The Pig in a Garden Series
April 28, 2010 05:59 am EST
Rebutting Jared Diamond’s Savage Portrait:
What tribal societies can tell us about justice and liberty
by Paul Sillitoe & Mako John Kuwimb
Handa Moses Akol (white beard & shirt with necktie in the middle) marching a “holy march” with Ps. Henep Soap Lungil (with white shirt, left front) – two former enemies walking together united in the “holy march” leading their Christian flock at Punim near Nipa. As far as the eye could see, Christians are marching behind the banner. (Photo: MJ Kuwimb)
The Pig in a Garden: Jared Diamond and The New Yorker Series
Art Science Research Laboratory’s StinkyJournalism.org is publishing a series of essays on the controversy surrounding Jared Diamond’s New Yorker article, “Annals of Anthropology: Vengeance is Ours.” The essay series titled, The Pig in a Garden: Jared Diamond and The New Yorker, is written by ethics scholars in the fields of anthropology and communications, as well as journalists, environmental scientists, archaeologists, anthropologists and linguists, et al. Paul Sillitoe & Mako John Kuwimb’s essay is tenth in the series.
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Introduction to the revenge ethic
How do tribal communities in developing countries without functioning police, judges, law courts and prisons ensure social stability? This question is of perennial interest to anyone familiar with tribal societies. It is difficult for those of us familiar with such state institutions of law enforcement to imagine how people in tribal environments create order, particularly in dense populations like that of the New Guinea Highlands which also prizes individual political autonomy. The popular image – traceable to Renaissance times, when Europeans first encountered tribal peoples – is of savages condemned to disorderly, even anarchic lives of constant violence and frequent bloodletting. A recent example of this image is portrayed and promulgated by Jared Diamond in “Vengeance Is Ours: What can tribal societies tell us about our need to get even?” published in theThe New Yorker, April 21, 2008.
We seek to refute this portrayal in general and Diamond’s article in particular, which we believe amounts to nothing less than a betrayal. We were prompted to do this by the defamation of friends and relatives in the Was Valley of the Southern Highlands Province (SHP) of Papua New Guinea (PNG) who have, in Diamond’s article, been cast in such a caricature of tribal life as inveterate murderers, plunderers and rapists living in virtual chaos.
It is astonishing that media outlets still grant space to such a view of tribal life after a century of anthropological research has debunked it. Stateless or acephalous (headless – i.e. without authoritative officeholders) polities have long attracted attention and we have accounts of fascinating arrangements that substitute for central government. The Highlands of New Guinea have featured prominently in furthering our understanding of such tribal constitutions. So here we go, yet again, to rebut the savage misrepresentation.