#9 Group Rejection and Suicide
     (Thomas Gladwin and Seymour Bernard Sarason, 1953)

While the lineage or other kin group provides a large degree of economic and undoubtedly psychological security for the individual, the possibility of rejection by the members of such groups must be a source of very serious anxiety. We have seen this strongly implied in the marked desire for conformance to expected patterns of behavior and the suppression of any behavior which might result in a disruptive or hostile episode. This anxiety over being rejected by a kinsman reaches its most dramatic expression in suicide. The threat of suicide is often made in other situations and is frequently effective, as in the case of the thwarted lovers; Theodore finally forced acceptance of his resignation as chief by this means also. But in the four cases actually recorded (one of them observed) where a genuine attempt was made to commit suicide, the precipitating factor was always harsh and unkind words from a close relative. One man had a bitter argument with his wife, finally walked out of the house, down to the beach, and swam off into the open sea; this is a recognized means of suicide but at the same time appears to permit a maximum opportunity for rescue. In this case a “brother” and his wife’s father went out in a canoe and after a brief struggle hauled him aboard. A number of years ago my elderly informant was practicing fighting techniques with several of his “brothers” when another “brother” came up and asked to join in; he was told derisively that he did not know anything about it. He left abruptly, climbed a coconut tree, and jumped off, landing on a rock and breaking an arm and leg, although he did not die. In the remaining two cases the man climbed a coconut tree after a violent argument wit his parents; in the earlier of these episodes the would-be suicide landed on soft ground, barely missing several rocks, and was only slightly injured. The case observed involved Andy, who got into a trivial argument with his mother over the repair of a pillow. Voices rose and angry words were spoken; his father’s sister, Rachel, was present and accused him of being a bad son to his mother. With this he left the house with a look of almost hysterical desperation on his face; after picking up and dropping a steel bar he took a large stick and beat the side of the house a couple of times. Then he dropped the stick and ran quickly to the top of a fairly tall coconut tree, followed by my old informant who was distantly related. He was able to make Andy pause, but then Andy went on and reached out to swing himself onto a frond of the tree. At this point I abandoned my observer role and stood under the tree, a move I was justified in believing would prevent Andy from jumping. My informant withdrew and Andy remained for perhaps twenty minutes in the tree, sobbing openly, and was finally persuaded to come down by another older relative.

Although in none of these cases did the man die, there is little doubt that the effort, particularly on the part of those who jumped from coconut trees, was genuine. It is also interesting to note in respect to the relative security felt by men and women within their kin groups that all of these cases were by men; my informant, in fact, stated that women never respond by suicide to the harsh words of their relatives. The only possibility for suicide by a woman, then, is in company with her lover if they are refused permission to marry, and only one actual case of this could be remembered by any informant for all of Truk.

[#9] Thomas Gladwin and Seymour Bernard Sarason, Truk: Man in Paradise (New York: Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, 1953).

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