele players come back.
Boy sites on log on beach, plays hard, Tomas, with a big knife
sharpening a stick. Posangat comes back to work place,
someone calls Rigat away. Two others, Martin and Paliau join
him and as they leave turn and call: "Tomas, Posangat, Pomat
come on." The three called pay no attention, and the other
three leave. The three who remain work on one plane.
1:15 (Isn't watching someone else do something also part
of the series of activity equivalents.. . part of ex-
ternalized action?)
Posangat goes back to his stick.
Tomas sharpens a stick for Selan, he has the knife.
(Leica frame 7)
(Leica frame 8-11) 4 little boys come in through the flats with
Visiting Mok woman strolls along beach with Lomot con-
tentedly following her.
(Note how rapidly Lomot attaches herself to others
who will take her some place). Lomot (h. 29)
(Leica frame 11) A woman alone in a canoe against the wide
Three boys now each working on own plane. Ngalowen (h. 31)
now here has joined Mok woman and Lomot on log.
(Note all Stephen's children hang around where I am
as if at a relative's. Ng. takes the lead among the other
little girls in explaining my movements and posses-
Tomas sets his plane up on a very heavy stick. Propeller spins
in wind. Takes it off and holds it between his teeth.
1:21 Tomas has now climbed up into the big canoe; sits. Three little
girls come, Nyame (h. 27), Ngalowen (h. 31) and Maria (h. 60)
and stand near me and looking over at LB canoe groups say:
"Oh they are making airplanes." Posangat walks away in one
direction, Tomas in the other. Tomas tries another stick, puts
plane on it for a second, stands with stick in one hand, walks
over and sits down parallel to Selan. Then 2 back working on
their planes again. Posala (deaf boy) and Pwailep arrive,
wrestle for a moment. They are part of group near my house,
not of plane group. Tomas sets his plane up again.
(Leica frame to 18 of the 3 planes) 1 belonging to Posangat is
quite an accurate model, 2 belonging to Tomas, a rough
caricature, 3 belonging to Selan is a fanciful object something
like a helicopter, with a two-tier propeller on top, the bottom

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shaped like a plane. I asked them if they'd ever seen one like
this and they said, "No." His really a pinwheel, on top of
propeller, on top of a model plane.
(Note the easy transition from the old New Guinea 4
point pinwheel to a propeller.)
1:37 One of the other boys comes back, starts to work. Selan now
has his fixed on a short stand which is thrust into a hole in the
ground, propped with extra wedges (Leica frame 18-19).
Tomas's plane supported in a sort of tower of sand (Leica
frame 20-21). Leica of Posangat in the distance, plane on a
pole. Two Leicas of a laden canoe coming in. Posangat wades
out and sets his up on the dry flat. Leica of new group around
(It was there till 3 o'clock today but has now at 4:30
I return to house to find little girls have all made their pretend
percussion instruments and are singing to them. (L3) Nyamai
brings a handful of sand and dumps it down in between them.
1:55 Only Selan left. Nyamai goes over and watches him. A new
group of children gather. LL comes over and takes his two
children out of the group. I call him to ask his view of the
Karol-Peranis P. quarrel, and then he goes off with his children
to cut sago leaves.
(Leica frame 31) Posalo now has 2 ordinary pinwheels
whirling, one in each hand.
(Watch him for footnotes on the visible themes.)
Selan has now disappeared and leaves the helicopter toy
whirling all by itself. Posalo goes, takes the helicopter out of
its hole and fastens one of his green pinwheels over the top of
it. Leaves it lying inert in the sand. Pwoitchalon (+/ Kalowin,
Old Pere) wades out to where Posangat's plane stands lonely
on the flat and stands beside it. (Leica.) Two Leicas of Nyamai
leaning over Selan's deserted plane, standing it up again and
fixing it. Pwoitchalon, all alone on the edge of the beach starts
standing up the uprights for a little stick house. Nyamai comes
back to my house holding the other pin which Posalo had.
Mok woman and Lomot wander away villageward. Posalo has
disappeared. Molung (1) and Matuwai (2) now sitting on
overturned canoe looking at the toy helicopter.
2:10 Nyamai and the other girls join group by helicopter. Pwoit-
chalon still building his house all by himself. Two Leicas of
Nyamai, Molung and Nyawase'u (h. 42) (Leica). Nyamai goes
over to Nyawase'u. Other girls gather around Nyawase'u. Little
pinwheel on the helicopter is whirling all alone. Ngaoli fusses
with Molung's hair.
(Note Ngaoli has been working on a mat for me, may
account for her wandering out.)
2:15 Pwoitchalon stands and looks at the sticks he has stood up.

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Ngaoli stands Nyawase'u up in sand. Nyamai and Ngalowen

talking softly. Matuwai is breaking up little bits of stick,
Molung is sitting in a canoe, holding a big knife, Maria is
listening to the radio.10~Pwoitchalon is now putting rafters on
his little house. (Leica finished. Reloaded).
2:22 Leica of his (Pwoitchalon's) house.
Posangat, Selan and Tomas come back with hands full of
branches of berries, Kachachomwi. Selan stops and picks off
the top part of his helicopter and carries it over and Sets it on
top of the radio where wind will whirl it. Molung now has one
of the little play instruments over at the overturned canoe and
a new group forms around the branches of berries.
(new plot introduced)
Selan's little piece of a plane falls off the top of the radio,
from the speed with which the propeller is working. He picks
it up and holds it in his hand so that the propeller spins. The
new constellation around the overturned canoe now includes:
Tomas, Ngalowen, Kenawi, Molung, Paliau who has brought
back a perfect little model plane with 3 landing wheels shaped
from soft wood. Pwoitchalon has now got hold of another of
the plane models on a stick which he carries with him.
(Note the plasticity of it all, shift from one act to
another, with a transformation formula which can
change from watch, participation, repeat, echo, pick
up where someone else has left off, pick up what
someone else has laid down.)
2:10 R. Manuwai comes to say he's ready to go to Lombrum and [I
got back to the house. ]
3:15 Leica of new children who have joined the group, 1 with an
upright stick, the second with a pinwheel.
(For a parallel to the speed with which these small
games spread, see Miniature Golf.)
I now shifted to recording "Pochelau's walking lesson."
(Separate notes.)
4:20 A group of children suddenly all have sticks about three feet
long which they hold across their backs with hands curved
around the ends and run with-as if they were flying.
4:12 A whole group of children, including the former little girls,
now appear with more of the same berries and mortars for
eating them, made of bamboo and slender sticks with which
they squelch them, and then lick the end like a lime spatula.

August 8, 1953
10:55 a.m. When I arrived at the beach, small girls, Ngalowen, Ipam,
(Stephen's daughter who lives with her mother's mother in
Bunai), [and] Alupwai.
(Do we have any examples anywhere of microcosmic
play developing with only boys? All the best known

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examples, Cheyennes, Bantu, latmul have boys and

girls? Are the dynamics here: 1) increasingly difficult
models which fit in with former reality type, planes
instead of boats; 2) inclusion of girls; 3) exuberance
of materials with coming ashore being something like
the effect of getting iron tools on the Tchambuli,
Maori or Kwakiutl?)
2:05 (Leica frame 27) Posalo appears with yesterday's good model
plane with wheels, with a new green pinwheel stuck on it.
(Leica frame 28) Tomas appears with his plane back on a stick.
The stick with a plane on it which Posanget set up yesterday is
still out on the flat. Second perfect little model appears, and
someone starts it along the ground (over beside Mano's house),
it runs in the wind for a little way, then tilts forward. Small
child shouts "Go!"
2:33 Leica of boy and his plane. (END)

August 9, 1953 at beach.

1:28 After meeting to hear Paliau recording.
3 boys playing with planes on sticks, Kraman, Paliau, Posala,
and Lapoon (h. 29). (One out of the original group of 2 days
ago, and Posalo runs through the 3 days.) Leica frames 19-25.
Kraman's is now very fanciful, the former functional replica
wheels have now been built into a superstructure on top of
plane, and act as joints in an erector set, no longer as wheels.
1:37 Leica of Keraman (?), Pasalo, and Lapoon with their planes.
1:44 A group of 8 boys, most around the 9 year old age, are now
making propellers only, two sit down vis-a-vis, 2 stand parallel
with their propellers whirling in the wind and more working
on their knees, same position in a quarter turn from each
other, then one of these and another, face-to-face, whirling
and 2 others try to stop the plane set up on beach with their
propellers. Lots of standing about just holding propellers in
wind. They wade out and set their sticks all up on the piece of
distorted driftwood (see early morning Leicas of set for
August 9). All the ones that were on sticks out on the piece of
driftwood are now back on shore. 3 Leicas wrong exposure, 3
more right (exposure) of three of these.
Little Pomat (Cholai) now has one of the models, playing with
2:32 Planes are now being played with by a group including 8 years
olds. One of former plane builders now has a perfect model
canoe, complete with sails, takes it down and launches it from
men's latrine bridge, and lets it sail away, a small speck against
the horizon over which the Mbuke canoe, also looking very
small, is disappearing.
3:15 Leica of a boy with propeller on a stick with an elbow in it,

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which he is wearing on his head. Kraman is still playing with

(Note Kraman and Tomas Pomat are like larger and
smaller version of each other).
There are 12 little boys (not originally involved in the plane
play,) (now) involved. Then a new development appears, a
secondary much larger propeller placed near the ground of a
tall stick with a sketchy plane and propeller on top. A very
small boy comes and stands up a smaller simpler one beside it.
2 boys then take sticks with propellers on them and go out
and try to set them up on top of men's latrine. Johanis Taini
comes along to bathe, throws bits of stick at them, until they
get down. There are now 5 playing, and another develop-
ment-curved pieces of top of the simple outline plane with
propeller, making them symmetrical at each end.
3:43 Radio playing. Boys are all standing around it, still holding
spinning propellers, one boy of ten works all alone on a model
over overturned canoe.
3:44 Tomas, who has been playing with a toy canoe on a string,
alternately pushing it and pulling it, suddenly stands it up and
fastens his plane to the end of it, falls, damages the plane, he
mends the plane and holds it in his hand.
5:30 Lapoon (h.29) was putting 2 curved sticks (see above L18) on
top of the plane he had inherited.

August 10-fading echoes.

9:55 Cholai's wife walks across sea end of plaza with him (Pomat)
holding a propeller on a long cocoanut crib, and turning it
around and around in her two hands. In mid-morning a
propeller appears stuck on the side of RM's water tank,
whirling in the wind.
1:55 Cholai carries one in his hand, idly.
3:00 Pokanau gets back from Mbunai, small boy with him has a
good model.
3:05 Tiny child, 2 playing in the water with one of the discarded
models of yesterday.
So the theme ends for the present, down to the babies and
into the hands of the adults as casual survivals.


1In the second edition of the Manual of Child Psychology, edited

by Leonard Carmichael (Carmichael 1954), I published a bibliography
which included all the known unpublished as well as published material
on the study of primitive children (Mead 1954b). This was designed to
put students of human behavior in touch with those who had
investigated the same subject. However, just as the subject of the
psychoanalytic child (Freud 1931)-which of course also referred to the

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study of children's play-was dropped from the second revised edition

of the Manual (Murchison 1933), so primitive children (Mead 1931)
were dropped from the third (Mussen 1970), and a chapter on
cross-cultural studies was substituted (Levine 1970). The increasing
tendency to deal with the tremendous growth of ethnographic
literature through the use of such devices as the Cross Culture Index
means that what attention is given to the behavior of children is likely
to be condensed into statements about presence or absence of
particular children's games or toys with little or no allowance for the
way they are played, composition of play groups, or changes in play
style with changes due to change of habitat or modernization.
2The expeditions included: The American Museum of Natural
History Jane Belo New Guinea Expedition; SAO, The Factor of Mental
Health in Allopsychic Orientation (NIMH) MH-03303-09; and NGAI,
New Guinea and Admiralty Islands Studies in Cultural Systematics NH
3Unpublished field notes from Dr. Rhoda Metraux's expeditions
to New Guinea in 1967-1973.
4Martha Wolfenstein, personal communication.
s Prep. refers to pre-school group.
6Brackets [ ] indicate materials added later.
7Number refers to house number on village plan.
8+/=son of; O/=daughter of (Radcliffe-Brown 1930).
9Parentheses ( ) indicate theoretical comment or explanatory
aside added at time of typing.
A large-size community reception radio.
1962-Centuries of childhood: a social history of family life. New
York: Knopf.
1956-The message "this is play". In Group Processes, Vol. 2, B.
Schaffner, ed. New York: Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation.
1972-Steps to an ecology of mind. San Francisco: Chandler.
1970-An old temple and a new myth. In Traditional Balinese
Culture, Jane Belo, ed. New York: Columbia University.
1942-Balinese character: a photographic analysis. (Special Publica-
tions of the New York Academy of Sciences, II.) New York:
The New York Academy of Sciences.
1954-Manual of Child Psychology, Second edition. New York:
Wiley. (First published in 1946.)
1972-Delos ten: the 1972 Athens Ekistics Month. Ekistics
1937-Configurations in play. Psychoanalytic Quarterly 6:138-214.
1938-Dramatic productions test. In Explorations in Personality,
H. A. Murray, ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

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1951-Sex differences in the play configurations of preadolescents.

American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 21:667-92.
1937--Child behavior from the standpoint of the cultural anthro-
pologist. Journal of Educational Sociology, April: 470-8.
1941-The dearly-loved child among the Gros Ventres of Montana.
Primitive Man 14:33-7.
1962-Infancy and childhood among the Indians of the East Coast
of James Bay. Anthropos 57:475-482.
1931-Psychoanalysis of the child. In A Handbook of Child
Psychology, Carl Murchison, ed. Worcester: Clark University
1973-Deep play: notes on the Balinese cockfight. In The
Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Papers, C. Geertz, ed.
New York: Basic Books.
1923-The Cheyenne Indians, 2 Vols. New Haven: Yale Univer-
HARTLEY, R. E. et. al.
1952-Understanding children's play. New York: Columbia Univer-
1957-Complete book of children's play. New York: Crowell.
1944-Doll play of Pilaga Indian children. Research Monograph
No. 4. New York: American Orthopsychiatric Association.
1955-Homo ludens: a study of the play element in culture.
Boston: Beacon.
1970-Neuromuscular structuring of human energy. Forty-fifth
conference program and annual report of the Western
Society for Physical Education in Women. The Western
Association for the Physical Education for College Women.
Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin.
1906-Savage childhood: a study of Kafir children. London:Black.
1970--Cross-cultural study in child psychology. In Carmichael's
Manual of Child Psychology, Vol. 2, Paul H. Mussen, ed.
New York: John Wiley.
1960-The world technique. Topical Problems in Psychotherapy
1969-Play in childhood. Portway, Bath: Chivers. (First published
in 1935.)
1973-The brain's generation gap: some human implications,
Zygon 18:113-127.
1963-Children and music in Bali. In Childhood in Contemporary

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Cultures, Margaret Mead and Martha Wolfenstein, eds.

Chicago: University of Chicago. (First published in 1955.)
1931-The primitive child. In A Handbook of Child Psychology,
Carl Murchison, ed., Worcester, Mass.: Clark University.
1938-The mountain Arapesh, I: an importing culture. New York:
Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural
History 36:3:139-349.
1954a-Manus restudied: an interim report. Transactions of the
New York Academy of Sciences, Ser. II, 16:426-432.
1954b-Research on primitive children. In Manual of Child
Psychology, L. Carmichael, ed. New York: Wiley. (First
published in 1946.)
MEAD, MARGARET (Consultant and Commentator)
1959a--Four families. National Film Board of Canada. 16 mm,
black and white, sound, 2 parts, 58 min. New York:
1959b-An anthropologist at work: writings of Ruth Benedict.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
1960-Growing up in New Guinea. Apollo Editions. New York:
Morrow. (First published in 1930.)
1961-Report on the preparation of play materials for interna-
tional use. Prepared for World Federation for Mental Health,
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