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The Manus people live in coastal villages on the island of Manus, part of the Admiralty Islands of Papua New Guinea. Their culture was one of those studied by the famous social anthropologist Margaret Mead.

Her popular study, Growing Up in New Guinea, was first published in 1930, based on fieldwork done in 1928-29. In it she describes a society which practiced adoption to an extraordinary degree: in the Manus village of Peri fully 25% of all children were adoptees, and only half of these were orphans.

Adoption among the Manus is noteworthy for other reasons besides its frequency. One feature is that it is totally open, with living birth and adoptive parents in daily contact (adoption is common within the family as well as outside), and the child knows what the biological relationships are. Like British and American adoption, in infancy or early childhood it transfers complete parental rights to the adoptive family, including kinship terms. The child's former family taboos and ancestral spirits are also replaced by those of his or her new clan and family. Also, while everyone knows who the biological father is, this is considered totally unimportant; "social paternity" is what matters. A child born of an extramarital relationship is also always unequivocally accepted by the mother's husband; there is no question to the Manus but that the "real" father is the one who cares for the child (and in Manus the father plays a major part in caring for the children).

In contrast, an adoptive mother's relationship to her child is problematic and she might publicly claim, in the face of common knowledge, that she is the biological mother of the child; and to cast aspersions on her biological maternity has the same force of public shame as would questioning a man's paternity of his wife's child in our culture.

Finally, adopted children almost invariably take on the personalities of their adoptive fathers. Manus children, almost without exception, are little copies of their fathers in mannerisms, personality and character, regardless of whether the father is biological or adoptive, although this is more marked in boys than girls. And even children as old as 12 on adoption can be seen to change personalities, shedding that which they have modeled on their biological fathers in favor of that of their adoptive fathers, and siblings separated by adoption can be easily differentiated. The mother's influence in this respect is almost non-existent, unless she is (unusually) definitely more dominant that the father. (It should be noted that Mead's reliability as an anthropologist has been seriously questioned since her death.)


Mead, Margaret. Growing Up in New Guinea. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1942)
Mead, Margaret. New Lives for Old: Cultural Transformation - Manus, 1928-1953. (London: Gollancz, 1956)


Polynesian, Melanesian
Papua New Guinea
20th Century
Customary or Traditional Adoption, Informal and Extra-Legal Care
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