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Taking heads isn't my cup of tea, but I have less difficulty understanding the cultural bases of doing so than I do of the apparent inhumanity of, say, the Yanamano or (closer to home) of the Nazi movement of the middle third of the 20th century in what might arguably have been the most culturally advanced society in Europe at the end of the 19th century.

One point: mortal combat among animals of the same species is not common. The more usual pattern is stylized or ritualized combat over resources (usually territory), in which one member concedes without being killed or injured.

It was then that the famous missionary Rev. James Chalmers and a party of 12 lost their heads and were eaten by Goaribari headhunters. Another missionary reported witnessing over 10,000 skulls in the long houses of Goaribari.

Art can not be learned. Actually, art techniques can be learned. Art talent can not. People can only learn techniques and knowledge in art school. They can not learn art talent there. Without talent, one can not become a great artist.

For example, in the heat of battle soldiers are supposed to kill their opponents. As one recent incident in Faluja, Iraq illustrated however, after an opponent was injured? A soldier who then caused the death of that opponent was deemed a murderer. My intention is not to make any moral judgment here?

Human behavior, it seems to me, has obviously innate components. We are certainly hard-wired not to try to fly off buildings, and the fear of stepping off a cliff when we can see that there's no place near to land arises pretty early.

But most cultural activities and ethical consciousness are learned behavior (in my judgment). Children learn to not be cruel, they aren't born empathetic.

Suffice to say that headhunting was a robust tradition here. In 2001, on the centenary of Rev. Chalmers' demise, the BBC aired a documentary in which Charlotte Sainsbury, a direct descendant of Rev. Chalmers visited Goaribari.

Much to the chagrin of some modern evangelical types, she offered these words to the descendants of those who executed the missionaries, I think my ancestor was wrong to come in and try to change you.

Of course, people from outside headhunting cultures, that become the victims of headhunting will always have a degree of sensational interest attached to their stories just because of the relative novelty of the event.


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Last modified: Tuesday October 18, 2005.