Yali_s%20question - PROLOGUE YALI'S QyESTION.~ W E ALL KNOW...

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PROLOGUE YALI'S QyESTION " " . .~ W E ALL KNOW THAT HISTORY HAS PROCEEDED VERY DIF. ferently for peoples from different parts of the glope. In the 13,000 years since the end of the last Ice Age, some parts of the worle developed literate industrial societies with metal tOols, other parts devel. oped only nonliterate farming societies, and still others retained societie! of hunter-gatherers with stone tools. Those historical inequalities have cast long shadows on the modern world, because the literate societies with metal tools have conquered or eXterminated the other societies. While those differences constitUte the most basic fact of world history, the rea- sons for them remain uncertain and controvers'ial. This puzzling question of their origins was pose~ to me 25 years ago in a simple, personal form. In July 1972 I was walking along a beach on the tropical island of New Gui~ea, where as a biologist I stUdy bird evolution. I had already heard about a remarkable-local politician named Yali, who was touring the dis- trict then. Bychance, Yali and I were walking in the same direction on that day, and he overtook me. We walked together for an hour, talking during the whole tiine. Yali radiated charisma and energy. His eyes flashed in a mesmerizing way. He talked confidently about himself, but he also asked lots of probing questions and listened intently. Our conversation began with a subject then I 3
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~ co '" I 4 PROLOGUE YALI'S QUESTION I 5 on ev~ry New Guinean's mind-the rapid pace of political developmenrs. Papua New Guinea, 3S Yali's nation is now called~ was at that time still administered by Ausrralia as a mandate of the United Nations, but inde- pendence was in the air. Yalj explained to me his role in gerring local peo- ple to prepare for self-government. After a while, Yali turned the conversation and began to quiz me. He. had never been OUtside New Guinea and had not been educated beyond high school, but his curiosiry was insatiable. First, he wanted to know about m)' work on New Guinea birds (including how much I got paid for it). I explained to him how different groups of birds had colonized New Guinea over the course of millions of Years. He then asked how the ances- tors of his own people had reached New Guinea over the last tens of thou- sands of years, and how white Europeans had colonized New Guinea within the last 200 years. The conversation remained friendly, even though the tension between the two societies that Yali :md 1 represented was familiar to both of us. Two centuries ago, aU New Guineans were still "living in the Stone Age." That is, they still used stone rools similar to those superseded in Europe by metal tools thousands of years ago, and they dwelt in villages not orga- nized under any centralized political authority. Whites had arrived, imposed centralized governmenr, and brought material goods whose value New Guineans insrantly recognized, ranging from steel axes, matches, and medicines to clothing, soft drinks, and umbrellas. In New Guinea all these
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Yali_s%20question - PROLOGUE YALI'S QyESTION.~ W E ALL KNOW...

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