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Papuan tribal leaders to author Jared Diamond: 'Don’t call us warlike'

New book likens chimp warfare to that of traditional societies.

that it was us that was violent and not them,” he said. “This book is doing the same. He should apologize.”

In his latest book, Diamond argues that scholars shouldn’t resist calling remote tribes “warlike” just because outside oppressors have relied on that label to justify occupation.

“We grow up being taught that vengeful feelings are primitive, to be ashamed of, and something that we should transcend,” Diamond wrote. But New Guinean cultures, like many other indigenous peoples, nurse a desire for retribution that fosters tit-for-tat tribal violence, according to Diamond. “Of course,” he wrote, “New Guineans end up feeling unconflicted about killing the enemy: they have no contrary message to unlearn.”

In a written response provided to GlobalPost, Diamond said that thinking on traditional societies has too often fallen into two extremes. One camp, he said, believes they are “brutish barbarians ... who deserve to be dragged into the modern world, conquered, driven off the land or exterminated.”

The other, he said, “views people as noble savages, peaceful paragons of virtue ... admirable compared to us, who are the real brutes.”

Diamond insists that his work steers a “course between these two middle extremes” that honestly examines the best and worst qualities of tribal life.

“Mistreatment of tribal peoples should be condemned not because you claim that they are peaceful when they are really not,” Diamond said. “It should instead be condemned on moral grounds: the mistreatment of any people is wrong.”

But Diamond has misinterpreted the case of Survival International, Grig said. “We’re not saying tribal people aren’t violent. We’re saying that they’re no more violent than anybody else,” she said. “There is fighting between tribes. But it’s not every day, every month.”

Previous Papuan backlash

Diamond’s prose often attempts to jar readers by placing seemingly backwards examples from tribal life with reminders that Western societies bear similar flaws.

In a 2008 New Yorker article, he describes New Guinea tribes waging war over women. In the next breath, mentions the Greek myth of Helen of Troy, poetically described as the “face that launched a thousand ships” during the Trojan War. His new book describes Papuan tribal war on one page and, on the next, the infamous 19th-century Hatfield-McCoy blood feuds in West Virginia.

In profiling a Papua New Guinea citizen for The New Yorker — a man named Daniel Wemp described as orchestrating tribal killings — he wrote that “Daniel’s thirst for vengeance and his hostility to rival clans are really not so far from our own habits as we might like to think.”

But the recent critiques aren’t Diamond’s first brush with Papuan backlash.

Wemp has since claimed that he never mobilized his kin to attack rival tribes. The described conflict — which included accounts of bow-and-arrow warfare and kidnapped “comfort women” — was almost entirely fabricated, he said. He sued Diamond and The New Yorker for $45 million with the help of a friend, Mako J. Kuwimb, a Papua New Guinea lawyer schooled in Australia.

“We are not some unprincipled people without norms and morality attacking each other endlessly,” Kuwimb wrote in a formal request for apology and compensation. Diamond backed the story and The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick, later told Science Magazine “it appears that The New Yorker and Jared Diamond are the subject of an unfair and, frankly, mystifying barrage of accusations.”

Diamond’s current crop of West Papuan detractors come from varied backgrounds: a mix of activists and Baptist leaders. But all are outspoken about human rights abuses in their Indonesia-controlled homeland.

Indonesia has a long history of violently quelling separatist factions across its scattered islands. In devoutly Islamic Aceh, conflict with insurgents racked up roughly 15,000 deaths; in East Timor, human rights violations tallied roughly 100,000 deaths, according to the Human Rights Data Analysis Group.

Diamond's new book "cannot be separated from the efforts of Indonesia to destroy and wipe out the Papuan people," said Rev. Socratez Yoman from the United Baptist Churches in West Papua in a statement. "The author is conveying information which destroys [our] good name."

Diamond, indisputably the best-known writer focusing on New Guinea, has meanwhile cracked the New York Times’ top ten best-seller list with “The World Until Yesterday.”

"Many people become famous, calling themselves experts, at the same trying to use us as an object," Wenda told GlobalPost. "We are not objects. We are humans."